I am a gamer, my brothers are gamers, some of my best friends are gamers, but no matter how much it hurts, I must speak the truth: Gamers are what's wrong with the game industry. It's gamers who are reserving the Xbox 360 months before they could hope to secure one of the pricey units, even though the game library contains nothing but graphically souped-up Xbox games (Perfect Dark Zero notwithstanding). It was gamers who allowed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to wallow in lackluster sales, despite its brilliance in ludic design, simply because its 2-D graphics were out of fashion in 1997. It's gamers who fuel EA's tyrannical grip on the industry, fattened by a stream of franchise sequels.
Any industry's business model will evolve according to market conditions, not the other way around. The game industry is the way it is because its audience has voiced its particular demands in a powerful way, keeping the status quo. Smashing that status quo, even marching on EA headquarters, isn't going to change the nature of the market's pulpy waters. If games are going to grow up, game designers are going to have to grow the market radically, not incrementally, or abandon the "gamer" market altogether in favor of a much wider demographic. Making this market transition may require game designers to question the fundamental aspects of their craft, to the point where the term "game designer" may not be the ideal.
What do gamers want? What have game designers typically hinged upon in making their games fun? In a word: challenge.
There are many definitions of "game": Some focused on competition, others on puzzle solving, and others still on incremental progression toward an explicit goal. What all of these definitions have in common is games are structured by rules and focused on a goal. The pleasure derived from accomplishing the goal comes from the neural connections made when a player learns the game's patterns. In order to be fun, though, the process itself has to be challenging. Otherwise, a gamer might ask, "What's the point?"
The Escapist has already observed that gamers are willing to put up with a lot of crap in order to appreciate their entertainment media. Learning curves and re-loads, hamster-wheel leveling and quick-save racketeering, no amount of suffering will stand in the way of that glorious dopamine pay-off when the challenge is finally bested. Challenge is a persnickety beast - its victory conditions have no patience for ambivalence, hesitations, shades of gray. In a game, almost winning is just as good as losing.
Watching your gaming efforts tumble to oblivion when the boss has only a sliver of health left is a jarring, frustrating experience that detracts from the flow of an otherwise artistic experience. Even Shadow of the Colossus and Psychonauts, two recent low profile favorites described as "art games," suffer from the morays of challenge. Ever take on the 8th Colossus, that gas spitting salamander thing, and get killed two stabs away from victory, just because the damn thing rolled over on you? See how much the impressionistic visuals move you, then.
In contrast to the traditionally challenging interactive fare, thoroughly paidic titles can be found, which eschew challenge altogether. If interactive works were living beings, these specimens would hang out in the Mos Eisley Cantina: hypertexts, "art games," non-games, political activism games - an intriguingly perverse menagerie roaming free on the internet.
Staurt Moulthrop's seminal hypertext, Hegirascope, is simply a set of over 200 web pages with clever, satirical text written on them, with each page being linked to four others. Hegirascope has no explicit goal, other than the pleasure of reading. An imposition of challenge would obfuscate the craft and quality of the work as a whole.
Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds is a hacked version of the original NES classic. It removes all sprites and bit-maps, even Mario, leaving behind serenely similar clouds which float on without obstacle.
Electroplankton, the only commercial title in this list, allows players to experiment with various types of plankton to generate a musical effect; its functional value lies in making it easy for people to spin good tunes. In all these examples, challenge is absent or minimized; the emphasis is on play for play's sake.