Six Different Ways to Consume Games

February 19, 2008

Crossposted on Story Games.

So I jotted these notes down last week and thought I’d share them.

They were original inspired by the discussion about publishing, but they’re also related to Christopher’s I Don’t Need Any More Games thread, which is also kinda about publishing.

The central idea was that people approach the consumption of game products in very different ways and that the ways in which they approach it gives them different needs and desires as consumers. This means that, in any discussion about the future of indie game publishing, people push for different kinds of “solutions” based on where they are coming from.

Now, this isn’t meant to be comprehensive or used to categorize players or playgroups. This is meant to show the diversity. Most people and playgroups exhibit a variety of consumption styles with different games. For example, I imagine that many groups spend most of their time playing one game, Dungeons & Dragons or Cyberpunk or Earthdawn or what have you, and generally use contemporary indie games as one-shot filler when someone doesn’t show or they need a break, in the same way games like Og and Toon were used in the past. Whereas, in groups that focus on indie games, playing an arc of D&D may not be treated any differently than playing a season of PTA.

This list of 6 examples is written using television and movies as a metaphor, but that’s just for accessibility. Anyway, here goes…

1. Going to the Movies Alone is kinda like buying books just to read them, sharing much of the same social stigma even though there’s not really anything “wrong” with it. This is just not the intended social activity that you’re supposed to do with the games, but publishers appreciate your business even though they’d rather you do it with your friends because A) you might enjoy it more and B) it would draw an even larger crowd. If you’re buying games to read them, then new games are great as long as it’s possible to navigate through them to find what you want and as long as you’re not worried about keeping current on everything. If you are struggling to stay up to date on all the new games and developments… you’re pretty much screwed.

2. Buying DVDs is like playing a lot of one-shots. After all, you might watch a movie you own every now and then, pulling it out when you haven’t seen it in a while, but you’re not going to watch the same movie every week. Similarly, at Story Games Boston, we generally play different things every week. While there are some games we play more regularly, like PTA, we depend on new material to keep things interesting and exciting. If people stopped bringing new games to try out, we would have to change the way we operate. For us, it’s not a problem that there are more indie games than we could ever play. That just means there’s more selection. You never walk into a video store and say “I wish they had fewer movies available,” do you? The most important thing is variety, having a lot of games that are really different from each other in the play experiences they offer, rather than being slightly different versions of games we’ve already played. Why watch a highly derivative movie if the original is better?

3. Watching Mini-Series is the best equivilent I can think of for playing a lot of short arcs, 3-8 sessions of a game with a conclusion or endgame that brings everything to a close. This is stretching the metaphor a bit, since there aren’t that many mini-series on TV, but what can you do? Since things aren’t open-ended, you still move through different game systems at a fair clip, but not as fast as people who play mostly one-shots. If new games look really interesting, you might give them a go, but you might be less inclined to try out something that looks really flashy just for the hell of it.

4. Casual TV Series Watching is like playing in a relatively fluid group, where you play once a week (or less), whenever the game group decides to get together (the equivilent of “whenever you catch the show on TV”), but you stop playing if it stops being fun and maybe pick up something else that looks more interesting. Generally things are open-ended, though, so you can keep playing the same game as long as it’s going well and people show up. Since you’re moving through products here much slower than people who play mostly one-shots or short arcs, it’s not as important for you to have a ton of games in the queue. This sounds more like the style of play that Christopher is espousing in his thread (though I won’t claim to know how he plays or consumes games), where a few solid games could keep you happy for a long time.

5. Hardcore TV Series Watching, where people watch every episode religiously, have the t-shirts and the backcatalogue on DVD, is like people who mostly play and consume a single game system or product line. Maybe it’s because other games don’t really interest them. Maybe it’s because they’ve decided they’re a hardcore fan of one particular game, because it really speaks to their needs. I think the Burning Wheel and Riddle of Steel often seem to have people who follow this consumption style more than other indie games, though other games certainly have a few. For these folks, new indie games matter less than supplementary material or new info about the game they love, even if it’s free info published on a website or fan-created material or getting to play with the designer at a convention.

6. A TV/Movie Buff loves the medium in general and thus revels in anything good (for a very subjective definition of “good”) that comes out of it. They consume everything they can get their hands on, based on the limits of their disposable income and personal priorities. Perhaps they have specialized tastes in a specific kind of thing. Perhaps they’re mainly interested in groundbreaking developments. Perhaps they follow a handful of specific designers whose work they really enjoy. I imagine more than a few people on Story Games fall into this consumption style fairly regularly, even though they probably exhibit other play styles in their home groups. This kind of behavior is especially prevalent on the internet and at conventions, I suspect. When you’re in this mode, new games are always cool, as long as they catch your eye.

Anyway, just some stuff I’ve been mulling over. Like I said before, this is just a sketch of the kinds of issues that may come up for people when they think about the recent explosion of indie game publishing and game consumption. I’m sure individuals all have much more specific and diverse consumption styles that don’t easily fit into categories.

2 Responses to “Six Different Ways to Consume Games”

  1. Tommi Says:

    I’m something of a mix between 3 and 6 in preferences.

    There’s something of an emphasis on different systems in your post. I’d argue the same categories apply to story arcs/campaigns/whatever name one wants to use for them.

    Even with a single system not too specialised (tMW is too specialised, for example) one can have very different experiences simply by changing the situation and setting. System does matter, but it is far from being the only thing that does.

  2. You’re totally right, and I just responded to your comments in the Story Games thread. Thanks for that insight!

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