Hardcore Gaming :: Classical Music
Hardcore gamers are going the way of the Classical Music aficionado; I should know, I belong to both groups. Don’t worry, it’s far from dinosaur levels of ‘extinct’, but you will have to get used to the market not giving a rat’s ass about you anymore. Not immediately, but faster than you’d think. So soak up these last few breaths of glorified air while you can— the industry won’t cater much longer to your whims.
The parallels are actually quite striking. Like with Classical, the money has shifted to gaming’s more popular cousin, Casual; fame isn’t too far behind. The amount of effort and training needed to develop and code a AAA title, or compose and play a classical piece, are prohibitively high and rather expensive. Conversely, the training and effort needed to develop a casual blockbuster is considerably less; all you need to kickstart your American Idol career is a couple years’ voice lessons.
The resources needed to concoct a technological marvel like Forza 5 are astronomical compared to the developer’s kit used for Candy Crush Saga. Profit margins for the latter are much wider. Maintaining an orchestra and all the trappings that go with it costs a shit ton of money; a 5 piece band, all other things being equal, much less so. See where I’m going with this?
The public, with the advent of smartphones, has developed a ravenous appetite for casual games, where as the audience for more “hardcore” titles has remained relatively static for the past half decade, if not longer. Any savvy businessman, especially a new start up, can see which water looks friendlier: Overhead and resources needed for entry into the casual market are considerably lower, the potential for ludicrous profit is prodigious.
If you find this disheartening you shouldn’t. Our hardcore titles aren’t going anywhere, just like Classical Music hasn’t. The amount of money flowing into AAA titles will shrink, the attention they receive even more so, but as long as there are those who crave something deeper from their interactive media than Farmville— and there always will be— the craft of the hardcore game shall not perish.
See, how most of you view casual games? That’s how we Classical Music devotees view pop music.
There are a few who will turn up their noses— from both casual games and popular music— labeling them inferior, but the majority of us can and do appreciate both. There are some absolutely great things that popular music has given us: the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Bon Iver. There is nothing lesser or unworthy about it. However, some of us need a little more from our experience.
As much as I love cranking up the radio and singing along with fun.’s ‘Some Nights’, after the 15th play-through on Top 40 Countdown it can grow very stale. I’m pretty sure most of you started out liking Goyte’s “Somebody I Used To Know” before the end of last summer. Yes, overplay contributes a large part, but I would argue pop music is designed to have a short shelf life. Everything great about the song becomes apparent, if not on the first playthough, then on the third or fourth. There is little depth, nothing to sink your teeth into, nothing that slowly reveals itself to you only after you’ve heard it 20 times. It’s designed to grab your attention immediately, not necessarily to hold it.
So we who crave something else turn to our classical pantheon, to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a masterwork so intricate, intentional and dense, you’ll find it still reveals more aspects of itself even after the 500th time through, and then some. Or Debussy’s La Mer, as infinitely unknowable as it is seductive. If Mahler’s Adagietto above doesn’t make your dick explode with its soul-crushing tenderness, you are not human.
It’s a completely different experience, as vast a difference as Plants vs Zombies and Bioshock: Infinite. Each great in its own way; ‘better’ or ‘worse’ misses the point entirely. Anyone who says Plants vs Zombies is anything less than fucking fantastic is not worth listening to. Angry Birds deserves all the accolades it has for figuring out such an addictive formula and applying it so expertly well.
But these games, as addictive as they might be, aren’t enthralling. Not the way Bioshock: Infinite is. They don’t envelope you in a different world for hours on end, consume your imagination the way Final Fantasies of old could. They aren’t designed to. That isn’t their purpose. Not to say casual games can’t be creative, but everything you’re going to get is laid out on the surface, just like a pop song. There is no depth. It’s built to be easy to pick up for 15 minutes at a time and put down quickly.
And that’s all most people are ever going to want out of their games.
Then what are we— who have tasted something richer— to do when our industry realigns itself? And it will realign itself. I suppose there isn’t much to do but sit back and hope it goes smoothly. There is little reason to panic, though, some real good could very well come of it.
Developers who do produce hardcore games will slim down, be forced to gut out a lot of the bloat that’s accumulated over the years, so what we’re left with are a small cadre of very passionate individuals who craft games for the love of them, not just the money. That small cadre of passionate developers will be forced to get creative with their technology, too, its very unlikely they’ll have the finances to market their game solely on its brute technological prowess anymore. The community will grow more tight-knit as well. Our numbers will remain largely the same, but the attention we get now from the giants of the industry will almost certainly be diverted toward the casual market; and with that relative lack of attention, finding and connecting with other like-minded individuals (like Gamers Schmamers Facebook page!) will feel more important than ever.
That’s if things play out as they have in the Classical Music department. Because that’s how things are for us now. Despite being pronounced dead on numerous occasions, with many more sure to come, the Classical Music scene is as vibrant as it has ever been. Far from being a creepy cult worshiping dead old white men, some of the most exciting music coming out in the last several decades is happening now, with fresh blood like composers Nico Muhly and Missy Mazzoli writing ridiculously compelling and modern soundscapes. Even the old guard, John Adams, Arvo Part and Steve Reich are still at the top of their game. (I say “old guard”, most of their work will still sound downright futuristic to a lot of you.) Orchestras, whilerecently coming under lots of financial trouble due to the recession, are still active around a larger portion of the country than you’d think. Live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House into movie theaters in thousands of towns across America has reinvigorated the Opera scene. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
There’s no reason to believe it won’t be the same for hardcore gaming. There will always be new and exciting games for us around the corner, games that scratch that itch more casual fare just can’t reach. Innovation happens at the vanguard, where individuals aren’t afraid to push standard conventions out into unexplored frontiers. “Classical” music and hardcore gaming have always assumed that mantle, and will for the foreseeable future.
Just don’t be surprised if your kids start asking you why you can’t just play the “cool” games like everyone else. There will be legions who can’t understand why we will hang on, or even worse, who refuse to even try to understand. But it’s not about them, it never was and it never will be. It’s about what fills your heart with joy and wonder and excitement. Then be content in knowing, when you get that quizzical look from someone wondering why you’re picking up Assassin’s Creed CLVIII, or maybe blasting Bach from your car stereo, that you understand a world they refuse to even try, and are immensely happier for it.