One of the biggest challenges the gaming industry faces right now is how to attract new people to the field, how to create more gamers. It's a question a lot of gamers ask as well (usually trying to turn on a significant other to gaming). So we posed the following question to our staff: "What games would you use to get someone into gaming" and to make it harder we outlawed the easy answer of "Just buy them a Wii". The following is a list of some games you can use to try and convert your non-gaming friends and family into gamers.
Dave Gamble – Staff Writer
When I’m showing a non-gamer exactly what he/she is missing by assuming that gaming is all blood, guts, or Pong™ (What can I say? I run with an older crowd), I will nearly always choose a PC-based sim. Depending on the mutual interests that led me to demo the PC sim world in the first place (which, given my limited interests, is either flying or auto racing), I will demonstrate the possibilities with one or two of the high-end sims that I have. For racing, it will be either SimBin’s GTR2 for its high degree of polish and eye candy, or rFactor for its nearly infinite expandability via free mods. Both have stunningly accurate physics models, and it is not unusual (in fact, it’s the norm) for a first-timer to struggle for hours before making their first successful circumnavigation of a track.
For flying, I will choose between Microsoft Flight Sim X with the CH yoke and Saitek rudder pedals or Ubisoft’s Pacific Fighters with the Saitek X52 and rudder pedals. Both flight sims also absolutely stun when coupled with the TrackIR head tracking system.
For the really adventurous, I set them up in Battlefield 2 where they can experience driving a tank, running themselves over with a Jeep, or flying a helicopter gunship. Oddly enough, that’s the one they seem to have the most success at.
Rachel Steiner – Staff Writer
As far as getting someone into gaming, the games I would choose to have them play would depend on what genres they like. If they aren't huge into gaming perhaps look at the types of movie they're into and try to choose accordingly. If I had someone with similar tastes to my own, I would probably start off with a game like Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger has an epic storyline of time travel and has great replay value due to the sheer number of endings the game has. Also, the diverse group of characters usually means that everyone will have someone they relate to.
Next would be Dragon Warrior 4. I've always had a special place in my heart for the Dragon Warrior series and the fourth installment in particular. The game starts off with 4 chapters that follow your companions. You get a look into their lives and what exactly led them to go adventuring and eventually meet up with your hero in Chapter 5. After Dragon Warrior 4 then would come Final Fantasy 6 (3 in America). The pattern with these games is not necessarily the graphics but that the characters and stories are memorable. Each character has a different reason for being where they are and because of that, anyone can find someone that they like.
Ben Berry – Staff Writer
What I find usually leads people to gaming is something that is simple to pick up and play, but offers enough depth that if they start to enjoy it they can begin to explore more. One of the games I was most surprised by was Hexic, which is a Bejeweled/Tetris clone. I originally started playing it simply to grab some easy achievement points but once I got into it, I was hooked. I’ve played something like 6 hours of this game trying for some of the more difficult feats, and it went from a casual game experience to a minor obsession.
Clearly, the Wii is the leader at this right now, but one thing I wouldn’t do is give a brand new gamer a Wii remote and let them play WarioWare. There’s a big difference between a game that starts simple and sucks you in, and one that for the most part has you do simple movements that aren’t really a “game”. It might be ideal in a party situation, but for introducing new gamers, it isn’t where I’d want to start. Something like Rayman: Raving Rabbids which offers instructions on how to perform each move, and the mini-games have more of a feeling of accomplishment to them would be a much better starting point.
Sean Colleli – Staff Writer
Feel the Magic XX/XY/The Rub Rabbits (Nintendo DS) - Sega’s excessively bizarre minigame collections for the DS are rather off-putting at first, but, like Wario Ware, their quirky charm is what gives them staying power. Once you explain to your friend that there really isn’t anything dirty about these games, they’ll be hooked on the addictive challenges and heart-warming story. Ok, so the story is pretty weird in both games, but the art style is eye-catching. Both of these games run for bargain bin prices, and because most everyone has at least two DS’s, it shouldn’t be too hard to demonstrate Sonic Team’s idea of chivalrous, enduring romance.
Samba de Amigo (Sega Dreamcast)- A Dreamcast classic and winner of the first Developer’s Choice Award, this one is worth picking up if you still own Sega’s underappreciated last-gen console. It has the freestyle appeal of most rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, but also the unique charm of the maraca peripherals. Getting your reluctant girlfriend or even your grandparents into this game shouldn’t be hard—its colorful, nonsensical style is non-threatening and its emphasis on movement shatters gamer stereotypes. It’s a shame that there’s never been a true sequel anywhere but Japan, but with music games being so popular these days, we might get a follow-up eventually. Hey, NiGHTS got a second chance.
Crazy Taxi (Multiple Platforms)There are three great things about this game: it’s insane, it’s funny, and it’s available on nearly every console. Crazy Taxi is one of those games that can be easy or hard depending on how much of a challenge you want, so an inexperienced player can still have a lot of fun. The humor is what draws in most non-gamers, and the controls are simple enough for most people to understand. What’s more, the arcade origins of this game mean that it might be known to a broader audience. There’s some rough language, but this one is great to play with the guys after a few beers, no matter what console you own.
Doom (PC/Xbox Live)- Why am I suggesting such a violent, notorious game as an introduction to gaming? Well, probably because in many ways, Doom is the perfect game. In today’s industry of normal-mapped gunshot wounds and volumetric particle blood, Doom’s gore seems almost comical, so it won’t be such a turn-off. It is also one of the easiest games to pick up and play, single or multiplayer. Its ubiquity is a real plus—almost everyone has heard of it, and Doom will run on just about anything. It might not cross genders as cleanly as Nintendogs or DDR, but if my 12-year-old sister likes it, it can’t be that unappealing to women.
Randy Kalista – Staff Writer
If you're attempting to lead a horse to gaming's milky fountain of youth (pardon the mixed metaphor) you can't force them to drink here either -- but you might be able to convince them of just how thirsty they really are. Even if they don't know it. Debating a non-gamer about what they're gaining with video games could be a tough sell. But piquing their interest about what they're missing appeals to every human being's natural sense of curiosity -- not to mention their inherent greed. Subversively proving that there's a certain lack in their life is one devious strategy you may employ. This propaganda blitz is actually the brilliance behind the "Got Milk?" ad campaign -- a campaign that began in 1993, for goodness' sake -- whose residual effects are felt even today (bumper stickers are still being printed: "Got This?" "Got That?" Fill in the blank. You still see them everywhere).
So with Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, you are preying on a non-gamer's sense of lost youth. Even for a non-gamer that has everything, they certainly can't have their childhood back. Hey, if Cher can't figure out how to turn back time, then we're all doomed to such a fate. The Original Star Wars end of this hook digs into a sci-fi legacy that is unmatched throughout every Hollywood generation since its inception in 1977 -- unmatched even by itself with its New Trilogy brethren (especially by its New Trilogy brethren). And the Lego end of this hook digs into every aging person's eventual acceptance of their own escalating technophobia. As information and technology tears by us at ear-bleeding velocities -- even those of us that have grown up surrounded by exponential technological advances -- Legos are a visual and metaphorical return to the very building blocks of imagination. Nothing is simpler, yet more promising and unpredictable, than a pile of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene blocks. Lego Star Wars II captures nostalgia and naivete in one fell swoop of a light saber.
Or you can furrow your non-gamer's brow by informing them of what 8 million people around the world will corroborate on: That your friend's tedious, non-gamer existence is missing out on the most significant gaming revolution since the invention of video games -- online video games. Yadda yadda MUDs did it first yadda yadda. But you and I both know what we're talking about here. We're talking about Massively Multiplayer Online Games. We're talking about World of Warcraft. And we're looking at nothing short of the largest social experiment conducted on the planet today -- an experiment that millions of people are automatically debiting their credit cards to experience.
But for all the talk of "immersion" in video games, most attempts resign to failure or succumb to the limitations of the medium. Move here, shoot this. Open this, kill that. Most games evoke no more emotion out of us than a telegraphed stab at our desensitized id, hoping to get a short-lived gush out of our adrenal glands. Sure, you control more of the camera and pacing in a video game than in, say, Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, but no game has touched on the palpable energy and cinematic immersion of those continuous, seven-minute long takes like Half Life 2 has. (Although, a more appropriate comparison would be the other way around, since Half Life 2 was prospering on store shelves for over two years before Cuarón's release.) Back in the early 90's, back when we thought the only games that would exist by 2007 would be virtual reality games, Half Life 2 comes closest to what we thought we'd all be playing by the 21st century. By placing us smack dab in the middle of every cinematic sequence, we're given a heady dosage of what "being there" should feel like in a video game.
Still, the shrewdest of non-gamers may require an even greater jolt of shock therapy. They may not yield to merely a feeling (or at least a concept) of immersion. They may be seeking an experience that will move them. An experience that will leave them a little shaken, if not a little stirred as well. They not only want to get inside of the game, they want the game to get inside of them. This is when you put that hardhearted non-gaming atheist into the hands of possessed serial killer, Lucas Kane. This is when you let Indigo Prophecy sear a slow-burning realization into your friend's crispy, moderate, non-gaming mind. This is the game that will, within two minutes, have them asking, "My God, what have I done?"
Then you can squeal in delight as your non-gaming friend comes to the painful realization that something truly has been missing from their life. That there has been a certain lack -- unbeknownst to them, the poor dear -- that will now grow into Little Shop of Horror proportions. And you, the one that provided that first glass of wholesome, homogenized, non-organic milk, can rest assured knowing exactly how
Matt Mirkovich – Staff Writer
Being of sound gaming mind, or not so sound considering how long I’ve been playing video games and refuse to grow up. I’ve seen a couple titles here and there that I used as a springboard to get people to play video games who I would have never thought would pick up a controller, or a mouse and keyboard combo for that matter. If you’ve got a girlfriend or hell even a parent that has raised an eyebrow of interest at that newfangled Sony GameStation 360, then toss this game in their direction and see if it gets them on the couch with a controller in hand.
First off, I would recommend the Katamari Damacy series. I really think that this one is a no-brainer when it comes to getting people interested. You roll around a ball of crap and pick up more crap. It’s simple, it’s got a catchy soundtrack, and it’s fun for all ages. My mother had not played a single game since Tetris and she took to this one like Mega Man takes a beating to Dr. Wily’s doorstep. When I first saw this at E3 2004 I had seriously thought that if this game can’t bring in a casual audience, nothing can.
Moving on to something on the total opposite of the spectrum, I have Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly. Yeah we all know how much I love this game, but I really cannot recommend it enough for anyone out there who has friends that are in to anything within the horror genre. This game is just so creepy and gripping that anyone who watches it will want to play it, along with its stellar follow up. Plus it’s not like this game is overly difficult, on the easiest setting they practically hold your hand through the game. Provided they are a brave soul, they will get some fun out of this one.
I wouldn’t be trying to recommend games to the uninitiated if I didn’t include ANY Music title (Sans Beatmania). With so many music games out there and their broad ranges of music it’d be hard to find something you don’t like out there. And although I love Beatmania as a series, it’s got such a steep and maddening learning curve and weak song selection (US Release only) that I can’t recommend that one. Otherwise, Dance Dance Revolution, SingStar, Guitar Hero, Karaoke Revolution, all of those games equal a good time.
There are a ton of good puzzle games out there, but for my money, I roll with Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo. If you can get this one, odds are you’ll be holding a game that no one can say no to. It’s got a very simple hook, destroy colored blocks and watch super-deformed anime sprites beat the crap out of each other. This is another one that I hooked a family member on. But eventually he got pissed at me for beating him so much so I had to only use Dan. Fear my Dan…
Sometimes you’ve got people who shy away from games because the stories aren’t any good. If that’s the case then slip them Final Fantasy 3 (Or is it 6? 22? 11?). I kid. I know this game is really Final Fantasy 6. And it is perfect for the friend who goes to play Dungeons and Dragons at the comic shop at the end of the week. Or anyone who enjoys a good fantasy story would like this game. It’s got a great cast, some excellent writing, and an epic story with one of the best villains I have ever had the pleasure of hating.
Shawn Sines – Staff Writer
How do you bring new gamers into the fold or introduce games to people outside the traditional age range? Well while Nintendo may be burning up the sales charts with the Wii's gateway approach to gaming, there are some titles that can span interest and generations and bring in folks who might not normally consider spending hours in front of their TVs pushing buttons or playing games. Here are my picks for best gateway games:
Dance Dance Revolution (Multiple Platforms) - The Dance Dance Revolution(DDR) series by Konami has enjoyed a long life in arcades and with versions avilable for every console out today and even dedicated plu-n-play TV games this music and exercise game is the perfect way to get people gaming without having them think too much about it. Konami offers games as simple as DDR:Mario Mix, with an eye on younger or older players, to DDR:Universe for the Xbox 360 – which has competitive online play modes. You may look like a fool playing the games on their colored pad and bouncing from point to point in beat with some bad house remix but its somewhat addictive and in some ways health inducing as well.
Mario Party games (Gamecube) - Video board games are nothing new but Nintendo's long running Mario Party series offers fast, fun challenges for players of all ages. Few games allow adults to compete with younger players on an even keel like these titles do. An element of randomness may frustrate the most competitive, but there is nothing like an all adult beer filled round of Mario Party to test the reflexes and offer inebriated bragging rights either.
Madden Football (Multiple Platforms) - Football, while not the American pastime is one of the most popular sports on the planet. Thanks to the lifelike graphics and the ability of the recent versions of the Madden franchise to basically play themselves even casual players can enjoy a game of armchair quarterback by simply calling plays and picking receivers. Sports games in general are great gateway games because they allow gamers to pull traditionally passive fans into their favorite sport.
Super Smash Bros Melee & Super Mario Kart Double Dash (Gamecube) - It may seem my list is heavily slanted toward Nintendo properties but that's for good reason. Nintendo has long recognized the casual gamer as being intimidated by the games other consoles tend to embrace. Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Mario Kart Double Dash both offer fun, competitive games that allow skilled players and neophytes alike to hop in, learn the basic gameplay and have fun.
The Sims series (Multiple Platforms) - There is a reason every expansion of content pack for EA's popular people simulator sells out. It resonates with the need to build. Like a virtual doll house mixed with a soap opera and dating sim, The Sims may not appeal to everyone but you'd be hard pressed not to find someone who won't find some aspect of the game enjoyable – from designing dream houses to practicing eugenics on the Sims in your neighborhood to create the most hideous mutant ever born, its all in the way you present the game.
I'd love to include an RPG in my list but over the years I've come to realize that by far most of them require too much investment in time to make them good gateway games. While its often easy to get a casual player to watch or help because of story or characters in an RPG like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest they might be the second tier of gateway games to hook and keep the casual folks and complete their transformation to the dark side of hardcore gamer.
Tyler Sager – Senior Staff Writer
The easiest way I can think of to get unsuspecting beginners into gaming is to ease them in with familiar things, such as sports or driving. The rules are generally very simple to grasp, or are already well known. All that’s needed is a quick primer on the controls, and away they go. Instant gamer.
Of course, the danger to this is that you get your buddies hooked on sports and racing games, which I generally dislike. So one needs to employ some other tactics, perhaps a bait-and-switch, or just forego the first step altogether. We still need to use something simple, fun to watch, not too challenging, but certainly engaging. Personally, I’ve seen quite a few people drawn in with Katamari Damacy. Just the weirdness factor alone is enough to capture attention, and then when shown the ease and intuitiveness of the controls, it’s soon difficult to wrest the controller back.
I’ve also found many of the fighting games to be quite good at drawing folks in, and it was a fighting game (Soul Calibur) that brought me over to the Dark Side of console gaming. This generally requires a very social setting, usually with several people trading controllers and insults, mashing buttons, and talking smack. The desire to practice and become better than “that guy” tugs at the compulsive behavior that many of us gamers exhibit.
But it may just happen that none of these avenues work, that the person you’re trying to bring into the fold just doesn’t go for the types of games listed above. Proto-strategy gamers fall into this mold, and it requires a lot more patience and work to bring one of these folks into the light. Pick a good, rich game. It can be deep and it can be complex, as long as you have a strong grasp on it. I’ve brought some non-gamers into the world of computer games using Civilization 4, and had a blast doing it. Set up hotseat play, set the difficulty on the easiest setting, and coach liberally. Back off as they gain skill and confidence, and before you know it, you’ve got a solid sparring partner.
Cyril Lachel – Senior Staff Writer
When it comes right down to it I believe in my hearts of heart that everybody is a gamer, even if they wouldn't call themselves one. Much like everybody loves movies and music, the idea that somebody could write off an entire art form (one that produces literally hundreds of games every year) seems unrealistic to me. Sometimes all it takes is finding that one game that you like, even if it's nothing more than Solitaire or online poker. But if the goal is to get people into more traditional games, then I do have a few suggestions on how you can get your non-gamer friends (and family) into the hobby most of us hold dear.
Tetris - There's a reason that people are still making new versions of this twenty year old game, Tetris is a perfect game. The original design that Alexey Pajitnov came up with was so good that no amount of sequels or upgrades were able to enhance it. This is perfect for non-gamers because it's incredibly easy to explain and will take you years to fully master. The games can be short or long, the challenge is up to you, and it's all about beating your own score … there's nothing intimidating or overwhelming about the experience, Tetris is simply the best introduction to the world of video games I can imagine.
Guitar Hero - Everybody wants to be a rock star, it's just one of those cool jobs we grow up idolizing. No matter what age you are, the idea of shredding on a guitar is one of the most appealing concepts known to man. Perhaps that's why Guitar Hero is so addictive, it's a simple concept that takes what you already know about playing guitar (that you need to strum and hit notes) and allows you to do that to a real diverse set of classic tunes. I've had personal experience with this, every time my non-gamer family comes over we whip out the Guitar Hero and they have a good time. There's just something inherently cool about playing the guitar, and that comes across better in Guitar Hero than any other game on the planet. Best of all, even if you're really bad at the game it won't take long before you can hold your own, which gives you that sense of real accomplishment. It's even easier to get people into Guitar Hero with a big group, so get your non-gamer family together and have them each take turns, it won't take long before each and every one of them is addicted … or at least addicted to watching other people look like fools while playing the game.
Super Mario Bros - Sure it's a cliché, but the original Super Mario Bros. is the perfect game to get people started on. For one thing it's instantly accessible to just about everybody, the concept of running and jumping is easy and fun. It's also imaginative from beginning to end, you'll find yourself constantly impressed with what the developers were able to do given the short amount of time they had with the hardware. But the real reason to have them start with Super Mario Bros. is because it manages to nail down a lot of the fundamentals of video games, from properly using (and combining) the buttons to learning how to watch for patterns. When you play Super Mario Bros. you can move on to just about any other game, I almost look at this one title as something of a training ground for all future 2D (and even 3D) action games. You can't discount how important Mario is to video games in general, no matter who your non-gamer friend (or family member) is the chances are good that he/she knows exactly who Mario is. You may have played Super Mario Bros. hundreds of times, but there's nothing quite like watching somebody new pick up the control and discover that the princess is in another castle!
Charles Husemann – Editor in Chief
The impetus for this article came about after a terrifying Instant Messenger conversation with my non-gaming girlfriend a few weeks ago. I had just received a package in the mail and she wanted to know if it was OK to open the package. Before thinking about what had come out that week I said it was OK and she opened the package to reveal our review copy of SingStar: Pop. My girlfriend (who has a hate-hate relationship with my night job) loves Karaoke and I immediately knew I was in trouble. I arrived home from work to find her belting out Britney Spears and from the look on her face I knew she had been playing the game all afternoon. This got me to thinking as to how I could use this game to get her interested in other games. My list of games is meant as a step-by-step plan to convert an outsider into a gamer.
Singstar:Pop/Guitar Hero II (PS2/Xbox 360 respectively) – People enjoy music and almost everyone has sung along to a song in the car or in the shower at some point in their lives so the SingStar series is a bit of a no brainer. The nice thing about the game is that it includes the videos to go along with them and feature a decent selection of party games so you can hit multiple people at the same time. I would go the Guitar Hero II is for people who find karaoke abhorrent and require large sums of alcohol before singing in public. The game is exceedingly easy to get into and tons of fun to play. My only complaint is that the song collection is a bit on the weak side. Of course if you put the two of them together you have most of the components of Rock Band which should make a mint provided that EA and MTV don’t interfere too much with the folks at Harmonix.
Tetris/Lumines (Multiple Platforms) - Once you’ve got them hooked and on the system it’s time to start introducing people to puzzle games that require a little more thinking and hand-eye coordination. Tetris is a timeless classic that can be picked up instantly and Lumines is the game that you progress to after Tetris in terms of complexity.
Painkiller/Half-Life 2 (PC) - If your prospective convert has a bit of a mean streak in them you might want to see if they can stomach a FPS. Painkiller wasn’t exactly a commercial hit but it featured some great fast paced action and a kill everything that moves mentality that an intro FPS should have. Once they’ve got the hang of that then it’s time to move onto Half-Life 2 which is still one of the best FPS games every made. It marries the frenzied action you get from Painkiller with a solid plot and interesting characters.
Galactic Civilization 2 (PC) – If your prospective gamer isn’t into twitch games then may want to go the strategy route and you’ll find no better game than Galactic Civilization 2. The game is turn based and does a great job of teaching you how to play the game. Couple that with the game’s sense of humor and depth and you may have a new gamer on your hands.
Viva Pinata (Xbox 360) - I know it's a children's game but the game's bright colors, creative creature names, and sense of fun should draw anyone in. The game almost serves as an entry level RTS game in some aspects and the fact that you can ship animals to friends via live helps show off some of the social aspects of gaming.
John Yan - Senior Hardware Editor
It really depends on the type of person you're trying to introduce gaming to. Some of my friends started gaming with first person shooters while others started with racing games. You'd have to take the person you are introducing, see what they really enjoy, and find some game that appeals to their interests. Here are some that I found that helped a few of my friends get into gaming
Battlefield 2 - I have a few friends that love the military and this was the game that really got them into multiplayer online gaming. While there are some problems with the game through the various patch releases, it's still a good time to be had when you're on a squad that is comprised of your friends. The vehicles are a blast to play and when you've got a few of your friends manning a machine gun while you fly the huey it's a real rush as you take out a capture point guarded by the enemy. Battlefield 2 has a lot of teamwork possiblities and its one game I really enjoy with a group of friends.
Tetris - Tetris is simple, easy, and addicting. I know a lot of people who play Tetris who aren't really gamers. The simple concept and easy controls makes it so virtually anyone can play right from the get go and have fun. It's a rare game that doesn't rely on graphics or complicated controls in order to be a compelling game.
Soul Calibur 2 - A good button mashing figher's always a good time. While I enjoy the Virtua Fighter series most for being an intelligent fighter, Soul Calibur 2 is a great game for beginners giving that you can perform a lot without knowing a lot. The graphics and animations are impressive along with some impressive special effects making Soul Calibur 2 easy on the eyes. The array of characters offer something for everyone as their different fighting styles should give you one character to latch on and perfect.
Guitar Hero I/II - Gaming with peripherals other than gamepads is a pretty big thing these days and few do it better than Guitar Hero. You have a toy sized guitar with a few buttons interacting with a rhythm game featuring some great music. It's different than sitting on a couch and pressing buttons. While it's not like the Wii where you have a motion sensing controller, the Guitar Hero guitar is great fun to use in it's own right.