by Ken Gagne

Video games — it's not just for kids anymore. What was once a children's market is rapidly evolving to include all age groups. With the growing number of options available in gameplay, from intriguing puzzlers to simplistic shooters to forceful fighters, video games are no longer a holiday highlight strictly for children. As the holiday hits reach the retail and rental shelves, this trend can be seen both nationwide and locally. "We have adults who come in here and rent strictly games," said Sherry Clark, manager at Blockbuster Video in Fitchburg. "More and more adults are renting them for themselves." 

Research conducted by the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) indicates that adults of 18 and older make of 46.5% of the current gaming audience. With the ratings system, more teen and adult content is becoming available, while still leaving scores of titles appropriate for younger gamers. It is perhaps due to this increased audience that 1997 has been such a phenomenal year for the gaming industry, marking it at over $5 billion in sales this year alone. 

The current market struggle between Nintendo and Sony is fierce indeed.  Many experts conjectured that Nintendo had erred when making their Nintendo 64 console a cartridge-based system. CD-ROMs, as employed by the Sony PlayStation, generally store more data, making for bigger and more impressive adventures, but are more easily damaged. Playing on that fact, the more durable Nintendo cartridges are parent-pleasers when it comes to entertaining their kids. "They last longer, we get more rents out of them, so why wouldn't we want something that is going to stay in our library?" Clark said, regarding the popularity of Nintendo's system. "The trouble we have is, there aren't enough Nintendo 64 games out there!" 

Whereas the current battle is between Nintendo and Sony, these positions were once held by Nintendo and Sega. The Sega Saturn was the first of the current generation of game consoles on the market, but poor marketing and a smaller library of titles quickly diminished its stature. Some chains, such as Kay-Bee and Target, do not carry any Sega merchandise at all.  This does not bode well for the gaming company, which is currently the only party slated to release a new gaming console in 1998. Code-named "Dural" or "Black Belt," its success will depend on whether or not gamers have lost faith in the once-mighty Sega corporation. 

The possibility for the market to ever support three competitors is slim, but always possible depending on what a new console has to offer. "There is the potential [for the market] to sustain a new hardware platform," commented Doug Lowenstein, president of IDSA. "Consumer interest isn't driven by abstract concepts of polygons and data, but by what the games will be." Game publishers are already being forced to choose among various platforms. Due to the cartridge nature of their games, Nintendo has lost several supporters, including Squaresoft, makers of the wildly successful Final Fantasy series. The programming limitations and high cost of producing a cartridge game has turned many a developer to Sony.  Now that they are already there, it will be difficult for Sega to entice them away. 

And now, with the digital video disc format — known as DVD — the market stands to be divided even farther. DVD holds even more information than a CD, and threatens to replace laser discs, audio discs, and computer CD-ROMs. 

One thing that does not seem to be changing anytime soon is the distinction between computers and video game consoles. When the original Nintendo hit the market about ten years ago, the popularity of action titles on this platform caused the computer gaming scene to suffer. It is only within recent years that the success of games such as DOOM and Diablo has given this computers the surge they needed. Even while most software applications run on computers today are for entertainment purposes, overall, most games are still played on consoles. The greatest advantage computers have in this area is the ease of access to the Internet, capable of multiplayer games and contests. Past console experiments in this field, such as Catapult's XBAND and the Sega Netlink have proven it to not yet be a viable market. 

The electronic entertainment industry is a rapidly-changing one, both in the technological aspects and in the consumer base it serves. As the 21st century looms in the horizon, it will be interesting to see what companies stand to benefit the most, and how this will affect us as gamers.

This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 22-Dec-97