Listen up, game companies: I am an old man gamer.
“But Vince,” you might interject, “aren’t you only 24?” “Yes, Cheryl,” I might answer, “Yes I am.” And it would be true… as long as your name is Cheryl.
So what qualifies me as “old?” (We’ll discuss what qualifies me as “man” in another post… maybe when you’re older.)
Granted, I’m not old in terms of “years on this earth,” but I am old in terms of my gaming habits and tastes. I’m an Old Man Gamer.
People like me who grew up playing games on the NES are now finding full-time jobs, getting married, and in some cases having kids. And some people, like me, have done all three. That doesn’t leave a lot of personal time for my favorite hobby, gaming. As a result my gaming habits have drastically changed.
I find an hour here or there when the baby is sleeping, the wife is busy or gone, and all the house work is done when I can sit down and start up a gaming console. Also, when I have some free time at work in between classes when I have no planning or preparation to do, I’ll often (gasp) boot up a game on my laptop and waste a few minutes.
The games that I play need to match my gaming habits or it’ll greatly diminish my gaming experience. Here are some ways in which games can adapt to my habits:
- Save anywhere — I play in short bursts. My baby could wake up crying at any time, so I need the ability to save at any point in the game. Too many games such as Resident Evil and almost every console RPG have too few savepoints. If I have to quit and replay a large section, I’m going to be quite discouraged and possibly permanently lay down the game in frustration. If spacing out save points is a part of your game’s design, then I’d suggest that your design blows.
- Quick to the fun — Since I may only be playing for a few minutes, the fun better come quick. If I have to spend ten minutes working with a clunky interface to add weapons to my Gummi Ship so that I can fly through a largely bland rail-shooting sequence just to get to the next real part of the game, I’m going to be a bit dissapointed in your game. I understand the use of mini-games to add variety, but make sure they don’t suck. (I’m looking at you Telltale)
- Pausing Cutscenes — For the love of god, let me pause cutscenes. If my baby needs me and I have to miss an important story-related cutscene, I’m going to be angry. And when I press that start button to try and pause the cutscene and it just skips the whole thing… not cool. Luckily, most companies are finally catching on to this one.
- Pick up and play — Your game’s controls should be simple to understand. If the game doesn’t play the way I think it should play, then it’s not designed right. Remember, the customer is always right. I shouldn’t be struggling with the controls in your game. They should flow naturally and not require me to memorize complicated button combinations.
- Windowed play — If your game is a PC game, it needs to have a windowed playing option. It allows for me to quickly click away if another teacher happens to stop by my desk when I’m in the middle of a game. Hooray for work ethic!
- Subtitles — If I’m sneaking in a quick game at work or playing with a sleeping baby in my arms (quite possible, but takes finesse) I’m going to have the volume way down or off. I need me some subtitles. If your game doesn’t provide subtitles, they you’re losing both the hearing impaired and the old man gamers as customers.
- Price — I don’t play that many games anymore, so when I buy that console or updated PC, I don’t want to have to break the bank.
My tastes in games are changing in games as well. Since I play a lot less, I play fewer games. That means I don’t have time to waste on bad games. I’m looking for a different type of game than I used to look for. Here is what I’m looking for in a game now:
- Unique playing experiences — I want to play a game that is unique and fun. Too many cut-and-paste game designs out there. I don’t want to play the same FPS with new graphics and a slightly different story. That’s not a new experience. That’s recycled crap.
- “Smart” games — I don’t mean AI games, though when that technology matures sufficiently it could be fun (see “Unique playing experiences”), I’m talking about games that make me use my brain. I’m terribly bored of mindless action and shooting. I want something that requires me to think differently. Whether it’s a brilliantly conceived puzzle that fits perfectly into the gameworld, or a difficult situation that requires strategic though to escape, a game needs to challenge me intellectually. Mashing the attack button is not what I consider strategic.
- Tell me a story — One way that a game can provide a unique experience, even if the gameplay isn’t particularly fresh, is by telling a story. Games and stories don’t usually get along these days. The focus in development is on gamplay features and flashy graphics. Lately, the stories are just these tacked on after-thoughts. Whith a competent writer and a solid story, a fun-to-play game suddenly becomes a completely engrossing fun-to-play game.
- Fun for the whole family — One thing I’m really trying to do is increase my game playing time, by getting my wife to play games with me. She’s not a gamer, so she has an immediate aversion to anything too complicated. I need simple, yet fun, multiplayer to hook her. The one game that she greatly enjoys is Super Monkey Ball. Simple. Fun. Multiplayer. Or maybe it’s just the bananas.
So, why should the game companies care about the way that I now play games? Because I am hardly an isolated case. There are many others like me. And as time goes on, more and more NES-generation babies will be having babies of their own and suddenly wake up one day to realize that they too have become an Old Man Gamer.
Or an Old Woman Gamer. I don’t want to discriminate…