So remember how I said that Steam wasn’t letting me play my latest hardcore game? Well, three days of tech support later, I found out why. My computer wasn’t up to snuff. Oh, this got me pissed. And the result of this anger is the following rant on hardcore PC games and why I think they’re fallen so far in market share. Nothing to spoil here, but it’s a rant — be warned.
I used to be a PC gamer. My family did not have a ton of money, and so game consoles were a luxury. A computer was essential though, as my parents correctly, and with my eternal thanks, saw that it was a major part of my education. (I was even a programmer back then, but just Basic and a little Pascal, and what pitiful amateur skills I had are totally atrophied now.) Of course, I was also gamer, and so I gamed with what I had. Lots of Infocom, lots of Civ, and a motley assortment of whatever else I could grab with my meager cashflow.
And that meant I was a PC gamer. I paid attention to such things as processor speed and video cards. I weighed the value of buying additional memory. I actually opened my tower on a somewhat regular basis. And I worried about staying up to speed with the latest hardware, exclusively so that I could game effectively. At the time, it was the world I knew, and I loved it.
I got my first console with my first apartment, mostly because my roommate at the time (hi Paul, if you’re reading this) was a gamer and more savvy on the console side. I only really got into consoles when I started working in game design and started actively working on my game education. But something happened over this time. I slowly stopped playing hardcore PC games. It wasn’t anything dramatic, but I just found myself more interested in what was on the PS2 when it came to hardcore gaming. Eventually, gaming on the PC was all casual, Civ when a new version came out, and a brief and unpleasant stint with World of Warcraft. More on that in another post if you’re interested.
Now, I never thought very hard about this until this last Steam problem. But when I hit this problem, I suddenly realized WHY I gave up my PC roots. It’s the technical nonsense. You know, I don’t want to worry about what kind of video card I have, or how much space there is on my hard drive. I want to PLAY A GAME. Telling me I can’t because my hardware is a year old is NOT FUN. Fun is throwing a disc in a drive and then being Batman. The JOY of a console is knowing now that I own this box, there is a wheelbarrow full of games that will AUTOMATICALLY work for it. And upgrading is either an automatic download that takes a minute when I turn the box on, or it’s buying a new box, something I only have to do every four or five years.
Of course, it’s not like all PC games have this problem. Casual games, my bread and butter, have a much less tech-savvy audience than any other digital gaming area. This is BECAUSE casual games don’t push technical boundaries. They actually look at the machines normal human beings have and MAKE GAMES THAT WORK ON THEM. Why don’t most web games use Flash 10 today? Because Flash 10, which kicks the everliving ass of Flash 9, doesn’t have a penetration of 95% the way Flash 9 does. Why didn’t casual games start using 3D acceleration until like last year? Because we couldn’t guarantee that hardware acceleration was available on our user’s machines. We certainly didn’t ask THEM to figure this crap out. They are gamers, not technicians.
This is not rocket science. Not many successful industries make their money making it HARD for their users to operate their products. But PC games keep slavishly pursuing the cutting-edge graphics and the most demanding memory use, and that means that your gaming machine is constantly on the edge of obsolete. Doesn’t anyone else think there’s something weird about games being released that cannot be played at the highest level right now, BECAUSE THE HARDWARE DOESN’T EXIST YET?!? Just who is your audience for that game?
Look, I’m going to go out and get a new video card or whatever, because it’s my job and I guess there’s still a little jonesing left in me for things that require keyboards and mice. But I’m telling you, and the markets are telling you, that the group of gamers willing to do that is shrinking. So here’s my advice. Stop making games for the best machines. Make games for the average machine, games that don’t require me to do anything more than drop in the disc and play. Game consoles have always been luxurious — I can hear my parents asking me why I need a box that does one thing when my computer does one hundred. But I would rather spend the $300 for the console and know I have a cutting-edge game machine, than download a hardcore game for my PC and hope I do.