A Matter Of Ho-Ho-Ho Merry Gaming

It’s that time of year again. Festive cheer is in the air, frost is on the ground and goodwill to all men (except if you happen to be from one of the “enemy” nations represented in one of the many FPS games – see earlier “The Continuing Cold War” blog for more) is the buzz word of the month. It’s a time (and the only time!) where families rejoice in each others company and retailers rejoice in children’s greed and a lack of parents will power.

It’s fair to say that over the years children’s wants have changed dramatically. I’m an 80’s child. Born in 1980 into a world that was just waking up to the prospects of gaming, a world where games makers were not yet the dominant force that they are now. As a child I remember putting together a list for Father Christmas (note “Father Christmas” – not the more Americanised “Santa” that’s become common place) and wanting star wars figures, board games, Micro-Machines and maybe, just maybe the possibility of something as extravagant as a new bike. It was a simpler time, a time where marketing wasn’t as aggressively aimed at children as it is today and kids – well, they were still kids.

I think I was about 7 when I received a Spectrum ZX for Christmas. I hadn’t asked for one and to the best of my re-collections I don’t even remember seeing one before then. It was a present that I could never have dreamed of getting, more than I asked for and probably more than I deserved. To this day I can still remember feeling a little disappointed in the lack of star wars figures that year.

The computer was already set up and ready to go (I remember being told that my dad and Uncle spent most of the Christmas Eve evening playing Donkey Kong on it whilst drunk – so essentially it was a second hand gift that had probably been thrown up on!!!!!) It was mounted on – and boy is this a sign of the times – on a white desk I had in my room, with a picture of a teddy bear on the side of it! Can you image that today – a seven year old having an X-Box set up on a teddy bear desk? I don’t think so!! If it’s not on a home cinema surround with a flat screen and separately mounted speakers-it aint worth having!

………and this brings me to my point.

The world has changed, fuelled by the race to get your dollar (I should really use pound there but for some reason dollar sounds better!). Marketing strategies, aided by TV adverts, glossy magazines, internet pop-ups, slogans, product placement, pop music, celebrity endorsements, billboards, banners, merchandise, flyers and in-store offers, bombard the senses at literally every turn. Parents are constantly in the middle of a power battle between big industry and their child. The TV advert is saying you really have to get Modern Warfare 3 this Christmas or else your child will be ridiculed and teased for all their days, the child is saying “Can I, Can I, Can I “ at every advert that appears, and if you listen very carefully you can hear the parents screaming to themselves “I just got back from buying Battlefield 3 and FIFA 12 does he really need Modern Warfare as well, how many games can he play at once?”  (The answer by the way is more than I can. I can only concentrate on one game at a time – trying to switch back to Borderlands whilst half way through Arkham City to me is like trying to figure out String theory – impossible! The aged brain just can’t cope with the transition between button configurations)

Children no-longer want board games, bikes, figures, they no-longer want a mitre football or swing-ball (God I loved swing-ball). They want technology, X-boxes, Playstations, wii, iPods, iPhones, iPads, LED TV, surround sound, computer games. The pressure on parents is immense. Stay indoors or step outside at Christmas and you’re assaulted with a verbal and visual feast of advertising aimed at getting you to delve deep into your pocket to satisfy the cravings of your ten year old. The price between things in my childhood and now is incomparable. I recently asked my mum how much she spent on me as a child at Christmas. The figure came out at anything up to £150 and that amounted to a lot of stuff, today that would barely cover the cost of 3 new games.

Sales Figures from CNET show that in December 2009 the US games industry raked in an astonishing $5.53 billion, the games industry’s best ever month, whilst figures supplied by the NPD show individual US sales of Wii, X-Box and PS3 combined in December 2010 at nigh on 5 and a half million individual units and this Decembers figures are set to rise again.

That’s a lot of consoles, in a lot of homes, spurning a lot of games sales, all of which goes towards filling a few industry pockets whilst systematically wearing thin a lot of parental wallets….. and patience.

Esquire’s magazines “Top Christmas gifts of the last 8 Decades” features 36 items and, a host of modern day technological advances. iPad, PS3, X-BOX, Gameboy, Pokémon (Nintendo), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nintendo), Robosapien, Tamagotchi, and Notebook e-readers (or as I like to call them – The Devils work. R.I.P the humble second hand book store). Others on the list include elements of technology, three different kinds of Elmo’s that talk or laugh and the much coveted Furby, are both far removed from the good old pull along wooden toy.

Has the heart been ripped out of Christmas? Well, it certainly doesn’t have the magic it once did. Children have lost their innocence, influenced by the modern age of technology which has stripped away children’s sense of wonder. They are exposed to virtual worlds in games and films constantly today that they are no longer naive enough to believe in Father Christmas or a magical world of wonder. Today’s children see the world through different eyes than what we did, exposed to unprecedented levels of marketing they want everything they see.

The market we are primarily interested in, the games market, is becoming overtly more aggressive. Whilst many adverts are becoming more subtle causing you to play the “guess what this is advertising” game, the games market has an in your face approach. Loud, aggressive, fast, colourful and featuring footballers, NBA stars and actors amongst others.  Take the recent MW3 advert Starring Jonah Hill and Sam Worthington. It is essentially a short comedy sketch, lampooning MW3 own in-game action adverts. It’s funny, slick, celebrity endorsed and grossly unashamed of the in-your-face attitude it exerts. I’m ashamed to say those adverts made me want to go and get the game straight away, but being somewhat level headed and being responsible for bills and keeping a home I have relented up till now assuring her indoors that “I’ll wait until it comes down in price after Christmas” but secretly hoping Father Christmas leaves it in my stocking this year!

………..and there we have it. In one little sentence sparked by one in-your-face advert I have become one of the masses. I want that game for Christmas, I want Battlefield 3 for Christmas, I want Mass-Effect 3 for Christmas, I want all the games for Christmas, sod it! I even want Woodcutter Sim. Can I, Can I, Can I, Pleeeeeeaaaaaaassssssseeeeeeee.

Geek out

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