With the recent rise of mobile and social games, I think the comparison to the movie industry falls short.
When games are compared to or aligned with another medium to describe tendencies, developments etc., the movie industry often takes the place as its sibling. The logic seems reasonable. The movie industry is very blockbuster-driven, just like games. It can stage big releases, but also finds it space for smaller, more weird productions, just like games. And although a lot of content is produced, the primary portion of the focus from the consumers are put on just a few products, just like games.
Or so it used to be.
With the recent rise of mobile and social games – and by social, I’m primarily referring to the likes of Facebook games – I think the comparison to the movie industry falls short. Games like FarmVille and CityVille, Angry Birds and Draw Something can’t really be compared to that of a blockbuster Hollywood movie.
Instead, I believe that games in that respect can be much more comparable to both that of music and books.
They look down upon these games as too “stupid” to be worth their attention.
Games like CityVille and Angry Birds are not liked by many of the more passionate consumers. They look down upon these games as too “stupid” to be worth their attention and instead seek fulfillment in the larger, more elaborate productions such as the triple-A console games. The same can often be said of both music and books. In music this is often described as the Pop genre. A definition I’ve often found stupid, since it refers more to the popularity of the piece rather than the actual content. Pop music today spans pretty much all genres, but their common trait is that they are rarely so daring that they turn off the majority of potential consumers. Some Pop hits are created with a pure purpose of gathering huge amounts of listeners, while other tracks rise to Pop fame more from coincidence.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But as with music and books, there’s both good Pop and bad Pop.
When someone like Adele comes along and rises to the top of the charts, it’s not so bad.
I believe the same can be said about games nowadays. Games like CityVille and Angry Birds are there to pleases the masses. They are not overly complicated, they don’t try anything new, they just find the right formula and execute it to near perfection. It turns off some advanced, passionate users, but collect the love of the wide mainstream audience, drawing in larger crowds than most other games could ever dream of. While critics easily write off boy bands and teenage sensations, when someone like Adele comes along and rises to the top of the charts, it’s not so bad. They might not call it Pop, since it’s more of a word reserved for the less solid music, but as soon as something becomes enjoyable in the eyes and ears of the mainstream, it is by definition Pop.
The difference is often hard to describe, using such words as quality and intent, but maybe that’s ok. Often it boils down to whether or not the creator of the content tries to move boundaries and do something new. While not easy, it’s rarely acknowledged as brilliant if someone just does something already well-established to perfection. Justin Bieber tracks are spot on, but it’s tough to say that he and his team of song writers and producers are doing surprising new stuff. They play it safe and just do it really, really well. Rely more on execution than the risk of innovating.
Pop grows the overall pool of potential consumers
But in these times of industry turmoil, I think it’s clever how these other entertainment industries easily share their consumer-base. The less mainstream-oriented content have in many cases found their own niche audiences and over time they have grown to be very powerful, allowing them to push boundaries for an audience that expects to be constantly challenged. But that audience probably came from a Pop origin, and that’s why Pop is an important part of any medium; it grows the overall pool of potential consumers.
That’s never a bad thing. Ever.