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What Gamers Want: Missing Gamers

October 21, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Having visited ourselves upon groups of Family Gamers and Silver Gamers, we now turn the labs over to Missing Gamers in an attempt to discover what is keeping them from playing games as they did in their youth.

Although the ranks of the gaming masses are swelling more than ever, there are still thousands who used to play games when they were younger that have yet to return to the pastime.

Their lives have obviously changed in the intervening years -- so that available time, money, and attention are now in more limited supply.

But beyond these generalizations, we wanted to discern the detail of what it was that kept them from picking up controller, mouse, or remote. Over a few weeks in the summer we organized a series of play sessions with some of these absentee gamers, a group ranging in age from 25 to 35.

As with our Silver Gamer sessions, we weren't sure what would result but again, by the end of each day we had armfuls of notes on what they now wanted from games.

From these experiences and discussions we have compiled the following list of what our Missing Gamers really want from a video gaming experience:

1. Integrated Social Experiences

Despite not owning a games console themselves, most of the missing gamers in our tests were happy to invest a lot of time in various social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

"I don't mind wasting my time on Facebook, because I feel like I'm doing it with my friends," one Missing Gamer thoughtfully retorted when asked why she was happy to spend non-productive time on Facebook but not on video games.

When we introduced one group to Xbox Live and its community features (with something of a twinkle in our eye) we were surprised at the lack of enthusiasm. "How do I update my status, though? And how about adding pictures and links?"

It seems that the rich experiences of their existing networks mean the usability bar is pretty high for these would-be gamers.

A more successful tack seemed to be introducing them to ways which gaming could plug into and integrate with their existing networks. The MSN features of Xbox Live, and the Xbox Facebook and iPhone applications were met with pleasant surprise and enthusiasm. These features seemed to go some way to "making sense" of games for the group.

The bottom line here seems to be that most games platforms have a "come join our community" ethic, but members of this group of would-be gamers already have well-established, functioning networks of their own.

They respond much better to services that enhance and amend these existing groups, both online and in real life. When they discover that games can "come to their community" they are much more willing to invest some time and money.

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Rayna Anderson
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Another great article! I can't wait to see what the next one in the series will be. I really hope developers are taking notes.

What I'd like to know more about is the Gaming Grammar section. You never really mention what kinds of structures are implicit that aren't being understood.

Jake Romigh
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I really wish that more games would include multiplayer that had community support. I hardly play any games myself because I simply have no way to get some of my friends to play it. I hate playing games by myself now that I am past my teenage years.

Peter Olsted
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6. Adult-Oriented Products...

That would be lovely! I'm sick and tired of games who only tells a story of war and "bravery".

The only place to find a proper story is in text based or old RPG's like Baldur's Gate II.

Of my 200+ games, the only one in the last five years to have a "proper" story is Beyond Good & Evil, Star Wars Knights Of The Old Republic I & Half-Life 2. (Only PC titles btw.)

Jake Romigh
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Actually, BG&E came out on the PS2 as well.

Josh Barker
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Actually.......Beyond Good and Evil came out on Gamecube, Xbox, and Playstation2 as well.

Andrea Di Stefano
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Nice article!

The point about the gaming culture hurting mass market appeal was especially interesting. From my experience looking at non-gamers play experience, all the gaming culture clichés are a big concern. The fantasy stuff, orcs and knights, spaceships...all these really are detrimental to the mass market appeal.

The funny thing is, since most designers are first and foremost gamers, they tend to design games for themselves. Nothing fundamentally wrong there (who wouldn't like a shot at creating the perfect game), but it creates a vicious loop: gamers doing games for gamer/nerd/80s culture educated gamers.

Nintendo goes the other way, maybe a bit too much (the "too childish design" comment points that out), but so far it proves successful at addressing an alternative audience which still isn't, in my opinion, the one targeted by this article.

I think the industry should really start drawing inspiration from reality to build games for a more traditional, non gaming audience. I mean, why aren't more games set in real life-like cities and environments? We're always dealing with aliens, monsters, commandos...

Same goes for gaming mechanics... I find myself often saying "it's ok let's use that mouse setup, it's an established convention". Maybe, but for who? Again, Nintendo proved that doing things differently can work quite well to get to a new audience.

For me, that's mainly a question of looking at the real world outside the window and finding new inspirations to create games which are more appealing to potential gamers...

Bart Stewart
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Fascinating research, although I sort of wonder about the apparently console-specific methodology.

That said, a few quick comments:

"Despite not owning a games console themselves, most of the missing gamers in our tests were happy to invest a lot of time in various social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr."

How much of the difficulty this group had was due to being asked to use consoles, rather than PCs?

"Although this group has plenty of gaming potential, they got on better with experiences that weren't overtly gamer-oriented. They clearly understood and recognized anything that was stereotypically "gaming", and didn't consider this to be something for them."

"It wasn't long before the online games were abandoned in favor of the simpler split-screen local multiplayer offerings. The ability to nudge, rib, and cajole each other on the sofa (not to mention share snacks and drinks) was simply too much fun to resist."

I've been suggesting for some time now that the obsessive design emphasis in the majority of today's online games on combat, aggressive competition, and token-accumulation is turning off a meaningful number of potential gamers. People whose senses of enjoyable play are more engaged by what Nicole Lazzaro terms "easy fun" and "people fun" are badly underserved by today's "hard fun" online games.

This analysis suggests that these consumers have no trouble recognizing that game developers aren't interested in them. To me, that says pretty clearly that there's a good business opportunity being missed, but the apparent lack of effort by game developers to exploit this opportunity suggests that maybe there are other factors at work here.

"Wrap all this up with some packaging and marketing stories that look and sound like the lives they are already leading, rather than a cartoon or juvenile version of themselves, and they soon 'get' why games are still applicable."

That sure sounds like "The Sims" to me. One of the best-selling games of all time, I believe...?

Trevor Cuthbertson
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"Many of our Missing Gamers had invested many hours perfecting their (Texas Hold 'em) poker skills both on- and offline."

I welcome all game developers (and even those Missing Gamers who may be reading this article) to try out this poker game with friends on a Friday or Saturday night. The game is called "Island Pineapple" and you can find it in the "Invented Games" section in The link is:

jaime kuroiwa
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At first glance at the header, I thought I would identify with these "missing gamers," but I clearly don't. Perhaps it was the study's console skew, or that these gamers seemed to have quit gaming cold-turkey for almost a decade. What really bothers me is this perceived "grown up" attitude towards gaming that appears more selfish than critical.

"Although first impressions may make you think they have permanently moved on from gaming, a deeper look reveals that they just need games that are tailored to their needs."

All these people seem to be operating within a comfort zone, and they will only accept games if it supports their particular lifestyle. Their concerns about games were not as much about content as it was a "what's in it for me" mentality. The list of concerns from this group range from how it supplements their lifestyle, to how it taps into their childhood, to how they are perceived by others. That is EXACTLY what Nintendo has tapped into. Pure genius.

Maurício Gomes
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In fact I remember once when I was younger (about 10 yo) when I saw my aunt and her friends playing some card games while smoking (heavily!) and eating (snacks, coffee, tea and alcoholic drinks), and in fact this was recurring (this same group reunited to play cards every friday night), once I asked if I could play with them, and the response was: No, this is game for adults, go play your cousin SNES with him.

After some time I realized, it is not that the game is for adults (altough I noticed that when I play them against older people they always win... seemly these games are perfectly tailored to make more experienced people in life itself to be better, one of those games being poker), it was the context, the environment that was for adults, the people on the table was using the game only as reason to sit togheter and talk about their problematic husbands, lack of money, credit crisis, sons that disobey... Things that children are not supposed to hear (because these things are "sensible information" and children commonly fail to keep them to themselves)

Also I see another type of missing gamer, those that were hardcore gamers in the past and are not anymore...

All those said to me the same thing: Games today have too complex gameplay and at the same time are too shallow, thousands of weapons, items to create, and just the only thing to do is find the "better" equipment and go bashing around.

Then I asked them: Why you never played Ikaruga for example, you might enjoy!

The awnser was: WHAT IS THAT? SHAMPOO?

Then I noticed: The only games advertised are the today "hardcore" ones (complex gameplay, shallow depth) or "casual" ones (simple gameplay, still shallow depth)

Few games are making sucess with that second type of gamers, The Sims is a notable one, but some of them can still be seen playing like mad when they can (like if I borrow them a handheld), the games that they play like mad are... Tetris! Yeah, Tetris, Sudoku, and that sort of thing (picross too, for those that were shown to it), we in the game design university even coined the term "Sudoku Ninjas" that were usually our parents or uncles, that disliked those stupid modern games (like Halo 3, altough I dislike that one too) and that kicked our assess in Sudoku specially (ie: once we made a "tournament" without the "adults" knowing, we in the university selected some sudoku sets, timed our times, and then the ones that knew their "adults" timed their times... Some sets we took 1 hour to finish, a "adult" took 7 minutes Oo, and this was common in ex-gamers)

John Petersen
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We the older players who still do play frequently have been telling y'all that for years.

I personally don't want to hang out with the teenie boppers, and I want games with real substance.

Dave Endresak
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These articles make interesting reference material, at least in my opinion. I've been involved with gaming since Pong and have been concerned about various items that these articles mention.

On the other hand, I think it's important for readers, especially developers, to keep in mind that this isn't a scientific study, per se, and that it simply offers some specific individual feedback. Some things won't make much sense from a business perspective (businesses won't usually attempt to tie-in to other businesses - for example, you don't see one retailer refering people to other retailers for products).

I think one critical point that is not explicitly stated in any of these articles is that the primary concern is to create products that appeal to different demographics rather than worry about making a product that cuts across numerous demographics. Unfortunately, the latter is what the English market development is stuck in for the most part. I would contrast this with the actual Japanese market (not the products that are selected for release to the English or global market). If one examines Japanese popular entertainment such as manga, anime, and games since WW II, it's easy to see (as various Japanese artists and scholars have mentioned) that their market has evolved over time as the audience demographics have evolved. If we compare this trend to something like American comics, a field that has continued to produce the same type of content for the same target demographic since the 1930s and 40s, we can easily see a stagnation that many people have observed in other fields, including electronic gaming.

Of course, this is one reason why import game retailers have succeeded since the early 1990s, and also a big reason for the global popularity of Japanese entertainment products and popular culture. Obviously there are culture-specific differences, but I think the key point is the difference between industries that evolve and those that do not, for whatever reason(s). In the case of English market gaming (and perhaps related hobby industries such as comics), I would place a lot of the blame on social mores and censorship rather than on creative people within the industry itself. As long as genuine evolution is forced to remain underground, the mainstream industry cannot and will not evolve to include a diverse audience and creative talent, or at least that is what I have observed. Meanwhile, those of us who prefer other types of games (ones that focus on story narrative, for example) will import games that offer that approach while using English market released games for other interests when the urge hits us for the approach that they use.

Stephen McDonough
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"What I'd like to know more about is the Gaming Grammar section. You never really mention what kinds of structures are implicit that aren't being understood." - Rayna Anderson

I recently introduced a number of extended family members to Boom Blox on the Wii. Something I found startling was that the tutorial moved far too quick for them. The could understand how to target the blox and throw a baseball at them, but the 'rules' of the game were never explained. Nobody understood the implicit concept that you were to knock over every block in as few throws as possible, and would be scored based on that. The tutorial levels don't score or give any indication that scoring will commence in future.

Imagine Boom Blox without that element and it becomes an oddity; not a game but a bizarre activity devoid of purpose. My traditionally non gamer cousins picked up on the mechanics, so I guess it's like teaching someone to kick a ball then putting them on the field mid-game.

Lewis Pulsipher
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People who play non-electronic games consistently, whether poker or something else, are "playing the players", enjoying the psychology of playing with (and against) other people. They try to anticipate what others will do, and play to take advantage of that. They try to convince the other player(s) they've been beaten. The game is as much psychological as it is a matter of rules/mechanics. And the game need not have complex mechanics to provide a platform for this (poker again being an example).

That is missing from most video games, however many players may be involved.

Bryan Suchenski
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I'm not exactly a "missing gamer," but I also prefer playing multiplayer games with people in the same room as me (or at the very least, with people I know). I'm honestly kind of baffled by the assumption that gamers want to play against anonymous strangers online.

And it seems strange to me that the use of social networking sites is separated from the "activities not identified with gaming" section. They go hand-in-hand in my opinion - it's not that missing gamers like their friends better than gamers do, it's that social networking sites don't carry the stigma of games. Similarly, part of the reason that playing with friends (rather than with anonymous others) is more appealing is that it carries with it the implicit approval of their friends for this activity (again, reducing the stigma associated with video games).

I noticed that Slashdot's summary of this article was "Former Gamers Want More Social Games," which I think shows how the data in the article is being interpreted.

Audry Taylor
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We haven't encountered "missing gamers" so much as "reluctant gamers" from a portion of the female teen demographic. The social aspect is important to them. This particular section of the demogrpahic don't really think of games as being too juvenile; they are more concerned with how visually attractive the games are. They are also influenced by whether or not a game is accessible to them (if it's logical and easy to get the hang of), and whether or not it will be emotionally rewarding. (Turning your best friend into a vampire on Facebook is more satisfying that beating Level 20 of a generic casual game, for example.)

jan wagner
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we are actually trying to work this group with our current "short session" MMO concept set in a mainstream theme (crime/heist).

we have been doing our own focus group tests, which are largely similar with the finding in this article.

one thing however to m is the main issue: creating games for missing or reluctant gamers is one thing. the other is reaching them in the first place. however much the game may suit them, as long as it is labelled a game, we are seeing the first hurdle being put up. this is obviously why games which hide inside another media or application or are traditional games (no stigma on poker, poker is cool. even carcassone may be odd but nice. video games are not) are so much easier for them to relate to. the interesting question then is: how do we get bthem to sit down with a game in the first place?

John Petersen
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$50,000 reward for missing gamer

Brandon Crisp is missing and we need the community to help in the search. If you have seen this gamer online or in person or have a clue please contact the paper or local authorities.

Here's the story:

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Alex Sramek
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As a former heavy gamer and current more-occasional-gamer in the 25-35 group, what got me about the article is this...

>>"I actually forgot I was playing a video game and not watching a film at one point," was probably the highest praise we had from one of our gamers.

Alex Sramek
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As a former heavy gamer and current more-occasional-gamer in the 25-35 group, what got me about the article is this...

""I actually forgot I was playing a video game and not watching a film at one point," was probably the highest praise we had from one of our gamers."

I wouldn't call that praise. One of my biggest complaints about a lot of games today is that they feel like they're made by wannabe filmmakers, except without filmmaking skills. They have a story and ideas for cutscenes, then add generic gameplay (maybe "with a twist!").

If I want a multi-hour-long movie, I'll pop in the LOTR extended edition. I want a game. I don't want to feel like I'm just filling the space between cutscenes to advance the story.

The relatively new notion of "how many hours of gameplay does it have?" also really turns me off. My favorite games of old and not so old -- Super Mario Kart, Sim City 2000, Starcraft, Civilization, Red Alert, Impossible Mission, Space Taxi, to name a few -- were impossible to define by "hours of gameplay." I put hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours into some of those, because they're centered around how the game is played, rather than how much "content" there is to churn through.

Also, the atrocity of having to unlock core game content sounds like work to me, and is enough to make me not play the game. I do approve of having bonus levels, second quests, hard mode, etc. unlockable and of having a normal progression of levels. What I don't like is the prospect of playing a game for 10 hours before I can actually play anything resembling the good parts, or play more than a level or two multiplayer. Have to churn through 10 hours of the game before I know if I'll like it? No thanks.

That, and "casual multiplayer" games have become increasingly shallow of late. Wii Sports, Rayman, MonkeyBall, Guitar Hero, etc. tend to have very simple gameplay. Fun for parties with people who don't game, but the challenge wanes quickly. Patronizing AI doesn't help. Computer opponents that are easy when I suck and hard when I'm good discourage me from playing better, but ones that can trounce me and I can equally pwn make for an engaging experience.

If I want story, I'll read a book. If I want spectacular cutscenes, I'll watch a movie. I want a game. Not an interactive movie, not an interactive book. Good games are out there, but there's so much dreck to dig through.

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Alex Sramek
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I'm not so concerned with a game having a lot or a little gameplay... back then we did have a notion of "this is a long game" or "this is a short game" or "holy crap, I thought I was done, and there were 10 more levels!" What's new is the presence of "hours of gameplay" in the vernacular.

Now, I hear it come up in regular gaming conversation, and I see it on the back of game boxes. I'll read "Over 40 hours of gameplay!" and I'll hear people say "I don't know if I want to buy that game, it only has 30 hours of gameplay."

And so I see games come along that seem fairly obvious that extra "content" was crammed in so that the publisher can claim more hours of gameplay on the box... heaven forbid that that extra effort was spent on making more *compelling* gameplay.

I also like the sense of mystery, of not knowing how much there is in a game. I may know "long" or "short", but if I know "30 hours", then I'm just watching the clock for when that'll be done and I move on to the next one.

When I buy a game, I find the notion of "you may play this for a few days, you may play this for the next year straight!!!" very attractive. If someone tells me that I'm guaranteed to put it down after 30 hours (adjusted for skill) (unless I want to replay it), that, for me, a borderline missing gamer, steers me away. I'm more willing to experiment with a few turds if I have the promise of a gem that I'll love for ages.

Hoby Van Hoose
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Ahh the focus group.. pointing out all the things we should already be able to see for ourselves. Don't let it go too far - I suggest watching a BBC documentary series called The Century of the Self to see an illustrated fair warning from our recent history.

Aubrey Hesselgren
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>As a former heavy gamer and current more-occasional-gamer in the 25-35 group, what got me about the article is this...

>>>"I actually forgot I was playing a video game and not watching a film at one point," was probably the highest praise we had from one of our gamers.

Non gamers want to play non games, clearly. Nah, I jest. But once again, this phrasing raises a sign of the insecurity of games as a medium... to believe they're somehow intrinsically less wholesome than a movie... that attitude will peter out as we have more games worthy of praise for artistic merit.

I agree, basically. Artistic merit by association is not the answer. Games, as a medium, have to find their own feet, and then, stand on them.

Sande Chen
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Because I work in serious games, I do have to design for audiences that may not be familiar with games or gameplaying conventions. It's very important not to carry your assumptions with you in that just because you play video games, other people must automatically understand how to play these games or even enjoy the kinds of games you play.

When you talk to people who are not so familiar with videogames, then yes, they know GTA4 - they look at the boxes that are marketed towards a certain demography - they already have assumptions about the culture of games. The social stigma is why young girls seem to veer away from careers in videogames. As we mentioned in our blog at
id-play-those-video-games/, games are more typically viewed as a cultural time-wasting sin rather than a positive element.

In this blog post, we do talk about focus testing research on our games. In serious games, there definitely is a lot more focus testing simply because we assume the audience may be unfamiliar with games.

Jack Knight
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I hate playing games by myself, every game needs some type of social aspect.

Dave Endresak
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@Alex Sramek:

You said:

"If I want story, I'll read a book. If I want spectacular cutscenes, I'll watch a movie. I want a game. Not an interactive movie, not an interactive book. Good games are out there, but there's so much dreck to dig through. "

Games are like every other media format - they are about telling a story, creating a setting, etc. This could be simple or complex, but you equate anything that does not meet your personal preference and definition of "game" as "drek". This view does not embrace diversity and offer inclusion of gamers who have differing definitions and preferences for what they call "game".

Creating an emotional connection is critical for any media. Games are no different, and narrative presentation through cutscenes is one important method to do this.

Dave Mieluk
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@Dave Endresak

I'm not exactly sure of the point of your post above, but it seems like you are crticizing Alex for not defining games broadly enough.

I agree that games should be defined broadly, but it may be that the missing gamer cohort just doesn't like the kind of game being made now.

I think I kind of fit the missing gamer mold, and have friends that fit the description better than myself (i've kept somewhat in contact with gaming). Myself and some friends have taken a fair bit of interest in Texas Hold'em, and also played Carcassonne, as well as Settlers of Catan which was not mentioned in the article.

Needless to say, these aren't exactly games amenable to cutscenes. It has been tried - think Battlechess - but what results is a detraction from the game... Not the creation of an emotional connection...

The way you descibe the use of the cutscene seems to imply as narrow a definition of the concept of game as used by Alex above. It doesn't matter, but I just wanted to point out that this perspective might help get at the missing gamer phenomenon.

I look back at games like populous, archon and m.u.l.e. as the promise that computing brought to gaming, and the sort of experiences which led to where I am now. These games were pure gaming (moving tokens around an interesting formal system) using the leverage of automatic processing afforded by a computer. They didn't have cutscenes in any modern sense (the mule spacecraft scene?), and importantly, cutscenes wouldn't make any sense in the way the games were defined.

There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the kinds of games I have described here and the kinds of games currently produced in the gaming industry. That could be why a lot of the gamers left.

Bill Murtog
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The social experience is certainly a huge element of it...I find it funny that it's not a "waste of time" to constantly reload your pages on social networks but it is when playing a game that could increase your mind activity, problem solving, and reaction time...but as we see on fb, myspace, and the more social the atmosphere for gamers the more likely they are to engage.