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MMOGology: The price to play pt. 2

Marc Nottke

Why do people continue to game on the PC? There are many reasons; some of them obvious. I'm going to mention what I feel are the three most important.

The first reason is one I alluded to earlier: versatility. You can do so many other things with a PC besides game. You can surf the web, you can email your friends, you can edit your photographs and mix your own music, you can edit your goofy home movies and upload them to YouTube. These are all things that you can't currently do with a console. For many families, buying a gaming console isn't an affordable option. These folks want one device that does as much as possible. The fact that computers can play games is a nice bonus. There will always be gamers out there that game on the PC because that's the only option they have. As we've seen with the recent boom of cell phone games, people will play games on anything capable of gameplay.

The second reason is that consoles don't provide the intimate gaming experience that is only possible through the mouse/keyboard control format. Not only are a computer's controls fluid and pin-point accurate, but using them requires the gamer to sit up close with his computer. It's a very different experience than laying on the couch with a control pad far from the TV. The mouse and keyboard are the ideal control inputs for controlling first person shooters, strategy games and MMOGs. For MMOGs in particular, the PC is really the only option – for now. Some MMOGs like Age of Conan have already decided to release console versions, and other MMOGs have attempted the same in the past with limited success. In any case, the MMOG, FPS and RTS are the few genres that continue to keep PC games on store shelves. They succeed primarily because of their input interface.

The third reason can be summed up in one word: Internet. PCs remain vastly more connected to the Internet than consoles. Although consoles are quickly catching up in this area, the PC still provides users with more downloadable content and customized, user-created game modifications that extend the life of games. Think of all the user created content for Half-Life 2, Neverwinter Nights, Quake III and a multitude of other games. Think of the amazing interface add ons for World of Warcraft that have helped to actually develop WoW's user interface over the years. That level of gamer-developer interaction doesn't yet exist on consoles. That's not to say that consoles haven't caught onto the value of user created content. While user created games like Braid and user customization in games like Little Big Planet are making inroads to negating the impact of this final point, PCs still remain much more friendly to indie development and indie gaming.

If genre specific games, indie games, the Net and the control interface are the few things keeping the spark of life in PC gaming, does the future truly lie with consoles? Will we all be relegated to playing with gamepads in the not too distant future while PCs are relegated to business applications? What if we stopped thinking of PCs and consoles as enemy forces battling each other and start thinking of them as what they really are – computers with specialized purposes. Perhaps what the modern family needs is a machine capable of satisfying a multitude of tasks without all the problems associated with a lack of standardization.

While my earliest gaming memories are on the Atari 2600, the Commodore 64 was the second and favorite gaming platform in my life. It was a fantastic little business computer and it was a fantastic gaming console all wrapped up in one. It was simple and yet versatile and it succeeded in large part due to it's mass manufacturing and low price point. It was marketed not only in computer stores, but in shopping malls and discount stores. The reason my family owned one was because it came free when my parents got new carpeting! The beauty of the C64 was that it offered the best of both worlds when it came to gaming and productivity. You could write music on it, use it as a word processor, and even program in BASIC. At the same time, it had amazing games that with great graphics for it's time; games like Defender of the Crown, Below the Root, Swiss Family Robinson and Adventure Construction Set as well well as a slew of independent games. The best part was that it simply worked when you turned it on. There was no need to configure anything to run software. Most of the time, you inserted software into a floppy disk drive, typed, "Load "*", 8, 1" and pressed Return. That was it!

Imagine if the auto industry had followed the production process of the PC industry. Instead of standardized industrial practices that made the Model T affordable to the average Joe, the PC industry functions more like the exotic car industry: tons of custom options built to user specifications, but at a steep price. It's a great system for niche enthusiasts, but not all that great for the masses. The cheaper price and standardized hardware gave the C64 a much broader market penetration. The net result was that I could play a game with a joystick on the C64 one minute, and write a report for school on it the next. For a young kid in the 1980s it was the prefect device. You turned it on and it worked: no operating system patches, no device configuration problems, no hassles. It was a simple and slow device, but it worked. Why the concept of a multipurpose console died in the 1980s, I will never understand.

Imagine a future XBOX360 with a mouse and keyboard. Imagine the 360's dashboard converged with a computer's desktop. A space that not only allowed you to pick which games you wanted to play, but whether you wanted to surf the net, check email, balance your budget, write a blog, or edit your home photos. A device that, like the old C64, converged entertainment and productivity in a standardized package that was inexpensive. I think it's only a matter of time before we see this convergence device; the console that's more than a console. The computer that's simple to use, easy to understand and affordable to every family. The device that simply works when you turn it on.

If that day never comes and nothing truly changes computer gaming as it stands today may never totally die, but it may no longer be home to original AAA titles. We'll see more and more ports to PC from console and fewer reasons to game on the PC. The PC's glory days of being a primary target of developers are nearly over. With the exception of a few genres like MMOGs, and gamers that still prefer mouse/keyboard controls there really is no reason to game on a PC. Gamers are voting with their dollars, and those dollars aren't backing the PC like they once did. Ultimately, gamers will choose which gaming platform suits them based on where their friends play and if their friends can't afford an expensive computer, they're going to gravitate to a cheaper console that ultimately offers a better gaming experience. For now, MMOGs are one of the few genres keeping PC gaming alive. Until the rise of the next Commodore 64, this old gaming vet is grateful for that.

Oh, and, happy birthday Massively! Thanks for providing me with a forum for my long-winded gaming rants. And thanks to my readers for slogging through them!

MMOGology [mŏg-ol-uh-jee] – noun – The study of massively multiplayer online games via the slightly warped perspective of Marc Nottke.

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