It seems more and more these days that the gaming industry as a whole is mainly focused on the mature audience. Games like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, The Last of Us, and Halo all get made with realistic blood, swearing, and just an overall more adult feel.
It’s easy to see why this trend is occurring, especially when you look at the ESA guide for 2013 (read it for yourself here). According to the study, 36% of gamers are over the age of 36, and if you combine that with the gamers aged 18-35 you get a staggering 68%. That means more than half of the gaming population is in the M-rated demographic, and it stands to reason that game companies know this well.
There is one other very important number on this chart I want to point out, though. That’s the ‘Below 18 years of age’ ratio, and those gamers make up a staggering 32% of the gaming populace. So while most of us are free to play all the AAA, M-rated games we want, there is still 32% of the community that shouldn’t. Yeah, I know a lot of parents will allow their children to play M-rated games anyway, but while I am not going to judge someone on any other aspect of their parenting, the fact is that no one under 18 should be playing an M-rated game. So why are these children clamoring for these ultra-violent, cuss-filled, adult-themed games? Is it because kids are drawn to that kind of stuff or is it due to the simple fact that a majority of higher quality games are rated M?
Now if you look at 2012, you will see that 45% of all games reviewed by the ESRB were rated E for everyone. Keep in mind this is across all gaming platforms, including consoles, PC, smart phones, and tablets, meaning every sports game is counted more than once and every game on the iOS and Android devices that has been reviewed gets counted. If you dig deeper you will see that the top two best selling game types are shooters, and action games. The two combined make up nearly 43% of all games sold in 2012.
What does it all mean? Well, it’s hard to tell without also looking at the best-selling games released in 2012. That list consists of no less than 10 M rated games, which run the gamut of games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Battlefield 3 to Assassin’s Creed, Diablo 3, and Mass Effect 3. Games like New Super Mario Brothers 2 and Lego Batman 2: DC Heroes make the list, but only after running past a handful of M rated games. So aside from those few gems and sports games, where are all the E-rated top tier games ?
The answer is complicated to say the least, but the quick answer is that they just aren’t being made.
This is a troubling trend to say the least. For the industry to survive we need to keep the younger generation interested and involved, and the only company that seems to be focusing on children is Nintendo. With ALL the companies that are making games today, only ONE is really focusing on E-rated games? What happened to the market being flooded with games that everyone could enjoy? Even the PS2 and Xbox had AAA titles that weren’t rated M, but it looks as if in recent years the E rating is delegated to crappy movie tie-ins, sports and racing games, and the few Nintendo-developed titles that get released. If this trend continues, it will mean the end of the industry.
Now you may be asking “why would this mean the end of the industry?”. That answer is quite simple. While gamers continue to age, and the demographic of people over the age of 18 continues to grow, you will start to see a decrease in people under the age of 18 playing games. At some point in the not too distant future, you will see that number drop to levels below 20%. From 2013, the number of people playing games under 18 dropped from 32% to 29%. That is 3% of the 150 million gamers in the US. That 3% is a continuing downward trend, which is obvious just by comparing each year’s statistics, and could spell doom for the gaming industry if it continues. Without new people entering the hobby, the older people will begin to die out, which will begin to shrink the industry altogether.
Imagine if the average age of a gamer would continue to increase with the current 35-year-old. Each year, that number would raise and raise and sooner or later the average age of a gamer will be 80, and then when they die the industry as a whole collapses. It’s the same trend that is currently being seen in the comic book industry, and if that’s what gaming has to look forward to I think we are gonna be SOL!
So what can we do to fix this trend? The industry as a whole doesn’t seem to be speaking about this issue, or even acknowledging the fact that this is a huge problem. Instead we get the same ctrl+c, ctrl+v shooter and third-person action game geared towards an adult audience. There is an easy solution to this though, and that is simply to make more-family friendly games that live up to the caliber and prestige of stuff like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Uncharted. That way kids will have a good quality game that will introduce them to the hobby, and hopefully raise their numbers. Nintendo seems to be on the right track, with games like Mario, Donkey Kong, and the recently announced Splatoon. Ubisoft also seems to be working on this, thanks to games like Rayman Origins, but it isn’t enough.
The one shining example of a place you can still get top notch games that are rated E is the indie scene. There are always a bunch of games being released on the PC that don’t feature a ton of swearing, sex, blood, and the like. These aren’t games you’ve never heard of either, they are stuff like Minecraft, Thomas was Alone, Braid, and Bastion. While the story in some may be a bit complex for a young gamer to understand, the gameplay is some of the best, and it achieves it all without all that mature content. If you are a parent of a gamer or a kid looking for stuff to play I can’t do any better than point you to STEAM!
Think about when you were growing up and playing games. Yeah, you may have played some terrible games, but you also had a ton of gems. I myself grew up with some of the games that are considered classics today: Megaman, Zelda, Sonic, Final Fantasy, Star Fox, Ape Escape, all of which were rated E. Today’s youth have stuff like Madden, the Lego series, We Sing, Just Dance, Temple Run, and Angry Birds. I wouldn’t want to be a kid gamer today, and I don’t think you would either.