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Dear TV: Please Get Your Act Together

Games are big. We know because Hollywood makes mediocre movies loosely based on them. We know because rappers star in their own games, where they all beat each other up to their own music. In short, we know games are big because other entertainment media are learning to use them as another revenue stream. Of course, all this cross pollination is a good thing.

The big question is: where’s TV in all this?

Once upon a time, before the porn industry led the world blinking into the bright lights of the Internet, the best way to see any game in action, at least in the UK, was to watch the likes of GamesMaster on TV.

"The audience had grown up with TV, and it was both natural and logical for them to get their games information from it."

Dominic Diamond on an oilrig, talking to a giant deformed projection of Sir Patrick Moore in a metal hat served the purpose perfectly. The audience had grown up with TV, and it was both natural and logical for them to get their games information from it. And crucially, outside of a store, it was pretty much the only way a game could be shown actually being played.

Fast forward to the present day. If you’re reading this article, chances are that you know how to use the Internet. And, unless this piece has been syndicated to somewhere unusual, you’re reading an editorial on a games-related website, which means you not only get your general games information from sites like this one, but you also have a passing interest in the industry.

You, sir or madam, are wonderful. You’re easy to inform and above all, you’re willing to spend money on games – you're the type of person who pays my bills. You’re a dream, bless you.

However, you are only one piece of the demographic puzzle. Thanks to the success of the Wii, games are attracting a new audience. These are people who don’t necessarily read games websites, who possibly don’t even know what Halo 3 is, and most shockingly of all, aren’t reading this wonderful article.

The way the games playing audience was comprised before the Wii came along, I would have told the TV industry to abandon all hope of tapping into it. We gamers had become too damn futuristic to need your pitiful televisions. But now, with a new and ever-so-slightly technophobic audience, there exists a small window of opportunity for a savvy broadcaster to snatch that audience away from the Internet before they figure out how much better it is at meeting their needs.

"...TV has had restrictions on how much game footage it’s allowed to show, the assumption being that screening over a certain length of time ceases to be programming and becomes a straight advertisement."

A significant percentage of people are stick-in-the-muds. If you can introduce someone to a brand, and teach them to appreciate its best features then they will defend it with their lives. Just look at the insane fanboy rivalry between Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 users. Take a look at any forum – and I do mean any – whose subject is a platform exclusive game. You are absolutely guaranteed to have a number of comments there berating the rival platform.

It’s no different to vehemently supporting a football team. This animalistic defence of a brand is exactly what any good marketer wants to instil in their audience, but somehow television hasn’t noticed that it’s at brand-war with the Internet.

Now, I know TV is becoming more interactive, and suchlike. That much is obvious. What TV seems to be failing to realise though is that the reason why gamers are abandoning television isn’t purely because of a lack of interactivity, it’s because they don’t believe that it can inform or entertain them as well as the Internet can.

Whether it can or it can’t, belief is essential. Coke versus Pepsi, Xbox 360 versus PS3 – it’s all much of a muchness really, but making people believe otherwise is crucial to any brand’s success.

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Rob Yescombe

Picture yourself as a new gamer. You just bought a Wii. You’re willing to buying more games for it, but how do you know what’s good? You’re not actively pursuing the idea of buying a new game, because your life was perfectly fine before you even bought the console – but you’re open to it.

Maybe you’ll check on the Internet, but you don’t know the difference between IGN and wiidudesftwlol.com. You don’t have a brand you can trust. You see a commercial on the TV for a new game. Crammed into a fifteen second spot, it all looks a bit complicated. Better to stick to Wii Sports, eh? End.

The one thing that TV is better than the Internet at is positioning. TV invented Prime Time. Sure, the net has advert placement, but nothing beats having a glowing box in your living room that mercilessly plays a particular kind of programme with a particular kind of advertisements at a particular time of day without your consent. You just give in to it. Yes, TV has options, but they’re still incredibly limited compared to the net. On the whole, the TV audience just accepts it.

"Maybe you’ll check on the Internet, but you don’t know the difference between IGN and wiidudesftwlol.com. You don’t have a brand you can trust."

A suitably placed programme about games, with a light-entertainment slant would suit this audience down to the ground. It would inform them on a medium – a brand, if you will – that they can trust: the television. Of course, TV isn’t lagging just because it doesn’t fully understand the opportunity. It has shot itself in the foot by not even keeping its options open.

For years, terrestrial television has had restrictions on how much game footage it’s allowed to show, the assumption being that screening over a certain length of time ceases to be programming and becomes a straight advertisement. However, movies don’t suffer the same restrictions – clips of pretty significant length can be shown without running into this problem. It’s a changeable legislation, but no one in television has pursued it enough to get it changed.

This has been the problem with most terrestrial broadcasters’ attempts at shows about games on TV in recent years (Gamer.tv isn’t terrestrial). Without the ability to show a significant amount of game footage, they have nothing to attract hardcore gamers. However, the aforementioned new ‘softcore’ audience will accept a show with less footage, simply because they don’t know any better – yet.

And so, I’ve reached the end of this article. Since this was intended to be something of a call to arms, it feels slightly anti-climactic to leave it there. So, I’m going to go a step too far and stick some necks out. Whilst I can’t claim to know which TV production company would be best to spearhead something on terrestrial TV, I think I know the games industry brains that should be involved – people like Ian Simons, founder of GameCity, and Margaret Robertson, former editor for Edge. Those are the type of people that the TV execs need to talk to.

Call them up. Meet them. Make a show.

Goodbye and good luck, television.