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Getting In the Game. What The Experiential Design Industry Can Learn from Today’s Gamer Culture.

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What can the themed entertainment, theme park and themed design indsutry learn from the activties and rapid dvelopment of today’s gaming and video games culture?

The following article was researched and written by Jack Rouse Associates’ marketing intern, Molly Inderhees.  A sophomore at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business and member of the Carl H. Lindner Honors-PLUS program, Molly recently spent the past summer at the JRA studios assisting the firm’s marketing department in the development of marketing materials, proposals, etc.  As part of her internship, Molly was also asked to develop a research paper about a trend that may affect the experiential design community.

 Getting In the Game. What The Experiential Design Industry Can Learn from Today’s Gamer Culture.
By Molly Inderhees, Jack Rouse Associates

“Video games are attracting a progressively diverse audience, flattening the world and blurring the lines between real and virtual.  With more than 300 million people worldwide playing electronic games last year, it’s evident that gaming’s one-time young-boy’s club has gone all-inclusive, all-ages and coed.  The global gaming industry is a booming business that is expected to grow to $55 billion by 2009 as it evolves across multiple mediums—from consoles, PCs and online communities to handhelds and mobile phones.  As the gaming industry grows and technologies evolve, so too do the opportunities for brands.”  – “Gaming”
 
The “Gaming” Culture

The term “gaming” is an extremely broad term that covers just about any kind of video game system imaginable.  Likewise, the term “gamer” includes those who play video games as a hobby as well as those who play professionally and compete in the World Cyber Games.  Video games are not just attracting teenage boys anymore; they are reaching out to people of all different ages, cultures, and lifestyles. They are creating a new culture, making it imperative that companies and industries embrace this new society and understand how to market to it.

An Evolving Market

Teenage boys are still the largest percentage of gamers, but recent studies show that the demographic of gamers is changing. Although the average age of a gamer is 18 years old, 65 percent of gamers are over eighteen years old.  People between ages 18 to 34 spend more time playing video games than watching television.  According to research surveys, 39 percent of people who play computer and video games are women and 40 percent of online gamers are women (Stith).
 
The video game industry, despite the United States’ economic recession, is experiencing record growth.  According to a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers study, “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2008-2012, ” the video game industry reached $41.9 billion in global sales in 2007 and is predicted to grow to $68.3 billion by 2012. Price Waterhouse Coopers concluded from their study that there are three major factors contributing to the growth of the video game industry, including the capability of “mobile phones to download games with sophisticated graphics and display them on relatively large screens, ” the existence of an “online market driven by the increased penetration of broadband households, ” and the “increasing popularity of massively multiplayer online games that earn revenue through subscription fees and micro-transactions.” (Bond).  The video game industry is undoubtedly a lucrative and emergent industry, and its success and popularity present other industries with new challenges and opportunities.

The Evolution of a Sub-Culture
themed entertainment learning from gaming culture jack rouse associates
Video games have evolved over the past few decades and are currently a social activity where players can compete, chat, and hold live voice conversations with other gamers.  With new consoles on the market, such as Xbox Live, and the increasing popularity of online gaming, gamers can play remotely with or against anyone in the world who has access to the equipment. 

Video games have gone through three phases of social evolution, according to Marshall McLuhan, the well-known Canadian media theorist:  tribalization, de-tribalization, and re-tribalization.  As McLuhan’s theory goes, tribalization occurred in the 70’s and 80’s when video arcades were popular and people played on “stand-alone machines in a collective setting” (Colcleugh).  De-tribalization happened when personal computer games hit the market in the late 80’s and 90’s and gamers had a “total lack of connectivity.”  Re-tribalization is presently taking place as gaming centers and online multiplayer games are allowing gamers to play in a communal setting in cyberspace (Colcleugh).

Re-tribalization can be attributed primarily due to the development and popularity of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games).  MMORPGs are quickly becoming a large sector of the video game industry.  The most popular MMORPG can be looked at as an example of how this platform is changing the way video games are now played and how they are creating social communities and connecting gamers across the world.  World of  Warcraft (WoW) is the most popular MMORPG and according to The Nielsen Company, WoW players average 17 hours of play per week (Cavalli).  World of Warcraft  (right) allows players to “assume the roles of heroes as they explore, adventure, and quest across a vast world, ” and players are able to come together and battle against the world and each other (“Introduction”).  World of Warcraft gamers create a reputation for their characters as they play, and this evolving reputation has a direct impact on how their character advances in the virtual environment.  MMORPGs, as opposed to traditional in-home gaming consoles, give players the ability to interact with, create relationships with, and battle against almost anyone in the world.

 
More Than A Game

In order for other industries to adapt to the prevailing gaming culture, the motives of gamers need to be understood.  The popularity of videogames could easily be attributed to the desire for a temporary escape from an increasingly stressful world.  Videogames allow for an occasional break from reality, providing a retreat into a world where deadlines, stress, and pressing issues do not exist.

However, it seems that gamers don’t just play simply for fun or escapism.  In fact, recent studies suggest that the majority of gamers play for a variety of reasons that are more deeply rooted. These studies have found that gamers play video games for a “sense of achievement, freedom and even social connectedness” (“Video”) – to exist and receive validation in an alternate community that feels legitimate.  For example, video games allow someone who may not be athletic to be the quarterback of a professional football team or compete against a celebrity athlete.  Not many people in the world would have the opportunity to skateboard next to Tony Hawk, but video games make it possible.  Jessica Mousseau reveals her theory about the basic concept underlying the popularity of video games when she writes, “The ability to become someone else, someone you will never be, to live out a life full of danger and mystery, is offered by video games to all people. But even if it’s just for one hour or a few minutes it makes people feel alive and able to do absolutely anything” (Mousseau).  A study done on the interactions that occur both within and outside MMORPGs concluded that “virtual gaming may allow players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, and/or age” (Helena).

The World is Flat

Video games are in 80 percent of American homes with children, and 60 percent of Americans play video games (The Science).  Although video games do have a larger presence in more developed countries, the widespread, worldwide availability of the Internet allows persons in less-developed countries to engage in video games online.  The gaming culture in South Korea can be examined to give perspective on how deeply video games have rooted themselves into the cultures of some countries. In South Korea, competitive gaming is one of the most televised sports, and PC Bangs are all the rage.  PC Bangs are public gaming rooms with powerful computers and fast internet links. Visitors pay by the hour to use the computers.  Mr. Woo, a member of the country’s Federal Game Institute, said that ”the total number of people who go to [watch] pro basketball, baseball and soccer put together is the same as the number of people who go to watch pro game leagues.” Mr. Woo also estimated that 10 million South Koreans regularly follow eSports (Schiesel).

Industries Adapt

Some industries and companies have realized the need to adapt to the video game culture and have done just that.  Blockbuster began selling video games in the beginning of 2004, and during the first six months of that year, “the chain generated $172 million in video game sales compared with only $120 million during the first six months of 2003.”  Video game sales “accounted for 26% of total merchandise sales in stores during that time, ” making the movie rental giant a new competitor in the video game industry (Desjardins).  Mobile phone companies have also realized the need to attract gamers and have created phones with Bluetooth capabilities allowing gamers to play video games over this wireless connection.

Making The Virtual a Reality
themed entertainment learning from gaming culture jack rouse associates

As the experiential design community looks to create attractions that appeal to the gaming culture and incorporate some of its features, they will undoubtedly study the concept and success of Négone.  Négone (right) is a live-action role-playing game, held within various purpose-built, themed environments.  Created by the Spanish company DifferendGames, S.A., the first version of the game, Version 1.0., “La Maquina” (“The Machine”) opened in July 2003.  Négone’s current game “La Fugua” (“The Escape”) opened in Madrid in October of 2005. La Fuga replicates a futuristic 31st century prison, named Mazzinia. Players are led to jail cells and are challenged to escape. Each person wears a wrist-mounted navigation RFID bracelet to track their way through the prison as they complete visual riddles such as puzzles and engage in challenging physical activities including rolling under fences, struggling through rope netting, and scurrying through ventilation ducts (McHugh).  On average, it takes about 50 minutes for a player to escape Mazzini.  During their journey, players are able to log on to terminals that are connected to the La Fuga Internet game component.

These terminals allow players to check their scores, determine how much Négone money they have left, check their ranking, and receive a summary of each game they have played (Négone).  Négone’s state-of-the-art technology makes it possible to “adapt the game to the profile of each player and to evolve in accordance with the trials which the player overcomes and the different paths which he or she chooses, including his or her level of experience” (Négone).  If a guest were to play the game again, Négone’s technological system will ensure that his or her experience will differ by at least 60% from their previous game, making repeat visits more attractive for Négone’s visitors. Guests are also offered the option of playing alone or in teams. They can also use their same alias and codeword to continue their role-playing adventure at other Négone locations. The variety of ways that Négone’s visitors can customize their experience with respect to their age and physical fitness levels allows all ages to participate, and the element of role-playing that is incorporated into Négone’s attractions appeals to both gamers and non-gamers.

Similar to Négone’s La Fuga, Creative Kingdom’s unique combination of their proprietary MagiQuest technology and themed environments provide another highly interactive entertainment option that gives guests a chance to choose the manner and style of their experience.  Attractions incorporating MagiQuest can be themed to a variety of different environments, including a castle, a spaceship, a haunted mansion, etc.  Visitors embark on adventures to “gain powers, reveal secrets, meet real people and discover treasures” – all while using an interactive wand or other themed device that both triggers a variety of interactive show effects and tracks their journey throughout the facility.  At MagiQuest, “Kids can play aggressively and as fast as they do at home on their video games. Parents can help, watch or most often, play themselves and find they are soon competing with their kids.  Grandparents can gain ‘Ancient Wisdom’ by consulting texts, manuscripts and ancient books that give clues to special objects” (“The Journey”).  Guests can compete in teams or individually.  MagiQuest facilitates experiences that serve people of all ages and abilities because it allows players to compete at their own pace and do what they want to do.

A Delicate Balance

In relation to theme parks, park operators “are walking a tightrope in trying to develop rides that provide the kind of individualized experience that gamers covet—in which they’re competing against each other and influencing the action—while also appealing to non-gamers who want a more traditional, non-interactive experience” (Chmielewski).  Disney reached out to gamers with its California Adventure theme park with the Toy Story Midway Mania ride.  Riders wear 3-D glasses and travel through carnival games such as Buzz Lightyear’s Ring Toss, Bo Peep’s Dart Throw and Woody’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Shootin’ Gallery.  Riders are provoked by 3-D animations of the Toy Story characters and are able to use the “spring-action shooter” mounted on the front of their car to shoot such things as virtual pies at the characters (Chmielewski).  Ben Worley, a 22-year-old game fanatic, rode the Toy Story Midway Mania ride and was impressed. He used his “spring-action shooter” and “popped Woody in the head with a virtual pie-and [Woody] reacted by shaking off the glob.” Ben Worley said, “The idea of the ride being aware is absolutely mind-blowing” (Chmielewski).

Another customizable ride-option that seems to be successful in theme parks is a ride that combines robots and rollercoasters.  Industrial robot manufacturer KUKA Roboter GmbH recently teamed with Canada’s Primal Rides to develop a new fully interactive amusement ride.  This “interactive ride can be designed to match customer’s requirements in theme, intensity and realism and to cost effectively change themes to adjust to rider appeal” (Childsplay).  This type of ride gives the guest complete control over their experience by letting them control all of the robot’s movements, and allows guests to not only control the movements but also control the theme of their experience.

The gaming culture has created higher standards for entertainment venues. Gamers are looking for entertainment options that are, as Ben Worley stated, “aware.”  The mindlessness of rollercoasters and the lifelessness of conventional museums do not attract avid gamers for more than an occasional visit or two.  It is the customizable and enthralling experiences that they are looking for – the kind they would get when trying to escape from Négone’s prison, discovering treasures and secrets in a MagiQuest-enabled world or throwing a virtual pie on Toy Story’s Midway Mania ride.

So what does this mean for the experiential design industry? The growing popularity of gaming has already changed the way that certain industries do business.  Just as Blockbuster and many mobile phone companies have incorporated different aspects of video games into their businesses, the themed entertainment industry should recognize and adapt to key trends of the gaming culture.


Works Cited


Bond, Paul. “Video Game Sales on Winning Streak, Study Projects.” Yahoo! News. 18 June 2008. 3 July 2008
Cavalli, Earnest. “World of Warcraft: Most Popular PC Game of Q3 2007.” WIRED Blog Network. 18 Dec. 2007. 8 July 2008
Childsplay. “Robotics used to create custom-themed interactive game park rides.” Gizmag. 13 Nov. 2006. 2 Sept. 2008
Chmielewski, Dawn C. “Disney’s New Attraction Aims to Lure Video Gamers.” Los Angeles Times. 17 June 2008. 3 July 2008
Colcleugh, Stuart. “Computer Centres Attracting Gamers.” SFA.ca. 14 Nov. 2002. Simon Fraser University. 28 Aug. 2008
Desjardins, Doug. “Adapting to a video market where gamers rule the day: Game Rush John Antioco, ceo, Blockbuster.” BNET. 6 Sept. 2004. 28 Aug. 2008.
Elmer-DeWitt, Philip. “The Amazing Video Game Boom.” TIME in Partnership with CNN. 27 Sept. 1993. 7 July 2008

“Gaming.” JWT Intelligence. Sept. 2006. 21 Aug. 2008
Helena Cole, Mark D. Griffiths. CyberPshchology & Behavior. August 1, 2007, 10(4): 575-583. Doi:10.1089/cpb.2007.9988.
“Introduction to World of Warcraft.” World of Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. 7 July 2008
Leathwood, Alistair. “Generation Y, So Misunderstood?” Changeboard. 1 July 2008. 8 July 2008
McHugh, Josh. “The Great Escape.” WIRED. Mar. 2006. 15 July 2008
Mousseau, Jessica. “Why Are Video Games so Popular Today?” Associated Content. Jan. 2007. 4 Sept. 2008
Schiesel, Seth. “The Land of the Video Geek.” The New York Times. 8 Oct. 2006. 4 Aug. 2008
Snow, Blake. “GigaOM Top 10 Most Popular MMOs.” Gigaom. 13 June 2007. 7 July 2008 <>.
Stith, Kevin. “Video Game Demographics.” Ezine Articles. 25 Aug. 2008

“The Journey of a Lifetime!” MaqiQuest powered by Creative Kingdoms. 18 Aug. 2008

The Science of Mental Health. “Children Spend More Time Playing Video Games than Watching TV.” About.com: Mental Health. 21 Apr. 2004. Michigan State University. 25 Aug. 2008

“Video games fill psychological need: study.” CBCNews.ca. 27 Dec. 2006. 5 Sept. 2008 

Images: WOW, copywright Blizzard Entertainment and Negone, kind permission of DifferendGames, S.A.

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