IGF

In our previous article, we examined why the PC gaming culture continues to expand despite numerous problems in the industry.  In this article, we will examine ways to keep the PC gaming culture healthy in the coming years.

Reduce DRM to near nothingness

Publishers (who are the ones that generally make DRM decisions) need to come to terms with the fact that DRM only hurts paying customers, and does nothing to stop pirates from pirating their work.  In addition, many gamers refuse to purchase PC games with obscene DRM “protection”.  Companies use strict DRM, gamers refuse to buy it, the company sees PC game sales are low, they blame low sales figures on piracy, implement more strict DRM, and the cycle continues.  DRM schemes are only getting worse, and will continue to drag down industry sales figures with them.  Reverting back to a serial number and disc check is sufficient enough on its own, but I doubt many companies would be willing to go back to doing that.  Dragon Age had a serial number and disc check, nothing else…and has sold quite well.  Still, I feel that this is something that game companies are just refusing to cave in to.

Of course, if more creative games were released, people would be more willing to pay for them.

Don’t sedate…innovate!  Or, how I learned to stop making bad ports and come up with something original

Too many “safe” games are made nowadays…it’s just been standard shooter after standard MMO after unnecessary sequel after standard shooter for a number of years.  Major publishers no longer wish to take a risk, so all they do is make lazy ports from console to PC, (sometimes they are nearly identical to their console brethren, right down to on-screen button prompts.)  One symptom of this problem is getting rid of long-time PC game mainstays, such as not officially supporting dedicated servers in an FPS, and removing LAN functionality in an RTS.  If they aren’t financing bad ports, publishers seem to be demanding sequels that are guaranteed to sell simply because the first game sold well, not because they are necessary from a story or gameplay perspective.  Games that are truly innovative are a rare thing amongst major publishers, even more so when it comes to PC exclusives…this despite the fact that they now have boatloads of money and some of the biggest names in the business.  Sure, they have better graphics and crazier on-screen action…but better and crazier are just improvements on existing concepts; quite different from creating new concepts.

Where is all the innovation seemingly coming from these days?  Regular gamers and Indie developers.

They aren’t the competition…they are the future

The major players in the gaming industry seem much more willing to snatch up independent developers and gamer-created projects, now that they see what they are capable of creating.  Some of the most popular and innovative games of the last decade have been made by small teams of gamers or lesser known developers, such as Trine, The Maw & ‘Splosion Man, Braid, N (which became N+ when it was turned into a retail game), Crayon Physics Deluxe, World of Goo…heck, even Portal was based on a game created by students at DigiPen called Narbacular Drop (some of those students were hired by Valve to create Portal).  Also, let’s not forget that both Counter-Strike and DotA, arguably two of the most popular games amongst the hardcore PC elite, both got their start as mods.  The Counter Strike team got picked up by Valve to make a full-blown version of Counter Strike, while DotA (aside from single handedly inventing a new genre of gaming) went on to inspire a fully-funded, publisher-backed game called League of Legends.

While it is refreshing to see that game companies understand the importance of picking up talent, they shouldn’t see these indie developers as competition that they need to conquer and split up…they should see them as an opportunity to earn money while helping out the gaming culture.  Surely some type of funding agreement can be reached, in which a major publisher funds a portion of an indie game’s development (which, in the scheme of the publisher’s budget, is a few grains of sand), and in return they get a small percentage of the profit generated by the project.  The independent developer would retain creative control, and things such as rights on future projects could be hashed out in the deal as well.  This way, publishers are still making a little bit of money, independent developers can get the funding they require to complete their vision, and everyone still remains its own entity.  The independent developers win, the publishers win, gamers win…everyone wins.

Of course, this will never happen.  Why?  Because while it makes sense from a culture standpoint, it will be seen as a waste of time from the business side of things.

Greed is good.  Or not.

Gaming is no longer just a culture limited to geeks and nerds…it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that transcends gender, race, religion, and geographic location… it has gone from capturing the attention of hundreds of millions of people all around the globe and becoming a machine that operates solely to generate a bigger bottom line.  While this has enabled huge projects like Grand Theft Auto IV and World of Warcraft to be created, it has the unfortunate side effect of some amazingly creative people out there who will never be allowed or empowered to create their game because it is “too risky” (i.e. creative and original).  No guarantees that it would sell well usually means a no go on development (i.e. “we only want something we can make a huge profit on, which means it doesn’t have to be a good or even great game…just one that sells.”)  There are some amazing concepts that will never get the funding they need to grow because they aren’t deemed a worthy investment.

Thankfully, this is slowly changing, as evidenced by Narbacular Drop, Counter-Strike, DotA, and others.  Big publishers are starting to take more risks, and the amount of shovelware that gets released seems to be (slowly) slowing down.  Indie developers and small development studios are finally being recognized for their talent and creativity.  We are seeing more buzz and attention surrounding indie/small developers, which is something that I hope continues to expand.  Indie/small developers aren’t going to save the PC gaming industry…but they are going to play a major role in saving the PC gaming culture.  Best of luck to them all.

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We hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles about the current state of PC gaming and what can be done to fix it.  Please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.