Gaming needs to become more mainstream; this is something I’ve been hearing a lot recently, often around the release of a new big AAA game and even more often, with reference to violence.
I’m going to put the question of whether games can, do, or are even able to insight either thoughts or acts of physical violence aside for another time, today I’m more interested in whether games are, or should be mainstream. This subject though, as with most things worthy of discussion, is invariably multifaceted and not as simple as you would think.
Should games attempt to be more mainstream? The implication here being that games a) need mainstream acceptance and b) that they are somehow a lesser hobby without it.
There is an immediate and fairly substantial response that most gamers, myself included, will have to this. That the question (or suggestion as such) was posed by Charlie Brooker though should give us pause for thought. In the mainstream media Charlie Brooker is certainly one of the individuals who have done most to bring our chosen entertainment medium to light and has often broached difficult questions if not in defence of, at least with an even hand for gaming.
I think though that this is a bit of an unintentional pea-under-the-cup moment. The question is not whether gaming should attempt to be seen as mainstream, it is whether those purporting to be the mainstream actually are the mainstream. I’m not so sure.
You see, print and even network-lead media are in the middle of an inexorable decline. Everyone, but perhaps the most entrenched (and old) within the field can see this. Circulation is down and given the scale of alternative sources the internet can provide, this is not something I see changing any time soon.
Gaming on the other hand, is in rude health. If we fall back (as ever) on Steam, we have the recent announcement that Steam has 75 million user accounts (confirmed at Valve’s Dev Days event, and up a staggering 10 million in the past quarter).That gives the land of Steam a population roughly equal to that of France. That’s a lot of people who have downloaded a piece of software that is just for gaming. Want more?? Sure…
235 million people (cnet news) play games on Facebook. That’s a real-world population roughly equal to Indonesia; the fourth most populous country on the planet. Only 60 million behind the USA. Now there will of course be some overlap here, but I don’t think we’d be far off the mark saying that at least 250 million people actively and regularly PC play games. The real figure is likely to be much much higher.
In China, a recent estimation suggested that nearly 225 million people will be gaming by 2015 (via Forbes). This is set to rise further following the recent relaxation of the attitudes towards gaming, and in this instance online gaming, by the Peoples Communist Party, which until very recently ‘frowned’ upon this sort of thing (see The Telegraph).
We then have the other eastern countries, such as south Korea, where an estimated 35% of the total population regularly play games with the average south Korean household spending up to three times more than the average American household on gaming (Yahoo).
When you consider consoles as well, where estimates of usage go from 60% of all homes in the USA to 70% of the global population owning at least one console (see this ESA survey) then you see just how wide spread gaming actually is. We’ve not even looked at the mobile market yet… but I think I’ve made my point.
Let’s talk money then, which in reality is what it all comes down to it. In 2012 Hollywood earned an approximate $10.8 billion. Compare that to gaming’s staggering $67 billion (Forbes) and no that wasn’t a mis-print. The gaming industry made $67 billion in 2012. That’s over 6 times more than Hollywood, which I think you’ll agree, is staggering.
Meandering back to the main point though, I think the question of whether gaming needs to become more mainstream is a moot one; gaming already is the mainstream. It’s revenue dwarfs that of what is probably it’s biggest competitor, Hollywood, and a significant proportion of the worlds population regularly game.
It is simply the perceptions of those that incorrectly see themselves as the mainstream that state otherwise; they simply don’t understand how massive the gaming industry has become. Gaming has risen to unbelievable levels of popularity in a very short time, so it’s perhaps understandable why certain aspects of the media are unable, or perhaps unwilling to accept gamings rise to prominence, but it doesn’t change the simple fact that gaming dwarfs all other mainstream pursuits
That said, it is understandable why other medium’s may not want to accept that they are no longer the mainstream, but we know otherwise now, don’t we?