ANALYSIS: Dark Souls and the core gamer

Michael French
ANALYSIS: Dark Souls and the core gamer

MCV looks at what the arrival of the toughest game, Namco Bandai's Dark Souls, ever says about the market...

Expanding the games industry has had the inevitable effect of ‘dumbing down’ the more challenging elements of interactive entertainment. New interfaces and new audiences mean that games have to be accessible, fair and friendly – not cruel and punishing.

Today, however, one game stands up to be tough and uncompromising. Billed as ‘the hardest game ever made’, Namco’s Dark Souls has been scoring pages of positive reviews – the Metacritic score sits at 89 as we go to press – and its existence proves that there’s still a market out there for games aimed at the hardcore.

DEAD CERT

Death and failure is a prominent part of Dark Souls. So much so that ‘Prepare to die’ is the advertising slogan. Wii Sports this is not.

“I think the market needs to wise up a bit as there are still proper gamers out there that need a challenge and a game that doesn’t end in four hours – this is that game,” said Namco Bandai’s marketing director Lee Kirton.

“Dark Souls is a proper game which will challenge its audience.”

In some respects, that kind of fervent gamer has been ignored by the big blockbusters, so Kirton’s team at Namco have been courting it.

He explained: “It can’t all be about a big FPS and the game with the biggest marketing spend. We are marketing the game, but carefully, strategically and we’ve invested a lot of time with the communities, events and talking directly to gamers. It’s important to have these relationships.

“Core gamers relish a challenge, which doesn’t come along that often.”

DARK HORSE

That perfect barometer of core gamer sentiment – specialist press journalists – agree with him.

“Dark Souls is important because it proves that there are people who want to play a game rather than an interactive movie,” IGN’s UK games editor Keza MacDonald told MCV.

MacDonald knows the game inside out, having recently flown to San Francisco to join her IGN US colleagues for a 24-hour Dark Souls marathon streamed online to readers.

“Dark Souls isn’t old-fashioned, it’s extremely modern – an experiment with the limitations of the game form,” she added. “It’s the kind of story that  doesn’t happen in the risk-averse games industry any more, and Namco deserves credit for its part in the tale.

“It’s a game you play to see how far something can push you. It pushes you further than anything else, and for that reason it’s the most intense gaming experience there is.”

360 Magazine deputy editor Dan Howdle agreed: “What Dark Souls shows is that sometimes the most rewarding experiences are those for which one has to fight the hardest. I  find it disappointing how unchallenging games have become, because when completion is an inevitability, I feel I’m waiting for it to end rather than enjoying the ride.” 

But can something like Dark Souls cut through and reach a wider audience used to paying for mainstream games? Especially with Bethesda’s Skyrim around the corner?

“We hope so,” said Kirton. “Bethesda make great games,” he adds, pointing out how the Battlefield vs Call of Duty drama has only benefitted both brands in terms of coverage. “I’d love to see fans of Skyrim buy into Dark Souls.”

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Tags: GAME , market , core , hardcore , dark souls , ever , gamer , made , hardest

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3 comments

"its existence proves that there’s still a market out there for games aimed at the hardcore"

Unfortunately, the market is becoming only hardcore. With a few exceptions, the top sellers are targeting core gamers, primarily but not exclusively older male.
Teenagers, who used to buy (or gifted) four or five console games a year, are now quite happy to focus on one or two such as perennials like COD and FIFA as they turn to cheaper or free online distractions such as social networks, Youtube, MSN and movies/music.
The only two platforms with any consistent momentum this year in the UK are Xbox 360 and PS3 and looking at their top ten best sellers, the majority are targeting core gamers. Even the MCV covers over the year have been mainly devoted to games targeting the core element.
Now this obviously raises the question as to how to define core gamers in the new world. If most console gamers are what we have always referred to as core gamers, then we need to implement scales of "coreness". Dark Souls could be one end of the core spectrum, and COD at the other end with titles like Resistance, Dead Island and Deus X somewhere in between.
Just musing....

Nick Parker

Nick Parker INDUSTRY
Oct 7th 2011 at 11:24AM

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Fair points. I guess, yes, the key here is that there are shades of 'coreness' as you put it. And right now, even though all the traditional market is pointing towards core offerings in general (even Nintendo's big game this year is Zelda) the corest-of-the-core, if you will, are underserved and have been for some time.

Either that or a game like Dark Souls is an exception to the core rule - it's such a discriminating game, no one is playing or persisting with it through love or passion (which is what dives core fans). This is for masochists.

Michael French

Michael French MCV STAFF
Oct 7th 2011 at 1:30PM

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The game is great and i feel more games should be aimed at the dedicated gamer last year there seemed to be a ton of same old casual games (big beach this carnival that and dance disco - diva - katy perry speial deluxe games)
so its great for a game that is complex clever and only aimed at people who are serious video gamers who come back every couple of weeks for the next big game.

Gordon Crawford

Gordon Crawford INDUSTRY
Oct 7th 2011 at 7:37PM

0 0