Second Sight: Comments from the Editor

Is Gaming a Young Person's Game?

Suddenly, a number of things I've read recently make me think that maybe -- just maybe -- I'm losing touch with the gaming market. That we are no longer in tune with the prime market for the products we create for a living. In other words, that I'm getting too old.

In last week's column, I told about getting dusted at four-player Duke Nuke'Em 3-D by my stepsons, ranging in age from 6 to 11. Several people e-mailed me responses, that all boiled down to, "Hey, don't worry about it -- kids have us all beat to hell on manual dexterity. We're just too old to compete."

And as I was working on the review of the Pokemon Trading Card Game I wrote last week, I had another feeling that I was on the wrong end of the generation gap, because while I could appreciate the game design and the card graphics, the game itself was beyond me. I just didn't get it, didn't understand what made playing with these little "pocket monsters" fun -- mainly because (I suspect) I wasn't a kid.

And it's not just me -- in Mike Stackpole's "When I Own TSR" (elsewhere in this issue -- check it out), he says: "Designers at TSR (and Wizards of the Coast, for that matter) have transcended their audience. It doesn't matter if they still game -- in fact, that exacerbates the problem. What they are is old gamers who are getting older. They know what they like and they tweak things to mesh with what they like. There doesn't seem to be any inducement in the corporate culture to get folks to think outside the box or, at least, to look at what today's audiences want and then provide it."

So, is my generation of gamers getting too old to have a meaningful impact on today's 12- to 20-year-olds, who have always been gaming's core market? Are we relegated to designing games for each other, seeking the approval of our contemporaries, the 30- and 40- (and sometimes 50-) somethings?

God, I hope not. Because if it's true, I gotta go find me another line of work.

Of course, there might very well be enough 30-, 40-, and 50-something gamers still active out there to keep a small industry alive. If you don't mind working freelance, or being part of a three-guys-in-a-basement operation, what Steve Jackson calls the "garage-ization" of the industry. But if you want to be even a medium-sized game company (never mind aspiring to Wizards of the Coast levels of success), you have to adapt to the changing market.

And that means getting younger. Well, not literally -- last time I checked, that was an impossibility, with the possible exception of the effects of some items in Warehouse 23 . . . but it does mean thinking younger. In the good old days, when we were the same age as the market, we used to say, "Well, if I do something I like, then the gamers will like it, too." Because the gamers were us, and we were the gamers. Today, perhaps the question shouldn't be, "What kind of game would I like?", but "What kind of game would my kids like?" (For those of you in the industry without children of your own, substitute the phrase, "my [blank]'s kids," where the blank could be "sister," "brother," "friend," "neighbor," or anybody else with a more traditional home life than playing GURPS until 3 am and living on Cheetos.)

Another thing I and my cohorts need to do -- declare an immediate moratorium on the phrase, "in the good old days." We're trying to bridge this generation gap, not emphasize it. So no more telling today's new gamers that our games were better, that they just don't "get" what we're trying to do when we bring a new game to market that they just don't like. The customer is king, and we have to adapt to what they want. Even if it kills us.

Which, at our age, is an ever-growing possibility . . .

-- Scott D. Haring

Article publication date: February 5, 1999

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