As the industry grows with an indie renaissance and we find games increasingly easier to make and distribute, let’s talk about changing the way we describe games in our everyday language. Recently, there’s been talk about how a new generation of consoles and better technology won’t be defined by amazing graphics detail, but rather the amount of world building and intelligent design we can make for our games. While this may be true, it’s still an important task for us in marketing or promotional positions to communicate these new ideas to users. For that, we may really need a new vocabulary.
We’ve started throwing around terms like “procedurally generated” for maps and creatures, or “serious” in terms of the way a game is meant to be treated as a work of art and not as entertainment. We see new genres popping up in descriptions of games that we try to sell to what seems to be an ever increasing global market. Have we reached a point where, in terms of business, we should be investing in increasing the knowledge of a typical non-core gamer’s game vocabulary?
I think so.
Let’s stop and think about the word “social” for a moment. While the rise of social games has caught the industry’s attention in more recent years, the term ‘social game’ wasn’t even considered a buzz word until the meteoric rise of rockstar smartphone apps that have come to define a new era of video game business models and distribution methods. At the same time, social games seem to have increased acceptance among a general population to the point where they’ve become a genre of their own–and this genre, despite its negative connotation among a marketing group we often to refer as core gamers, has taught millions of individuals around the world the notions of “free to play” and “connected” in games.
Can we take this one step forward as facilitators of communication between developers and customers as a publisher? The answer is: yes. Instead of shying away from terms like AI or procedural, as we often do in mass-media oriented material, let’s not assume that our average consumer who would be responsive to ours ads has no idea what a “stream” is, or that complicated words will push them away. Sure, we may be able to reach out to a wider audience by breaking down these terms, but isn’t this a slightly immature way of looking at communication?
Perhaps this issue is far more prevalent in Japan, where the ideas of “service” and “politeness” are at the forefront of customer satisfaction, but there’s a limit to how much we can avoid using increasingly interesting vocabulary to describe games. For example, let’s say we have a game that procedurally generates maps, items, and quests. Instead of using the terms “system” or “algorithm”, a promoter might decide to simply say “the game randomly makes maps, items, and quests”. But the term ‘random’ doesn’t really capture the beauty of procedural generation; the system is specifically calculating how certain aspects of a game will change according to initial input. So while the central sales point of “map change” or “each play experience is different” may be captured in the language, we aren’t really facilitating the growth of a new, more accurate vocabulary for communicating modern games.
This isn’t to deny that the main job of marketing is to get things sold, but I do think that the business side of the video game industry also has an important role in choosing the way we shape how this industry is viewed. Maybe we need to spend some extra cash introducing new terms; it’s also quite possible that we simply haven’t figured out new ways of getting the message out there to players. Either way, for the industry to grow we can’t rely on media or academia to define all the terminology for pioneering genres of games.
By creating terms and planning our communication around increasing awareness of new words, we’ll find ourselves with a larger linguistic arsenal for which to explain how a game could be entertaining, fun, or even educational to a user. And should we succeed at this, I think we’ll also find ourselves being more comfortable with inventing new terms that could even open up a more receptive audience for the products we’re interested in selling.