The Year In Review

The Year In Review
The Gaming Industry Beyond Thunderdome

Shannon Drake | 27 Dec 2005 07:02
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It was November, and America's retail stores beckoned, singing a siren song of next generation's gaming goodness. As the masses queued outside major electronics retailers like Soviet peasants waiting for their bread and vodka, rumors flew of shenanigans afoot. Microsoft was creating the shortage just to boost their hype. Best Buy was advertising consoles and selling only bundles. An Elkton, Maryland Wal-Mart became Thunderdome as crazed shoppers battled in the aisles, and all of it just for a gaming console. As the holiday shopping season gets another day older and the American consumer goes deeper into debt, it's clear that the world, at least our world, has changed. When they're fighting in the aisles at Wal-Mart because of bombardments on television, magazines, MTV and the Internet, gaming has finally arrived as a major cultural force for everyone, not just for a diverse gaggle of enthusiasts.

The launch of the 360 marks the end of an era. Parents waiting to take heads in pursuit of the Hot New Christmas Toy weren't the only one's suffering winter's icy kiss. A significant chunk of the people in line outside America's retail stores wanted the consoles entirely for themselves - or for eBay - and not so Little Jimmy would have the Best Christmas Ever. What was once the treasured item for eager kids on Christmas morning, and the occasional nostalgic adult, is now the must-have item for everyone. It was once a geek status symbol. Now, an Xbox 360 is something the Wal- Mart-going hordes of Middle America will riot for, the ultimate cultural icon in a society that worships entertainment.

Moving beyond the Wal-Mart Thunderdome means an adolescent gaming industry is going to have to grow up. Thousands of non-gamer barbarians pouring through the walls with wireless controllers in hand will force a Renaissance of creativity in a moribund industry chasing sequels and the Next Halo dream. Thousands of educated adults, which are what economists call "market forces," aren't going to buy games calibrated and aimed at the currently coveted "Males, 13 to 25" demographic. All it's going to take to cause a violent, shattering earthquake in the industry is one game, and that game is coming sooner than we dare to dream.

When someone dares to challenge the game-jock mindset - which states that games have to be cool to gamers and their gamer buddies - and makes a Katamari Damacy for the non-geeks buying the 360, they will never have to work again. The people fighting in the aisles for the latest consoles aren't just geeks. They are the dread casual gamers. Or they're parents who grew up with the NES and won't mind the sprouts grooving out to the latest Mario offering, while they spend hundreds of dollars downloading old-school Nintendo games on their Revolution. They are, in other words, The Adults. Your mom just came into the gaming party, picked up a PBR tall-boy, and started shaking her ass on the dance floor. And she called every single one of her friends.

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