A big part of my teenage weekends included a trip to our local budget out of town shopping emporium, and the prospect of a game I could buy with the pittance that was my pocket money. Those of you that have had the pleasure of gracing the halls of Trago Mills may be less than envious of this enduring family tradition. However, the quality of the establishment was more than made up by the fact that they had the biggest collection of Mastertronic GBP 1.99 games in the whole of the south-west.
Looking back, I realise that it wasn’t just the cheap games that made the experience so exciting, it was the late-teen owner and his friends. Although a lot younger, I was transfixed by the game-geek community that seemed to just hang around the shop. Some of the guys obviously saw something of themselves in me and soon took me under their wing. Many a bargain was struck and good piece of advice received, so that I usually came away with an excellent game to entertain me for the remainder of the weekend.
This generation of consoles, seems to be finally re-introducing the concept of a pocket money game, the Wii’s Virtual Console and upcoming Wii-ware channel, PSN on the PS3, and of course Live Arcade on the 360. These platforms all deliver games at an affordable price. The games themselves even seem to hark back to yesteryear both in how they play and their route to market. Every Day Shooter for example, was developed by one guy (in his bedroom?) and will now find a wide audience.
We also have an abundance of community around each of the consoles. Web sites, blogs, fan sites, portals and media outputs all incorporate much that made those computer shop communities so exciting: people and opinions. Each platform is even opening itself up to be more transparent to its customers, Major Nelson or the PS3 Blog both provide a direct line of communication from the platform holder to the man on the street. There really is more community here than in any computer store.
However, we still see these two aspects kept separate. In the old computer shop model, the purchasing and the advice and the community were all mixed up together. One re-enforced the other in a symbiotic relationship. These days it seems that PR representatives and marketing budgets keep the community at bay, until they need to role out their latest rhetoric. There is no easy way for our kids to hang out at the store in the way we used to when we were getting started. They are left hanging on every PR scrap, repeating the same corporate lines back to each other. The sense of accountability and feedback between the customer, the community and the shop no longer exists.
Obviously, it’s easy to just want to introduce your children to the nostalgia you feel for your own childhood. But I think there is real opportunity missed here for both the kids and the games industry. Why not make greater use of the Most Valued Professional (MVP) approach we see on other products. Why not open up the marketplaces to let our peers provide buying and playing advice once more. Let’s recognise the amount of time that people of all ages are putting into this industry, and reward it with recognition within the community.
When these aspects combine, it makes games not only more accessible to a wider audience, but also makes the whole experience more communal and compelling. I so enjoyed my early adolescent visits to the games shop that it became a regular event, and when the shop moved into town I was there pretty much all weekend. Rather than find this a nuisance, the owners seemed to understand that this was part of the lifeblood of what they were doing. Those of us who hung out there were always on hand for a bit of game purchasing advice for customers looking to make a purchase, or with opinions about how many copies of a new game the shop should get in. Eventually they even gave me a Saturday job to bolster my pocket money, although thinking about it I pretty much spent any earnings on games from the shop anyway. Ah, those were the days, oh to have disposable income once more…