It's a common phrase, and increasingly it's one I think applies to the Game Industry as I note how relatively unknown the game industry is among the older generation.
I had a neighbor, a friend of my wife, who came by as my kids were playing Airport Mania on a Wii test kit I'd brought home for testing. When my kids shouted triumphantly that it was Airport Mania, but on the Wii! The neighbor, who incidentally had unexpectedly found my game on the PC without realizing until looking at the credits that I'd made it, looked at my kids and asked what the Wii was. I explained it was the newest machine from Nintendo, and she then asked who Nintendo was.
I was talking to a college roommate last weekend about the games we make, and that we've expanded to the iphone. He was unfamiliar with the casual space, so I said they were games somewhat similar to Bejeweled. He asked what Bejeweled was. I said it was from PopCap. He asked who that was.
I took some games home to my dad last weekend, to get an expert opinion, and in one of them there was some match 3 play (like Bejeweled). He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do b/c he'd never seen a match 3 game before in his life.
I went to the doctor a couple of months ago and while talking to him about a knee injury, I mentioned WiiFit. He wasn't familiar with it. I told him it was for the Nintendo Wii, he had no idea what it was. I further explained computer games, working through everything I could think of to convey the concept of playing a game on a TV or computer, and finally getting to Tetris, which he knew, due to being from Eastern Europe.
Big Fish - Little Pond
Being in an industry every day can make you feel like everyone knows what you know. That's not uncommon for any industry, but it's especially prevalent in the games industry because there is so much media coverage of the industry.
However, as I ask around, and talk to people, the fact that most people don't play games is apparent.
What does that mean?
Honestly, it doesn't mean that much. If you were to pick something not to do, games would be a good thing to have on your list. Gaming is entertainment, and it is a type of entertainment that is often abused as people spend both their free time and their work time playing games. If you were not to be playing games, your time could be better spent. It could be worse spent as well, but the point is, that not playing games isn't a bad thing, and is potentially it could be a good thing.
As much as Nintendo has tried to turn gaming into a good thing and spread it to the masses as either enlightening, useful, or family fun, gaming is still looked down upon, and most people don't play, aren't involved, and don't even know what gaming is today.
As a game creator, I do want people to play. But instead of wanting people to come play my games, I want to make games for them. I don't expect people to like Jazz music or baseball because I do. I want to figure out what they do like, and make something for them.
It's a Pond, Not the Ocean
Which brings me to my next point. Actually it doesn't. But I'm going to let that first part simmer and move on anyway.
Recently the Dead Space Extraction numbers for Wii were released, and they were horrible. 9200 copies in the first month. This type of poor sales inevitably leads to someone saying that Mature games don't sell on the Wii because that's a console for kids, not adults.
But the Wii is selling to adults. 7 year olds are not the ones buying WiiFit.
The real issue here is that adults don't like shooters. (at this point some readers get upset to the point of wanting to respond to this piece without reading the rest...don't do that...read on)
I was looking at some survey data recently which showed that FPS games were among the Top 5 genres for players up to age 35. At age 35 FPS dropped into a tie for 10th.
As people get older, their tastes change. If you haven't gotten old yet, just wait, it will happen to you.
What has mostly happened, is that as people have gotten older, they've simply stopped playing games. The Japanese market has been giving a wonderful demonstration of this fact for the last 10 years, which is what lead Nintendo to go a completely different route.
The casual games market on the PC is mostly female over 35. In fact, I've started to wonder. Are there more women over 35 playing games than there are men? I honestly think the answer to that question is 'yes.'
Which has got me thinking. Why?
I've talked to people at my work (where we make games), around my neighborhood, at church, and other places, and there is a very interesting trend. Hardly any of the guys my age (I'm 35) play games. Hardly any at all.
...and that includes the people I work with who make games for a living.
Most of them played years ago, but they've stopped entirely, and they have little interest in the games of today. Dead Space is not turning their heads.
So I've started wondering what might.
Instead of thinking about the size of the fish, I've started thinking about the size of the pond.
Isn't there an ocean out there?
What would a 40 year old guy want to play?
(really...what? you may have an anecdote about some guy or small group that plays COD every weekend, but its rare...really rare...I'm convinced that the #1 reason this age group doesn't play is b/c of a lack of content made for them)
What are 40 year old guys like?
(this is really an interesting question to me, one which I've written down attributes to and thought about a lot as I've considered what the audience does...and why they do it. I'm pretty convinced that the way to make a game for a 40 year old is to make the game for a 40 year old.)
What would my dad play?
(notably he's been interested in Wii Sports, the first game he's personally asked to play in 20 years! Beyond that though...what would make him interested in playing - note that my dad's 59. Prior to Wii Sports the last game he enjoyed playing was RC Pro-AM.)
It's been an interesting thought journey thinking about what games are, and what they could be. Perhaps it will spur some thought that will lead to a game for guys over 40, or for a game aiming for that ocean of older folk (aka the majority of the people on the earth) instead of being satisfied with being a big fish in a small pond.