While our first assumptions about gaming lead us to thoughts of a violent, action-packed, male dominated past-time, Jacquie Kubin reveals why it is important never to assume anything as the numbers certainly do not support this ideal anymore.
A guaranteed success, Sonys PlayStation 2 finally went to stores October 26, 2000. © Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. All rights reserved. Segas Dreamcast console. © Sega Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Animators who want to showcase their talents may want to stop pounding the pavement of the Hollywood movie studios. The video game industry has grown by almost unimaginable leaps and bounds with game studios all over the country.
Working within the entertainment animation genre no longer requires moving to L.A. or being able to animate blood. Todays retail video game shelf contains growing numbers of story driven games that have a traditional animation element to their development, even when completed with the help of the latest software. Plus, family gaming is growing in popularity too.
Proof in Numbers
Recent Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) released statistics reveal that 35% of Americans surveyed identify playing computer and video games as their top "most fun" entertainment activity, lagging far behind the 11% still heading out for the movies.
"If you watch the evolution of gaming over the last five years, you can see that it has broadened itself beyond the male, 14-24 demographic," says Doug Lowenstein, President of the IDSA. "There is no question that there are numerous opportunities to develop gaming products that are rich in story, animation, educational components and movie-like qualities and that are suitable for all ages."
The video game industry has expanded to include multiple consoles -- computer and hand-held systems -- with the sale of games totaling more than 215 million units and US$6.1 billion.
With the release of next generation gaming consoles -- the Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation 2 and, in the near future, the Nintendo Dolphin and Microsoft Xbox -- animators may be wondering how far and varied the gaming market is expanding. Moreover, it is comprised of many more games suitable for all ages play, than Mature, Adult Only or even Teen titles.
During the month of September, the Entertainment System Ratings Board (ESRB) rated close to two hundred new titles including those developed for the new Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2.
While it may seem that the teen and mature rated titles for these next generation consoles outweigh those rated for "everyone," there is a reason for that and only looking at those initial launch games provides a skewed view of the entire industry. In fact, sales of video and computer games with a mature rating fell from 2.6 million units in 1998 to 1.2 million units in 1999 (NPD Group).
More Family Titles"Hard-core gaming enthusiasts, the individuals willing to pay upwards of $350 for the new system PlayStation 2 console, one controller and one game are primarily males, ages 12 to 24 and the games released at console launch generally reflect that," says John Ardell, senior product marketing manager for THQ, Inc. "But women and children are becoming more prolific gamers. And while PlayStation 2 will not release with a Rugrats title, there is room within the industry for children and family targeted software."
Dominating 1999 sales was the hit Pokémon franchise with at least 18 game titles selling more than 12 million copies. The single biggest selling title, however, was Donkey Kong 64, for the Nintendo 64, selling more than 1.4 million copies for more than $86 million in retail sales. The most popular M rated title for that period, Half Life, developed by Havas Interactive for the Sega Dreamcast, sold just under 500,000 copies. In comparison, Walt Disney's summer 1999 animated hit, Tarzan, realized a total adjusted gross of less than $175 million. In response to that summer movie hit, the video game industry released seven Tarzan games, three for Gameboy color and two each for Nintendo 64 and PlayStation.
The answer to the question of what is spawning this greater number of "family" gaming titles depends on the person answering it. Is it increased awareness of the ESRB rating system, established in 1994, or just that there are more game players from a wider demographic coming to the medium?
According to the Media Family report "Whoever Tells the Stories Defines the Culture," by Dr. David Walsh, "Ninety percent of teens say their parents never check the rating before allowing them to rent or buy video games, with only one percent stating that their parent kept them from buying or renting a game based on its ESRB rating."
"I am not sure that parents are aware of or understand the ESRB rating system or that they recognize its value," explains Jeanne Funk, Ph.D., Department of Psychology for the University of Toledo. "But it can be invaluable for parents who are not going to play games, particularly to the deeper and more difficult levels. The system makes it easier for parents to buy with confidence."
Another reality impacting the development of video games is that for every PlayStation 2 or Sega Dreamcast being sold, there is the possibility that the first generation PlayStation or Sega console is being wired to the family room television set, passed on for younger sibling and parent play.
Kids and Gaming
Just one of many developers, THQ has grown from a toy company to a video game developer releasing children's Walt Disney titles such as Pocahontas and Toy Story, as well as the popular bass fishing games. The company has also developed titles based on the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The Calabasas Hills California group reports that their Rugrats branded video game franchise has exceeded over $100 million at retail.
"THQs history has been about not only doing games that appeal to the core, 12 to 24 male audience but also for the gamers with unsatisfied needs," Ardell says. "In 1998, in response to the popularity of the PlayStation Platform we released Rugrats: Search for Reptar as one of the first video games that was specifically designed for a young audience, ages 6 to 12." Continuing to serve this audience, THQ has recently shipped on September 25, the PlayStation title The Little Mermaid II, for girls ages 6 though 8, along with new Nintendo 64 Scooby Do and Power Rangers titles.
"Our titles geared for children are designed to involve parents in with the play experience," explains Ardell. "Parents may be sitting with them helping them to spot clues or solve puzzles. You must remember that parents have often gone with the children to see the movies, so they know the characters and are equally entranced with the game play."
As new consoles are being released, new road is being paved for the entertainment industry as a whole. Technology is converging to provide greater access to electronic entertainment, much of which -- from the commercials we watch to the games we play -- will be interactive.
And even with the majority of the games being released appropriate for family play and filled with rich wonderful animations, the question of violence will continue to plague the industry -- both for consumers and creators.
"I think there are a lot of positive things to be said about video games, including that they introduce children to technology at a younger age," Dr. Funk says. "I also feel that children under the age of ten are much more susceptible to negative massages.
"I would be most protective of the media experience of children under ten, while recognizing that video games are a part of the child's life experience. As with any media, television, movies and music, parents need to be aware of what their children, of all ages, are playing and how much time they are spending on this one area of their life."
Jacquie Kubin, a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist, enjoys writing about the electronic entertainment and edutainment mediums, including the Internet. She is a frequent contributor to the
Washington Times and Krause Publication magazines. She has won the 1998 Certificate of Award granted by the Metropolitan Area Mass Media Committee of the American Association of University Women.