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Building Bridges

This may be the best quarter ever for core games - but where are the titles that could build bridges to new audiences?

Depending on which end of the industry you work in, there's either something sobering or something uplifting to be taken away from the multitude of pre-Christmas surveys which all tell us essentially the same thing - namely that for yet another year in succession, it's Apple's shiny gadgets and not the games industry's dedicated toys which occupy the top spot on the majority of Christmas lists.

Not so long ago, this would have been reason for game creators to be very worried indeed, but the reality is that this Christmas, more of you than ever before are actually working on iOS platforms and can therefore see this as an expansion of your addressable market rather than a worrying step away from gaming.

That's good; that's the right attitude. If you're a platform holder, of course, it's all a bit more worrying - especially if you're Nintendo, wondering if you've done enough to get the 3DS over the hurdle it needs to surmount this holiday season - but for the industry as a whole, iOS' success is now our success, too. It's not a zero-sum game any more.

Core games great, but their greatness is accessible only to people who already play games and are deeply involved in this world

That said, it's hard not to be a little gloomy about the state of the "traditional" end of the games industry this Christmas. It's not that there's a dearth of high quality product on the shelves - far from it. Modern Warfare 3 just smashed sales records in its first week at retail, earned widespread glowing accolades, and its multiplayer modes presently fill my living room with colourful language several nights a week. Battlefield 3, while overshadowed by Activision's franchise, has outperformed its predecessors by a seriously impressive margin.

Skyrim has done wonderfully for itself and appears to have absorbed the lives of a good half of my social circle, including many people I wouldn't have taken for hardcore fantasy role-players. The minority who are playing Zelda: Skyward Sword instead say nothing but wonderful things about it, but I haven't even had a chance to play it yet. Given the depth of my personal love for The Legend of Zelda, that says extraordinary things about the games on the shelves right now. I don't know when I'm going to find time to get to Zelda, given that I've also got Arkham City waiting for me, and Uncharted 3, both of which inspire little other than superlatives.

It's hardly a bad time to be a core gamer, then, although it might be a bad time to be a core gamer's wallet (or their long-suffering partner, for that matter). Yet there's a common thread which links all of these games and which gives a slightly less positive account of what's going on. None of them, I'd argue, are outward looking games. They're all great, but their greatness is accessible only to people who already play games and are deeply involved in this world. That's fine; that represents plenty of people, and I'm not about to argue that Arkham City or Modern Warfare 3 would benefit from modifications to make them more appealing to a broader demographic, since they clearly wouldn't.

Rather, I'd like to ask where the outward looking games actually are. In spite of the qualify of what's on offer this winter, a cynic might suggest that there's very little new here - very little that innovates and opens up the world of gaming to a wider audience, that strives to open people's eyes and say, "here, this is what games can do - I bet you didn't know that".

Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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