Got an interesting response to a previous post about Halo 3's $170,000,000 opening weekend, from CoDee:
"...while this was the biggest entertainment launch in history (as measured by $$$), it was almost entirely confined to males 18-34. I think the big $170MM number is overstating it's actual cultural impact. The Xbox 360 is still the exclusive turf of the hardcore. When is Microsoft (or the game industry) going to have a hit that breaks out of this niche?"
CoDee, I'm glad you asked!
First, a trip down memory lane. From what dark root does the image of "male video gamers" spring?
"Gaming's Dark Ages" aka "Exclusive Turf of the Hardcore" aka "Kingdom of the Socially Inept"
In my fleeting personal memories of the lost time after "Spacewar"; eons before XBox 360, I am plagued by recurrent visions of socially awkward fat kids (let's call them collectively, "me") stuffing their pie holes with crap food, playing 'Space Invaders' and later, when graphics could handle it, Donkey Kong.
Soooo lifelike. You could smell the RAM burning. Only in fevered dreams (typically brought on by two liters of soda and a bag of nutter butters) could we imagine graphics surpassing these masterworks.
The Nation's collective image of "video gamers" was built on the backs of the folks who played them: pre-pubescent kids and Comp-Sci wunderkinds. This, then, is the beginning of the long held assumption that only wildly attractive men played video games.
Freedom at last from social isolation : Behold the Atari 2600!
A two liter bottle of Coke + a pack of Nutterbutters + a copy of ET:The extraterrestial = crazy delicious. Who needs to date?
PC Games for my Tandy Corp. Radio Shack TRS-80 (affectionately known as the "Trash-80") were sold on tapes. Audio cassettes in yellowing mylar bags. Back then, respectable pubs like the NYT couldn't be bothered with video games. Games, and computer gaming, epitomized 'Geek'. Specifically, revenge-of-the-nerds, Male geeks. A subculture, nothing more. Just keep walking, and don't make eye contact, and you'll get out of Castle Wolfenstein just fine.
As recently as 2005, eMarketer's "Videogames: Where to Now?" reports still pegged US console ownership as 75% male, with 81% of those males 35 and under. Men also held the edge (51% to 49%) over women in online gaming. But the balance had already tipped. Unbeknownst to conventional wisdom, the keys to geek castle had already been stolen. A 2005 report by the Carnegie endowment noted that "of all videogame players who had played no more than one year, 62% were female."
Modern Days: Hardcore no more
When did gaming go mainstream? I don't know exactly - I'd been gaming since Christmas of 1973, when Dad brought home Pong. I'd been programming games since I got my first computer in 1978. And I am a geek. So it's a little blurry for me. Definitely after Zork. Sega Genesis? When Playstation came out? Or Gamecube? Or the Gameboy? When JC Herz published "Joystick Nation"?
In the modern era, one extremely lagging indicator could be when the New York Times launched "Game Theory", a bi-weekly game review by Charles Herold, featured in the 'Circuits' section in March 2000.
Herold's been writing rock solid reviews for some time. And sure enough, sprinkled amidst the rabidly positive reviews for Halo 3 that netted the game a 95 Metacritic score is something special - Herold, from his window seat at the Grey Lady, takes a potshot with an SRS 99D AM (you know what I'm talkin' 'bout!) at Halo 3:
"...it cannot be denied that there are people who will take greater pleasure in this game than in any other entertainment this year.
And what will make them happy, what will make their days joyful and give them long, crazed nights of ecstatic bliss, what will make the purchase of Halo 3 the best thing they could possible do with their money, is this one thrilling fact: Halo 3 is Halo 2 with somewhat better graphics!"
OK, he doesn't think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. But he knows others do. In droves. This is culture he is reporting on, not simply a product.
And the WEBSITE! It's cool! And the kicker - to interact with the 'Halo3 interactive Game Guide', you have to download Silverlight. BRILLIANT! A bucket load of sugar helps the download medicine go down! I mean honestly - is the whole game just a trojan horse? how the hell else was Microsoft going to get us all to download Silverlight?? But I digress.
Back to a paraphrase of CoDee's original query -
Q. 'when will the gaming industry have a hit that breaks out of this niche?"
A. It already happened.
In 2007, gaming is not exclusively NICHE, MALE, or 18-34. And the hits are many. Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst. World of Warcraft. The Sims franchise. Lineage II. Diner Dash. Bejeweled. Wii Sports. These are casual games. MMOG's/MMORPG's. Console hardware. Done, done and DONE, baby.
On April 13, 2007, eMarketer's report entitled "Gamer Demographic Spreads Out" had these tidbits:
- 700 MILLION casual games were downloaded in 2006. And who are 76% of all casual gamers? I'll give you a hint - it starts with 'W' and ends with "omen'. And that's "omen" as in portent. As in "watch this space grow from a projected $365MM space in 2006 to a projected $725MM in 2007, and to be a primary driver for years to come"
Fine. We'll give them casual games, well and good. But Consoles? Only men have consoles, right? I'll give you a hint - it starts with 'W' and ends in 'rong'.
25% in 2005. 42% in 2007. What the HELL happened here? One thing was Wii, baby! According to Engadget on August 23rd, here's where console sales stood:
Knock Wii out of there, and you'd see female ownership drop - but by how much? Don't forget Carnegie noted back in 2005 that 62% of gamers that had played less than a year were women. BEFORE Wii came out. Interestingly, after the original announcement of the Wii, at E3, "a loose online movement called 'Wii60' developed, promoting dual-ownership of both Nintendo's and Microsoft's systems." Check it out for yourself at Wii60.com.
Above - Master Chief gets in touch with his feminine side?
Below - "Is that a Wii remote in your hand or are you just glad to see me?"
a Fine example of Wii Sports "Pass Along":
Of 2,000 folks surveyed in a recent Parks Associates study of mobile gamers, 59% were women.
And 61% of those female players play mobile phone games for about one to four hours every month. 58% say they play mobile games for more than four hours each month.
I don't do that, and I'm a complete G -E-E-K.
I mean c'mon. Where do people find the time for this stuff, when they could be Twittering, or having sex with virtual genitals in Second Life? But I digress.
"Women are the foundation of the gaming market, and as an industry, we need to cater to their preferences," said John Barrett, director of research at Parks Associates.
So where does that leave us?
As defined by Wikipedia, "A game is a structured or semi-structured activity, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes also used as an educational tool." Which would make it one of the original forms of interactive media.
Gaming IS mainstream. It's NOT exclusively male. Game culture is culture. It's also a HUGE category that defies categorization. It generates over 166,000,000 results on Google. I'm not even go to try to define it here - let it suffice to say 'Gaming' comprises a mind-blowing array of genres and delivery vehicles. Women dominate casual gaming and mobile gaming. Men have an edge in console ownership, but the gap has narrowed. Let's move on.
But is Halo 3 cultural impact being overstated?
Don't know yet. But maybe there's something in trying to draw an entertainment industry parallel. If we can agree films can be cultural events, then we have a place to start. By way of example, films like 'Toy Story' enter the collective consciousness and national and global culture. Who hasn't heard (or said) "To infinity, and beyond!"? So this is voodoo math, but if you've read this far, bear with me:
Halo 3 had $170,000,000 in sales. Divide by $60/title = 2,833,333 copies purchased.
I couldn't find any good numbers to support "pass-along" - loaning a friend a game - or multiplayer use (which people indicate is the true power of Halo 3), but based on personal experience (and some disturbing videos on YouTube) we could probably safely double the number above and consider them 'participants in the experience of Halo 3'. To be conservative, let's use an average of 1.5 - 1.9 people playing each game, for a total audience of between 4,250,000 - 5,500,000.
A film watched by that horde, in 2006 dollars, would generate opening weekend box office revenues from $27 - $36 Million. Comparing that to opening weekend box receipts from films, we find:
- Armageddon @ $36MM
- Robots @ $36MM
- Minority Report @ $35MM
- Gladiator @ $34MM
- Lethal Weapon 4 @ $34MM
- Blades of Glory @ $33MM
- Rush Hour @ $33MM
Rounding out the bucket are titles that include Anchorman, Titanic, The Matrix, Terminator II, Elf, Saving Private Ryan, The Blair Witch Project, and...Toy Story.
Of course these films then went on to generate more ticket sales after opening weekend. But Halo 3 will continue to generate sales as well.
So bearing with this little exercise, how many of those films have you seen? how many scenes do your remember, or can reenact, with friends? how many films do you reference regularly? how many can you quote?
And you saw them, what, once? twice? If you saw "Anchorman" three times, you spent a cumulative viewtime of 4.7 hours (not including those HILARIOUS DVD EXTRAS!!).
It takes a practiced gamer 15 hours to complete Halo 2 (in 'heroic' mode). That's 15 hours of fearing for your virtual life at practically every moment. Are you an 'engaged viewer'? Hell yeah.
If 4.7 hours and community reinforcement embedded Anchorman into our culture, not to mention The Matrix, imagine the potential impact of Halo 3. Or impending titles like Hellgate London, or Will Wright's upcoming "Spore".
The 18-34 male demographic just got an M9HE-DP of Halo culture up the tail pipe - blown audially, visually and physically into their systems. Halo 3 has been almost a religion, spawning fanatical followers (who condemn bad reviews - and reviewers!) and an intensely, mutually reinforcing community with a common language: 'john-117', 'Cortana', 'Forerunners', the 'Flood', etc. - these mean nothing to the uninitiated. When 'Scary Movie XV' makes a reference to the destruction of 'Reach' in Halo, will you miss it because you didn't play? Yep.
How crazy has gaming got? Very. Here's a VERY mild example:
Barcade in Brooklyn, NY, hosted a a "No pants allowed: The Underwear Arcade Video Game Gathering". Attended by men. And women. Want to see the photos? Check them out on Flickr. Not enough? Here's two below. Extra points if you recognize the W+K employee in the rainbow hat MC'ing the event.
Note mixed crowd below.
Gaming is for everyone. Gaming is fun again. Halo 3 - cultural? Just ask Wikipedia.
I'll leave you with some images:
Gears of War(above)
Cruel to be Kind (ARG)