If This Is How PC Gaming Will Live, Maybe It Should Die

There was a time when Brian Reynolds was best known for his work on epic computer strategy games like Civilization II, Rise of Nations and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. But nowadays he's the poster child for the casualfication of gaming.

It was Reynolds and his work on FrontierVille that proved to a lot of people, both game players and game makers, that Zynga and its steady march of Ville games, could deliver meaty, fun gaming experiences.

It was Reynolds' FrontierVille that convinced Bruce Shelley, Civilization designer and the father of Age of Empires, to jump ship and make his way over to the world of casual and social game making. Folks like Ultima's Richard Garriott, Dante's Inferno's Jonathan Knight and Doom's John Romero all seem to be following suit.

This is not OK with me. I don't want the people who made some of my favourite games laboring away at the next big Facebook title. And that's what I told Reynolds.

"I understand there's a wondering about what's going to happen," he said. "I don't think that traditional hardcore games are going to go away. I think they are going to keep making those. But it's a consolidated industry and now there are only these several gigantic franchises.

"I wouldn't start a triple-A studio these days. Ten years ago, it almost felt like when we started Big Huge, 'Wow, good thing we did it then because we never could have done it after that because the door was closing.'"

At the same time that people like Reynolds think the door is shutting on the ability to craft and publish big new gaming franchises, a window opened to the world of casual and social game development. A really big window.

While the endless reports of PC gaming's death are an exaggeration, its metamorphosis seems inevitable.

"The strategy genre kind of mostly went away," he said. "There's still StarCraft, they're still making some of those things, but for the little guys who can only spend $US10 million to make a game, it stopped really happening.

"But it turns out that the skills we have are really valuable in social games and it's actually really fun to design those games. First of all, I'm working on the forefront of a new thing. Second of all, I'm reaching billions, tens of billions of players I could never have reached before. And third, I really need my skills. It's harder to design these games. We do the same things we did with strategy games: Design simple systems that interact in complex ways, but they have to be so much more accessible then they used to."

Reynolds says he knows the hate some gamers, especially hardcore gamers, direct at Zynga and their Mafia Wars, CityVille and FarmVille games. But he thinks that's changing.

"I saw a big change in their attitude this year when FrontierVille came out, when CityVille came out," he said. "I suddenly started getting letters from folks that said they wanted to work at Zynga."

When I mentioned to Blizzard president Michael Morhaime the common refrain that PC gaming was dead, his first defence was pointing to World of Warcraft. His second? Facebook.


Comments

    10s of billions of players? WTF?

    "Second of all, I’m reaching billions, tens of billions of players I could never have reached before."

    http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_pop_totl&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=population+of+earth

    Slight exaggeration THERE methinks.

    Just curious about what a "player" is? If the human population of the planet is around 7 billion, and he wants to reach "tens of billions of players" ... then who/what is playing?

      Well with the amount of times PC gaming has died, I think the only players now would have to be zombies

    Who would have guessed that the death of PC gaming (as we know and love it) would not come at the hands of piracy, consoles, or DRM, but at the hands of millions of casual "non-gamers"?

    "While the endless reports of PC gaming’s death are an exaggeration, its metamorphosis seems inevitable."

    AGAIN with the goddamn repeating lines. Who is proofreading this stuff? Anyone???

    Anyway back on topci: have you (or has anyone) done a deep analysis of mechanics and content of let's say Age of Empires II and compared that the mechanics/challenges of one of the Zynga games? I'm no expert in the Zynga stuff, I'll readily admit, but I know enough about modern browser games to know that 'casual' doesn't always imply 'simple.' How different is FarmVille or CityVille from Civ I or II?

    Secondly, the simple fact is that most people do not own PCs to play high-end games, and never did. PC-gaming was always a niche activity, maybe not in the context of gaming as a whole, but in terms of PC ownership? Definitely. Now we're simply seeing all those people who own PCs but don't play Civ IV or StarCraft get into a kind of a game they can sink their teeth into for lots of different reasons. The top PC game of all time has always been solitaire. Now its FarmVille. What has changed? Only that FarmVille is a hell of a lot more visible than people playing solitaire for thousands of hours a year.

    I'm not really trying to be down on PC gamers or people who defend it. But frankly, you/we were never as important as we're making out right now. If anything, we should be pleased that companies like Zynga are bringing HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars into the game industry. Yes, at the moment its FarmVille-clones, but more people are working on building them, more people are playing them, and learning about videogames in general. Get off your ivory tower-cases.

      You clearly dont know what your talking about.... the money that zynga are making are deducting from the real developers out there....

      Games they Zynga make are fuckin terrible simple, all the games are the same idea with different models... The amount of money they would make from kids stealin their parents credit card info would be hilarious.

      All this doesnt matter Zynga will die down eventually people will get over the repetitive shit that it produces and the money will go back to where it belongs

        "You clearly dont know what your talking about…. the money that zynga are making are deducting from the real developers out there…."

        Is there a shared account that all game developers withdraw from? The money that Zynga makes comes from the people who play Zynga games. Presumably, these are not the people who play 'real' games, therefore this is new money that those people would not have spent on games at all. Unless you are somehow suggesting that the the profits from CoD are somehow subsidising the development of FarmVille? You're making the same mistake I am talking about above: the people who play Zynga games are NEW gamers, they are not the same kinds of people who play CoD or Civ or other 'hardcore' games.

        "Games they Zynga make are fuckin terrible simple, all the games are the same idea with different models…"

        Tell me that AAA games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Gears of War, Halo, etc aren't the same idea with different models. Oh... well CoD doesn't even have to change the models and people will still buy millions of copies.

        "The amount of money they would make from kids stealin their parents credit card info would be hilarious."

        I'm not even sure what this means. Zynga's business model relies on children stealing credit card details? I kinda doubt this, but if you've seen it happen, ok. All I can say is that's a lot of credit card fraud.

        "All this doesnt matter Zynga will die down eventually people will get over the repetitive shit that it produces and the money will go back to where it belongs."

        Zynga probably will die down, but not for the reasons you are stating. The audience Zynga now pretty much dominates will be slowly divided up amongst other casual developers.

        Secondly, and again, the 'repetitive shit' you describe is not endemic to Zynga games. Tell me how different StarCraft 2 is to StarCraft. Tell me how much the CoD series has changed since CoD: 4. Gran Turismo 5, what's the big change to gameplay there? World of Warcraft is the same game its been for 5 or 6 years now, people aren't tired of it. Halo, 1, 2, 3, ODST, Reach, etc--how much has the gameplay changed there? You gonna try to convince me that there are significantly different ideas behind AAA games, not similar mechanics with different models? How much have the basic ideas of GTA changed since GTA:III? Even Civilization hasn't changed its basic idea throughout its evolution.

        And again, you seem to think that the people who would rather play your hardcore games are somehow being forced to divert their money towards FarmVille. That's just not true. The game industry has never been more flushed with money than it is now. That new money has come from somewhere, somewhere new. Zynga are simply not pulling hundreds of millions of dollars away from Activision-Blizzard or EA, 2K, or Ubisoft, while those companies are still growing themselves.

        So tell me again who doesn't know what they're talking about?

          Why are you sticking up for Zynga? The games they produce are shit... The more and more you write in their defense is just showing how much of a fanboy you are, what do you have a big farm in FV that you wasted real money on?

          You clearly havent played many games every single one of those FPS franchises you stated have either a different Game Engine or a an updated version make each game different in many ways from each other.

          Zynga games are the same build shit with the free energy.... or buy in game currency with real money to show off to others on FB that your and idiot...

          You clearly haven't played Star Craft or Star Craft 2 or seen any gameplay footage... The games are 10 years apart they are completely different things and to state that they are the same (other than the story and races) is a dumbass thing on your behalf

            "Why are you sticking up for Zynga? The games they produce are shit… The more and more you write in their defense is just showing how much of a fanboy you are, what do you have a big farm in FV that you wasted real money on?"

            1. Taking apart your argument isn't the same as defending Zynga.
            2. I don't have a FarmVille farm or any of their other games, the only casual Facebook type game I've played is Bejeweled.
            3. Can you characterize the difference between money spent on a Zynga game and money spent on say, a WoW subscription? Is one of those a waste and the other is not?

            "You clearly havent played many games every single one of those FPS franchises you stated have either a different Game Engine or a an updated version make each game different in many ways from each other."

            Games I have played from start to finish or for many hours if they're not really games you 'finish' that I mentioned include CoD:4, Gears of War, StarCraft, Brood War, StarCraft 2, Civiliation IV, Civ5, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and GTA IV. I dabbled with a little bit of Halo 3 but haven't played much of any of the Halo stuff.

            So no I haven't thoroughly played all of the games I might mention, but the idea that CoD:4 is different to MW2 or Black Ops is laughable. You say they have different 'engines.' What is an engine but a platform for creating 'different models' and prettier graphics? Isn't that what you just said Zynga do? Same game with different graphics? What has changed in terms of challenges, goals, mechanics, abilities, or even stories/scenarios etc? Seems to me that Halo hasn't even changed the models much since the first game. Still space marines shooting space ants.

            "Zynga games are the same build shit with the free energy…. or buy in game currency with real money to show off to others on FB that your and idiot…"

            Free energy like... from a wind turbine? Or do you mean free time? I suppose showing off your Farm on Facebook to demonstrate that you're an idiot is totally different to posting on a blog with horrible grammar and spelling mistakes.

            "You clearly haven’t played Star Craft or Star Craft 2 or seen any gameplay footage… The games are 10 years apart they are completely different things and to state that they are the same (other than the story and races) is a dumbass thing on your behalf"

            So there's nothing but story and races that are the same? They're not both real-time strategy games with an emphasis on base-building and a three-way rock-scissor-paper kind of unit relation? They don't both have you collect mineral crystals and Vespane gas as resources? They aren't both geared towards competitive multiplayer? The similarities far outweigh the differences, in my opinion. Not saying there aren't any differences, but to claim that SC2 in no way represents the 'same shit' that StarCraft 1 did is ludicrous.

            You're sort of avoiding the original issue I was talking about here anyway: that somehow Zynga being successful is costing other developers money. As though Call of Duty or whatever your favorite game is actually competes with FarmVille. That's sorta like saying that the Toyota Yaris costing Ferrari money because so many people drive them, and all that money should be spent on Ferraris instead.

              You are causal gamer thats why you dont know what the fuck you are talking about... People are wasting money on a game that helps no one in the gaming industry.... reasons why you ask?

              1. It is a browser game meaning it makes no money for any of the console makers or game distributors.

              2.I was happy paying for my WoW cause not only was i getting a diverse and unique experience, the money was also going towards the development of other games like Diablo 3 and SC2(keeping the money in the industry)

              Being a Hardcore gamer i can tell the difference between games such as SC2 and SC1 and also COD4 and 5 are even if they are big or small... If i couldnt i would still be playin COD 1...

              Just because they are in the same genre as the newest versions doesnt mean they are the same game.... Thats the same as to say all sports are the same even though they have different rules and ways of playin them.

              Um who cares about grammar on a fuckin internet site?

                "You are causal gamer thats why you dont know what the fuck you are talking about… People are wasting money on a game that helps no one in the gaming industry…. reasons why you ask?"

                How many hours of high end raiding do I need to qualify as a hardcore WoW player? Do I need to tell you about theorycrafting or tanking builds to win your approval? How about my 100% trophy in Red Dead Redemption? Should I start talking about university qualifications, and my current teaching role, or will that only serve to prove that I'm actually not a 'real' gamer because I'm an 'expert' to be distrusted?

                "1. It is a browser game meaning it makes no money for any of the console makers or game distributors."

                And again, I say that you are making a completely irrelevant point. You are suggesting that a browser game isn't a game because its not on a console? So you're basically supporting a monopolistic system where if it doesn't make money for companies like Microsoft, Sony, Activision etc. then its damaging the industry. So games like Minecraft, Braid etc are bad for the industry too? Or because they aren't rendered in a browser they're ok? So what about all the thousands of Flash games people have been making and putting out for free for years? Are those also bad for the industry because they don't make money for your favorite companies? Finally, what about the actual topic of this post: people like John Romero, Reynolds and Shelley working in browser-based games. Are they now not really part of the game industry anymore?

                "2.I was happy paying for my WoW cause not only was i getting a diverse and unique experience, the money was also going towards the development of other games like Diablo 3 and SC2(keeping the money in the industry)"

                Diverse and Unique? WoW? I hate to tell you but the structure of WoW is the same as it was 4 years ago. Remember how in Scarlet Monastary you used a Tank to hold aggro, healer to keep the tank up, and DPS to kill the boss? Yeah, pretty familiar. Remember how you hit mobs over and over and when they die you get XP and gold, maybe an item? Yeah, WoW is a fun game, and stuff like PVP and the social side of raiding is pretty unpredictable, but calling a boar a Fel Boar or a Frozen Boar or a Cataclysmic Boar doesn't change the fact that you're still fighting boars.

                Again you seem to be saying that the videogame industry can only be made up of the few console devs and publishers. Maybe people like Activision still count even though they publish on the PC I guess. What about the iPhone, are companies like Firemint or Halfbrick not game developers? Not part of the industry? What industry are Zynga part of, if not the game industry?

                "Being a Hardcore gamer i can tell the difference between games such as SC2 and SC1 and also COD4 and 5 are even if they are big or small… If i couldnt i would still be playin COD 1…

                Just because they are in the same genre as the newest versions doesnt mean they are the same game…. Thats the same as to say all sports are the same even though they have different rules and ways of playin them."

                Have you ever played any of the Zynga games? How do you know the mechanics are all the same? I have played games like SC1 and 2, I can explain the differences in mechanics to you here to prove it if you like, like how siege tanks haven't changed much but dragoons have... Can you explain to me different mechanics in Zynga games?

                "Um who cares about grammar on a fuckin internet site?"

                Anyone who cares about what people they talk with on the internet think of them. But I guess you are the kind of person who doesn't care about how they express themselves, which is all I need to know.

                  This argument is gunna end here... you dont know what your on about.... tard

        the money that zynga are making are deducting from the real developers out there…[citation required]

      'AGAIN with the goddamn repeating lines. Who is proofreading this stuff? Anyone???'

      This. I'm happy I'm not the only one noticing, but I'm sick of it, and spelling errors. Plunkett seems to be the worst for it.

    Crysis 2, Battlefield 3 and TESV: Skyrim would like to have a few words with you.

      Deus Ex, Diablo 3, Max Payne 3, Portal 2

    The problem with the Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds games is they are always buggy. They may have more fans like Blizzard if they supported their games a bit better.

    They make great games don't get me wrong, like Big Huge Games's flagship title: Rise of Nations.

    It was a great 4x RTS.
    Unfortunately it had a lot of network issues that were never fixed. Despite this they released an expansion and a sequel which naturally didn't sell too well.

    Then you look at how Blizzard has supported their RTS Starcraft over the years.

    That's the difference.

    Strategy isn't failing, it's the development team that's failing.

      One only has to take a look at Magicka and the dev team behind it to see what happens when bugs are fixed and devs are actively engaged with their customers.

      I doubt Magicka would have been anywhere near as successful without the kind of support they have been giving it.

    It's like you guys have never heard of Steam. Remember Steam? That Valve company? Last I heard, there might have been some games there.

    Seriously, though, I would not ever touch a "game" like Frontiersville. You can all stop pretending that every single customer is part of the same market, thanks.

    *sigh* Why do the ignorant become journalists? Unless they are trolls, then good show chaps.

    So to nut it all out, Zynga, and other "casual" publisher/developers like PopCap, BigFishGames, etc. are destroying the PC market. That is of course opinion.

    But your opinion is that of a cranky grandpa who starts his sentences with "Back in my day...". Sorry gramps, welcome to the 21st century where companies see profits in video games, and lots of people who may not have a mass amount of time on their hands, or find triple-AAA video game titles to be too complex, find that these Casual games are pretty cool.

    To which I tend to agree. Sometimes, its nice of to sit down and play some Zynga Poker, because I like poker, and I can socialise at the same time. I also like to get the occasional game from BigFishGames, most are just simple, casual games like Hidden Object, and Time Management games. (E.g. Mystery Case Files and Diner Dash respectively.) But the quality that goes into these are great, and I would love to see the next one come out, and would probably buy it and play more. And now we swing back to the publishers, who know this fact very well, and will keep pumping money into the casual market.

    Your disdain seems to cut into the fact that there aren't really that many games being made for PC Only, or where PC is the main focus. Most games are being made with the consoles in mind, I mean if it wasn't, I wouldn't hear the term "console port" thrown around so much. But publishers aren't going to throw lots of money to a group that is not going to get them the maximum return, so the best bet is to go with a group that WILL (A.k.a The Console Crowd) and make games for them, and give 'em cool stuff.

    But do not stress, as there is light at the end of the tunnel. In all honesty, I don't really care all that much for big publishers. I can't wait for alot of smaller developers to come up and take the crown. My one I'm looking foward to is Interstellar Marines, a Triple AAA Indie Title (Sounds kinda weird aye?) and is looking really good. They even have some Tech Demos available for you to play in your browser. With some phenominal games released in the past year by indie developers (E.g. Minecraft, Magicka, Super Meat Boy, Amnesia) I am stoked to see what indie developers can do this year.

    So basically what I am saying is, don't wait on the big developers like EA and Activision to throw you a bone. They won't. So quit begging. Instead go look at what some of the smaller guys can do, and back em up! They need your support, and you'll benefit from it too. I have a good feeling that this year will be the year of the indie.

    last time I checked kotaku was anti pc gaming site oh one more thing pc gaming has a lot more games than consoles combined

    http://www.pcgamingfan.com/

      How does this shit even make it through the filter? What a joke - Kotaku covers the game industry, which, unfortunately for me, is console-dominant. The size of the back catalogue doesn't mean shit in this context. Kotaku have never indicated that they're anti-PC gaming. If you want quality games journalism dedicated to the PC, go to Rock Paper Shotgun. Also, that pcgamingfan.com site some fucking horrible design.

        "is console-dominan"

        then maybe you should stick to consoles!

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