Game Theory: Grassroots Gaming

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PC gaming began on mainframes and research computers. It moved to personal computers when independent developers put their games on floppy disks, sealed them in Ziploc bags with Xeroxed art, and sold them in hobby stores. If it is going to have a future that is not yoked to console design paradigms, we are going to have to recapture those roots and start paying closer attention to the small developers who are designing with us, and not 14-year-old console gamers, as their primary market.

PC games like those we used to play are still being made, but amidst all the white noise of endless junkware and Java games, it’s becoming extremely difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. I completely missed Hinterland when it first came out last year, and played it only after its addition to the Greenhouse lineup ( http://playgreenhouse.com ). It’s a little gem of RPG/strat play: Diablo with village building and all the boring bits cut out. Tilted Mill, the company responsible, is filled with old PC hands like Chris Beatrice (from Impressions, of beloved memory) and Jeff Fiske (who demoed Civil War General for me at the first E3).

Another company, Brighter Minds, filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, despite the success of its World of Goo, a brilliant piece of gaming design for the ridiculous price of $20. Goo, which went out DRM-free, was subject to a 90 percent piracy rate. Designer Ron Carmel told Joystiq that he saw torrents of the game with “500 seeders and 300 leechers.” If you’re reading this, and you played Goo on a stolen copy, you’re a world-class jackoff, and probably would have stolen this magazine if you weren’t afraid the dude at Borders would have caught you. I’d pay $20 just to kick you in the nuts.

EA and Activision don’t need your money, and they don’t care too much about you. Unless you’re coughing up $15 a month for an MMO, get used to sloppy console seconds. The small guys need you, now, to lay off the BitTorrent, pay your $20, and keep the seedbed of PC gaming thriving by searching out worthy games from indie developers.

Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is Editor-at-Large of Games Magazine .

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