The video game industry needs to rethink its pricing strategy, as well as cater to markets other than the 18- to 34-year-old male demo with new forms of gameplay if it truly wants to become a mass commodity and go head-to-head with the film and television industries. This was the call to arms Entertainment Software Association president Doug Lowenstein sent out when he addressed gamecos at E3 last month. ‘Video games have been around for 30 years, and penetration remains far below that of competing media like film and TV,’ he says. ‘What do they have that we don’t? A partial answer is they have done a better job developing products that have truly mass-market appeal at mass-market prices.’
Lowenstein suggests offering shorter games at a lower price point – something that would correspondingly bring down development costs. For example, create a US$10 game with ten hours of gameplay versus a US$50 game with 150 hours. In fact, ESA research conducted this year found that 60% of Americans and 57% of gamers said they would be more likely to buy more games if they were shorter in length and priced significantly lower.
There is also a marketing misconception that Mature-rated games are the only path to a blockbuster. While this is clearly not the case (53% of games sold were Everyone-rated in 2004, versus 16% rated M), Lowenstein says there is a huge untapped market that would be interested in compelling games that explore new themes such as ethical and moral dilemmas, politics or global warming. He feels solid entertainment should be able to connect with its audience in many different emotional ways – call it the gaming equivalent of something like an indie film or chick flick.
‘If video games aspire to movie-like status, then they need to become topics of conversation at dinner parties and happy hours, and they won’t achieve that if they are the province of an elite few who speak their own language, congregate in chat rooms, and have an endless amount of time on their hands,’ Lowenstein says. Tied into this is the fact that the recent generations of technology and games are often increasingly complicated and designed for a more experienced player – ultimately driving newcomers away. But less complicated doesn’t have to mean less fun, he adds, warning against stratifying the industry based on skill. ‘For God’s sake, we are the only entertainment industry that has spawned a collateral book publishing business that puts out 200-page guides so people can figure out how to play our games.’