Thursday, September 27, 2007

Casual Gamer

From the desk of Lee Distad's Professional Opinion:

Hello, my name is Lee Distad, and I am a casual gamer. There are a lot of people like me, but up until recently we weren’t really considered part of the gaming mainstream.

My generation was the first to grow up with videogames. I still vividly remember the excitement and wonder when my neighborhood corner store got a Space Invaders machine. Growing up with Atari, Intellivison, Colecovision, and later, Nintendo and Sega Genesis, I could be safely described as an avid gamer during my childhood and adolescence.

But things change, and my life is different now. I’m a father, a busy professional, and a competitive athlete. My wife and I have always enjoyed playing video games together, but with all the other demands on our time, the opportunities to sit in front of the TV and unwind with a controller in our hands are few and far between. Because of the time factor, it’s hard for us to justify spending five or six hundred dollars for a gaming console that we know will only see occasional use.

Not only have we changed, but the games, by and large, have changed. Many are more complex, requiring dozens or hundreds of hours of playtime to unlock their secrets. Action and combat games often require memorizing complex keystroke sequences. Bearing in mind that the games of my youth required little more than a joystick and a ‘fire’ button, I feel disinclined to devote myself to mastering the complexity of games that today’s youth are into playing. I don’t want to learn an entire new set of skills; I just want to unwind for a few hours at the end of a long day.

Apparently I’m not alone, and Nintendo recognized the “casual” gamer as being an untapped market compared to the “hardcore” gamer, and they have done fantastically well with their Wii console. In much the same way that the Wii ambushed XBOX360 and Playstation3 last Christmas, it was reported yesterday that Nintendo has snuck up past Canon and is now the 2nd largest stock on the Nikkei, behind only Toyota.

Reuters: Nintendo is Japan's 2nd most valuable active stock
TOKYO (Reuters) - Nintendo Co Ltd roared past Canon Inc to become Japan's second most valuable tradable company behind Toyota Motor Corp this week as investors bet demand for its Wii and DS machines will remain strong into the critical year-end shopping season.
Although the market value of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc (MUFG) is potentially bigger than that of Nintendo, trading in its shares is suspended this week ahead of a 1,000-for-one share split.
Nintendo's Wii has so far outsold Sony's PlayStation 3 by a large margin since their launches late last year as Nintendo's strategy to expand the gaming population by offering easy-to-play but innovative games has proved a big success.

Nintendo has locked up the casual gamer market by offering the Wii at a price point that is appealing to people like me; those who are willing to consider paying $279 for a device that will see occasional use. Additionally, their initial mix of game titles has been heavily slanted towards being fun and easy. So far, people that I know who have bought and been hooked on playing their Wii, covers a diverse group that ranges from friends of my parents who are past retirement age, to left-leaning Women’s Studies grad students. None of these demographics are among those that Microsoft or Sony took seriously as they strove against each other in the Console Arms Race.

The big boys are starting to rouse from their slumber, and learn from their mistakes. It was just reported that Microsoft is finally starting to take casual gamers seriously.

Reuters: Next for Microsoft: winning casual gamers
Microsoft knows it must attract casual customers as well if the Xbox 360 is going to be a living-room fixture.
"That's the biggest challenge Microsoft has. They were never able to do that with the original Xbox and they will be hard-pressed to do it with the 360," said Todd Mitchell, an analyst with Nollenberger Capital Partners.
Microsoft has praised Nintendo for "expanding the market," but so far its attempts to attract a broader audience have met with mixed results.
In really big companies, there are often only two speeds in their gearbox: Glacier, and Panic. Nintendo’s success may have finally forced Microsoft and Sony to shift into overdrive and treat gaming as mainstream, family entertainment, instead of a niche market aimed at hardcore young gamers who have both money and time on their hands.

For the record, my family is intent on getting a Wii by the time Christmas rolls around. (For more of Lee Distad's Professional Opinions)

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