Escapist EditorialsPublisher's Note: The State of GamingEscapist Editorials - RSS 2.0
Let's consider gearhead culture. I have selected gearhead culture in particular because nothing in the United States is more ubiquitous or inclusive than the car. Driving is a daily activity for almost everyone over the age of 16, and the automotive industry is among the most successful and universal markets in existence. There are more cars than households in the US. The very cities we live in are designed with the car in mind. Education in how to drive is mandatory at most public schools. The license to drive is the most common form of ID in the nation.
And yet in no way does this ubiquitous success preclude the existence of dedicated car enthusiast culture! Car enthusiasts are served by the eponymous Gearhead Magazine, which "covers all topics for the car enthusiast's lifestyle, including pop culture, music, and clothing", and its many competitors Modified, Car Craft, Motorsports, Sort Compact Car, Hot Rod, Car, Car & Drive, Top Gear, Street Machine, Car Action, Lowrider, and more; by retailers like EatSleepRace.com, which sell gearhead apparel; by various auto parts shops and car garages; by organizations like the Sports Car Club of America; by hubs like CarShowCentral, the community for car enthusiasts; and of course by the enormous number of giant car shows themselves.
Can we imagine for a moment the editors of Gearhead magazine or Top Gear announcing that gearhead culture is dead because everyone drives now? The notion is laughable.
But the automotive industry does something amazing that the game industry does not: The automotive industry sells a car for every type of consumer. They sell cars aimed at entry-level drivers (Scion), and cars aimed at car enthusiasts for whom money is no object (Ferrari); cars aimed at red state patriots (Jeep Liberty) and blue state progressives (Toyota Prius); cars for people who think driving fast is awesome (Corvettes) and for people who think driving fast is scary (Volvos). They sell affordable cars that are easily tuned-up (Honda Civics) and expensive cars that can be absurdly tuned-up (Toyota Supras).
And as a result there is never any conflict between car consumers and car enthusiasts. Why would there be? They have nothing to fight about!
But imagine, if you will, an alternative universe where the only cars available are sports cars. In this universe, you are a Corvette enthusiast who has driven Corvettes for decades. Mustangs? No way. You're hardcore for Chevy in the Muscle Car Wars. Then one day, Chevrolet announces that the new 2015 Corvette will have a smaller engine, to make room in the back for a new set of pre-installed child seats. The automotive press lauds the fact that Corvette has become a more inclusive brand which has embraced the family driver. When you, an outraged Corvette fan, begin complaining loudly that this is a betrayal of the Corvette brand... you are criticized for hating children!
Now, imagine that you are a single parent with three children in this same alternative universe. You don't want a sports car. You want a safe, affordable car for driving to work and school. You are worried about pollution and want to save money on gas. Ford, suddenly waking up to a market opportunity, decides to build a new factory that will create a new line of four-door sedans with hybrid gas-electric engines. As a result, the release of the new Mustang is delayed six months. An outraged Mustang-driving sociopath goes on Twitter and threatens to crash his car into the first parent he sees driving a Ford sedan. The automotive press warns that car enthusiasts hate parents and proclaim that gearhead culture must die so that everyone can drive without fear.
This type of absurdity does not happen in the automotive industry because car companies understand that creating consumer goods is not a zero sum game. By segmenting their market and selling products that are different for each segment, they can service the mainstream and the enthusiast.