Posted by on June 19, 2007

Cover of SSX.
Over the weekend I had a chance to chat with a bunch of people who work in the Colorado ski industry. The key points that stuck out to me included:

  • The skiing is a global industry that wants to expand.
  • But expansion is often limited by the high cost for new people getting involved in the activity and,
  • The marketing and program development tends to emphasize the hardcore over the novice which,
  • Is problematic becaue the hardcore is the soul of the sport, but
  • More people don’t ski that do.

Sound familiar?

In this short analysis, the ski biz and the game biz share a common delima. Over and over we let hardcore gamers set the agenda and it takes a lot of Wiis or Bejeweled to convince anyone that many more people would play games if they were just easier and more friendly to the first-timer.

To this list of symmetries between videogames and skiing I would add that both are leisure activities very focused on their environments. Where you play is one of the most important decisions you make–Aspen or Vail, Vice City or Norrath.

Beyond that, these features may simply occur as the result of any leisure-focus. Pastimes and hobbies can be defined by their fans, and fans of different abilities and time commitments create a hardcore in opposition to a fringe or casual participants.

From this I still have a couple of questions:

  • Is this connection worth noting?
  • Can we say anything about skiing or other leisure industries by looking at games. Vice versa, can we say anything about games looking at these industries?
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Comments

  1. Barry
    June 22, 2007

    It occurs to me that games have been a little bit stupid (pre Wii, pre DS, and even pre Singstar mics, EyeToy and Buzz controllers) in that they have previously celebrated difficulty. They wanted to be like Skiiing, and the Dualshock, XBox and Cube controller, and even the Dance Mat have seen to that. But we are in some open country at the moment where people can simply… walk. Or scribble. Or cough. Or wave their arms.

    It is lovely.

    So we lose all that joyous exclusivity and have to put up with the masses sharing our spaces. I can see why so many gamers want the Wii to fail, as the skii crowd would be pissed if everyone was born with both a natural ability to ski and feet the right shape to necessitate only minimal equipment, but it does feel like a step change in games that might lead to interesting (as well as anodyne) new places. The ski industry is stuffed in the sense that it can’t control either the landscape or the interface — games have the beautiful opportunity to change both.

    [By the way — lovely to see Buzzcut back :)]

  2. Devin Monnens
    June 23, 2007

    Ski industry vs the game industry. See, you’re about the only person I know who talks about stuff in those terms (well that and the people from The Escapist). They’re definitely analogies worth making.

    Setting is certainly important (most people just aren’t into sci fi and sword and sorcery). So is what you actually do and the themes behind it (killing things, for instance). Image is a combination of these things – where you do, what you do, what it means by which you do it.

    For games to expand, they have to be cheaper and they have to do things that are appealing to a wider audience. And labeling that approach as ‘kiddie’ isn’t helping things either. Games for kids is a bit better than the image of power fantasies for adolescent males (even when those adolescents are 35), but it’s still pretty bad.

    To change this, I think it’s going to take a lot of doing. Nintendo and studios like Popcap Games seem to be helping make this happen, but it’s going to have to take a major shift – not just developers making games that are more than just power fantasies or kids’ stuff, but also advertising, critical response, and image – every aspect of the industry will have to change and people will have to stop being afraid of games. This isn’t going to happen overnight, and it’s going to be a long, slow process of showing scope and scale – of completely changing the image of games to something for Everyone.

    While an 18-year-old male might find Doom 3 attractive, and while there may be millions of 18-year-old males out there, let’s be serious – Doom scares the shit out of people – many more millions of people than there are 18-year-old males – not simply in terms of content but because people are afraid that content will influence people because none of them understand it (and in fact, nobody really can answer that question – not for film, not for comic books, and not for games – but for some reason we keep asking it). And that’s all they see. If that’s all they see then they will never see that it can be something else.

    If videogames are just going to be power fantasies for the adolescent male within us, and whenever somebody tries to do something new this ‘hardcore audience’ is going to piss on it because it’s not ‘dark enough’ for them, then honestly, what was the point of rebuilding after the Crash?

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