Taste: Everyone’s a Critic (Part 3 of 4)

I’m a first-generation gamer in my family, so it’s too soon to tell if any of my gaming “Tastes” have been genetically pre-determined. The safer bet is that they developed over time as I played more games. Either way, by the time a person has played their first game, they’ve initiated themselves somewhat into the world of gaming. They start to develop opinions and the more they play, the more informed those opinions become. Some experienced gamers naively assume that their tastes are more “correct” than others – a notion that I dismiss as fairly ridiculous.

Accessible, mass-audience friendly games (often labeled casual, but we know that doesn’t make sense) have been mainstream for a long time now. Their players have been at it for years, and guess what? There hasn’t been a massive exodus of players from Mafia Wars to Mass Effect, despite the initial assumption of some that games like these were mere “gateway games” to more fulfilling forms of entertainment. No, it turns out, shockingly, that those gamers that never subscribed to Electronic Gaming Monthly still have pretty strong opinions about what makes a good game.

The point is that all gamers have their own tastes, and those tastes are often influenced by what games they’ve played before. I’m not talking about a gamer’s impetus to purchase or play a game – that’s next – but rather their likelihood of enjoying it once they finally do. If I’m a longtime Counterstrike player, playing any FPS on a console gamepad feels barbaric and futile. If I love Gears of War on my Xbox, using hotkeys on a keyboard feels sloppy and arbitrary. You can brainstorm for thirty seconds and come up with endless pairings like the above: she loves horror games, he likes dating sims; dad loves EA Madden, but his kids love Backyard Football.

In every one of these examples, there is a distinction made between two types of people. If dad’s sports game is more complex than his kids’ sports game, he might assume he’s the hardcore gamer – but what if dad doesn’t have the time or attention span to play more than once a week, while the kids play every day after school? Even within the category of tastes there are multiple criteria on which a player could be evaluated. To merely say that one is “hardcore” and the other “casual” is an oversimplification that does us no good.

To this end, thinking of “Tastes” as a general number line doesn’t really make sense – after all, how can one summarize the breadth of human opinion on a linear scale? Again, however, context is everything. If you are attempting to balance the time investment required in your game, understand that your audience’s tastes lie on a line somewhere between “intolerant of long feedback loops” and “motivated to play through long feedback loops.” If someone were to ask you what types of players like the color blue in their games and what don’t, you wouldn’t answer with the words “casual” and “core.” We shouldn’t try to describe players’ preferences for other game elements and characteristics using these words either.

Read previous entries in this 4-part series below:

Part 1: Core and Casual: What Are We Talking About?

Part 2: Initiation: Ever Played This Game?

Vincent St. John is an alumnus of The College of New Jersey where he majored in Computer Science, studied Interactive Multimedia, considered musical theater, and even passed one class in world history. When he is not being an armchair games critic, Vincent develops marketing strategies for social games developer Arkadium in New York.

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