September 30th, 2005

I don’t claim to understand the majority of our country. Southerners, Midwesterners, West-Coast people: I’d like to get to know you better, but at the moment I’m just an East Coast girl (specifically, a Philadelphia girl) with an East Coast frame of mind. Over here, we’re pretty liberal. You’d think we’d be into new things, new medias, new ideas; you’d think we’d like gaming. And don’t get me wrong, the gamers who are here like video games fine. The thing is, there are just so few of us.

Not to say that there aren’t gamers on the East Coast. Sure, we have an EB in every other strip mall and a number of varying geek mecca’s (That’s meant with the utmost affection.). But real gaming energy is hard to find. You run across very few game writers or publications and only a small percentage of American developing companies based on the East Coast. Perhaps I’m just talking to the wrong people, but roaming around online I’ve met almost exclusively Midwesterners and West-Coast folk. Even game conventions have a clear bias toward the Western side of the country. Alas, why are you all so far away?

The point of which isn’t to complain, it’s to open the floor for a discussion about the geography of gaming communities in America. What forces have worked together to create this particular distribution of gamers? Which elements of business and local cultures have impacted the geography of gaming?

The first influence that comes to my mind is the technological prowess of California, which exists for a number of complicated historical reasons. The West Coast, by association, has become the center of game developing in this country. In turn, people from that area are more exposed to video games, and become more interested in gaming because it’s an integral part of the culture of technology that reigns in that part of the United States (?). From there, gaming love disseminates outward into the Midwest, a sort of diffusion of energy. Perhaps by the time it reaches us here on the Atlantic, that gaming passion has chilled, transformed into mere consumerism instead of a desire for exploration and innovation.

Of course, it’s nowhere near that simple. I’ll certainly report back on the topic in the future, or perhaps put together an actual article as more thoughts emerge. In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences or ideas! We really have to help each other out in order to best understand our own gaming culture.

Tags: Blog

11 Responses to “The Geography of Gaming”

  1. James Schend Says:

    Is this gaming in general, or just the entire tech industry? I mean, you wouldn’t expect New England to have a lot of game companies if it doesn’t have a lot of tech companies at all, since game companies are a subset of tech companies.

  2. Kira Says:

    One thing you didn’t mention though, is that some gaming companies, like Sony (with their Playstation), and Nintendo (with Gamecube and Gameboy), have headquarters in Japan, or in S.Korea (as is the case with Gravity Interactive). So you may have people flying over between different locations across the Pacific, and having your American headquarters on the West Coast is just more convenient.

    Also, it seems as the years have gone on, that Hollywood is getting more involved with the gaming industry. Just look at all those movie related games. And, the West Coast, I believe, has the highest concentration of Asians in the country, again simply because it’s right across the Pacific. In the same way that Miami (where I live) has probably the highest population of South American and Caribbean hispanics in this country (this does not inclucde Mexicans as they are from Central America).

    I do however agree that the industry as a whole would benefit from giving a little more attention to their East Coast consumers. We line their pockets too! :)

  3. theCurse Says:

    Yes, Nintendo is based in Japan, but they also have a a U.S. division… in Washington state.

    But I don’t think concentrations of Asians has anything to do with concentrations of gamers. Stereotyping much?

    The reasons some game developers base their operations in the midwest is, I suspect, due to the lower costs of living.

  4. Smiley Jersey Says:

    Well what’s interesting is that you’ve stated that the East Coast is generally ignored, but the Nintendo World store and the Pokemon store are both in NYC. I’m pretty sure that’s quite East Coast.

  5. Illidan Says:

    The California/WestCoast culture seems to be more primarily based around hardcore gaming. And Kira has a big point – SE Asia and West Coast U.S. trade booms, and gaming grows in the West Coast even more.

    While gaming *IS* in Europe, it’s not in Spain or England; 4k.Grubby, SK.Madfrog, clan Mouz, etc are all from France, Germany, or the Nordik countries, I think.

  6. Bonnie Says:

    James, I’m particularly talking about gaming, though you’re right that they’re so closely linked to other technologies. However, the question, I think, might go beyond the issue of where companies are located, into the realm of regional social influences which make video games more or less appealing in certain areas… ?

    Kira, interesting point about the proximity. That certainly might have an impact, like you mentioned, when companies decide where to to locate their American offices. As for the Asian population, I think, as theCurse implies, you might be too quick to assume there’s a link between the two issues – also because, to the best of my knowledge, the majority of the Asian population on the West Coast is Chinese, not Japanese – a dynamic established with waves of immigration in the 19th century.

    theCurse, you point out that the cost of living is cheaper in the Midwest. That may well have an impact on company location, but there must also be other elements of Midwestern culture that make gaming such a success there, don’t you think? Or do you think that, since the companies set up shop in the Midwest, the locals turned into gamers? Sort of a chicken and the egg debate…

    Smiley Jersey, you’re right about the Nintendo World Store being located on the East Coast (although, you should note that there is no such thing as both the Nintendo World Store and the Pokemon Center; the former actually replaced the latter as of this past spring), but, in my opinion, the store represents just how little gaming energy or innovation is here on the East Coast. Have you been before? I went two months ago, and was very disappointed. The store is directed almost entirely at casual consumers and very young gamers – it lacks any fanboy or adult feel. It’s almost a symbol of the cold consumerism that characterizes the market on this side of the country.

    Besides, the issue at hand isn’t that the East Coast is ignored. We’re not going to get more attention until there’s more of us to pay attention to. And, either way, there isn’t really a good or bad in this situation, just an attempt to better understand American gamers.

    And Illidan, you’re opening up a whole other can of worms :-) – the geography of European gaming, which I personally understand even less than gaming in the USA, though I’d be really interested if you or anyone else had any thoughts on the topic. I would contest you, however, and say that there is a English gaming community, but that perhaps, since it’s entirely English-speaking, it sometimes gets subsumed in our American gaming culture.

    Any Europeans out there? Tell us more!

  7. Illidan Says:

    Gaming *community*, sure. Anywhere that has computers has people who game and get together. But – not all communities have enough interest to pull out of the pack.

    The most recent team listings for the Cyberprofessional Athletes League show US and Brazillian teams with one CA acronym that I don’t know. Not very representative o.o

    World Cyber Games is much more broad.
    In 2004, the Netherlands won three gold medals, Korea and the USA won two each, and Germany won one. Brazil, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Bulgaria, France, and Ukraine each got at least one bronze or silver.

    Glancing through the history, the U.S., Taiwan, Korea, and the Netherlands look like the strongest contestants. Britain does in fact pull (I think a Bronze) medal at one point, but other then that they’re effectively absent.

    .. and I was wrong. 4k.Grubby is from the Netherlands. That said, Madfrog is from Sweden, SK.Sweet, Spirit_Moon, Showtime.Werra and countless other pros are from Korea, SK. There’s a clan or two from the U.S., so it’s pretty strong.

    But again, the three main spots for gaming would be Western U.S., Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Nordic countries (Sweden, mostly), and Korea-Taiwan. Brazil has a massive player base, however, and China is also emerging.

  8. Bonnie Says:

    That’s all interesting, but I wonder if those statistics are necessarily the best way of measuring game popularity and innovation… Also, when you mention the three main spots for gaming as Western U.S., Western Europe and Korea & Taiwan, I assume that’s excluding Japan as an obvious fourth?

  9. Illidan Says:

    There’s obviously a ton of game-playing in Japan, but there doesn’t appear to be much professional PC gaming. That said, Street-Fighter and it’s style were THE tournament game before Counterstrike or Starcraft came along. I don’t know how much popularity remains for them.

  10. FerrousBuller Says:

    AFAIK, PC gaming is largely non-existent in Japan – certainly nowhere near as popular as it is in Taiwan and South Korea, where Internet cafes are quite common. So it doesn’t surprise me that there are few, if any, professional Japanese PC gaming clans.

    As for the distribution of U.S. game companies and communities: certainly I tend to think of the West Coast as much more tech-heavy than the East (e.g., Silicon Valley, Microsoft in WA), which I’m sure would tend to draw game companies to those locales. I also think the West Coast is more “Japanophilic” than the East, and thus more receptive to Japanese imports, including videogames; unsurprising that fan communities spring up around them, then. [I’m an old enough geek to remember when anime fandom was a predominantly West Coast phenomenon before spreading across the country: CA and then TX had their first few anime cons before the East Coast had one.]

    I am at a bit of a loss to explain the relative lack of East Coast gaming communities, though. We’re all a bunch of anti-social rejects, perhaps? ;-P

  11. Bonnie Says:

    Hmm, I hadn’t thought about how this is all linked to the general attraction in certainly parts of the country to things considered Japanese, like gaming or, as you mentioned anime. I myself have only been an anime dork for five years or so now, and I’m much more involved in the gaming community than the American otaku or cosplay communities. Do you think those interests are more common on the West Coast? You mention that they may be slowly gaining popularity here in the East, and perhaps you’re on to something. When I left high school, only a few years back, anime and games were considered uber-nerdy, and not in any kind of sexy way. None of my friends cared about games, and I doubt anyone knew I was a gamer. Now my little brother is in high school. They have an anime club with 30+ people in it, and his friends, even the girls, come over to game. Maybe we need to be looking at younger kids (under, let’s say, 18) to see what trends we can expect in the future…?

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