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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters Life!) - Coming to a video game console near you, an onslaught of new military-themed shooter games -- and they're not all for children as game publishers target a more mature audience.
The popularity of shooter games has been proven by Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" which has raked in over $1 billion worldwide and counting.
Sony Computer Entertainment America is the latest game publisher to target this genre with "MAG," or Massive Action Game, and throws 256 players - the largest multiplayer experience for a video game - into a global oil crisis.
Gamers can chose to work for one of three competing private military companies and battle alongside and against other player-controlled avatars in real-world locations.
"I think what we have done differently ... is that we've created real cause and effect within the many different objectives and sub-objectives that have to be done to win the war, just like a real battlefield," said Brian Soderberg, president and co-founder of Zipper Interactive, "MAG" developer.
With Sony seeing strong hardware sales in 2009, "MAG" is one of the game maker's key exclusive offerings for 2010 with it's sights are set squarely at the lifeblood of the game industry.
"The core audience of shooter games remains 13 to 34 year old males, who make up more than 60 percent of the total audience, but the genre has broadened its appeal in recent years with popular titles such as "Call of Duty" and "Halo,"" said Michael Cai, vice president of video game research at Interpret.
"Older males and even female gamers have latched on to the genre. A big part of the growing popularity of shooter games can be attributed to online multiplayer functionalities."
That plays right into the core gameplay of "MAG," which uses Sony's PlayStation Network to offer free online gaming for this Teen-rated game.
"What's amazing about "MAG" is that everything that's happening, all the explosions around you and the air strikes that come in, are all the result of real people playing in this game world," said Russ Phillips, studio art director at Zipper Interactive.
Electronic Arts has a pair of modern military shooter sequels with "Army of Two: The 40th Day" and "Battlefield: Bad Company 2." The company is also re-launching its World War II "Medal of Honor" franchise in current-day Afghanistan and aiming it at a Mature audience.
"Parents and those buying games for kids should realize that video games are no longer toys for children," said Mike Snider, videogame reporter for USA Today.
"The average age of a person playing video games is 35 and many games released target adults, just as films such as "Inglorious Basterds" and "The Hurt Locker" are meant for adults."
Gary Witta, a former game developer who wrote Warner Bros. Pictures R-rated $38.4 million hit "The Book of Eli," believes it's only a matter of time before the mainstream media accepts that video games are no longer made just for kids.
"People are used to the concept of an R-rated movie with violence, language and sexuality because the film industry has been around a lot longer than video games," said Whitta.
"The video game medium has evolved and matured to where games like "Modern Warfare 2" and "Halo" are made primarily for mature audiences."
Kamy Akhavan, managing editor at ProCon.org, said while sales of video games have quadrupled from 1995-2008, the arrest rate for juvenile murders fell 71.9 percent and the arrest rate for all juvenile violent crimes declined 49.3 percent in that period.
"It seems fair for parents to argue that their kids shouldn't play those games, but it also seems fair to argue that those games have not caused our society to become more violent," said Akhavan.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith