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January 25, 2006

Hard Core…

Filed under: Thoughts and Rants — Tom B @ 4:27 am

I am a hard core PC gamer. I have been for a long time and I am proud of it. I play online with a clan and have since it was formed in early 1998. Several of the original members are still playing together on a regular basis. We play FPS games and have played and competed in Quake, Quake2, Shogun, Tribes, Unreal, Half life, Quake 3 CTF, Counter Strike, Battlefield 1942, Desert Combat and are presently playing mostly Battlefield2. We have our own servers. And although we are tough, we are, to be honest, not the most skilled group around. We play for the fun and comradery of it. I sometimes think of it as being sort of like a virtual bowling team…a bunch of friends getting together on a regular basis or some fun.

Of course, any hard core gamer who plays in a FPS Clan or RPG Guild will tell you that these groups are more than just a simple diversion. They are a significant social support system and more like a family than cooworkers. When any one of us needs help the others are there for them. We have supported each other through hurricanes, tornadoes, divorces and even the death of family members. My Clan mates are some of my best friends…even though they are virtual. A few years back the Clan held a LAN party. That’s when a bunch of hard core gamers get together in one location with their computers and plug all their systems into a local area network and play together in the same room. In the process I met in RL (real life - not rocket launcher!) some friends that I had been playing with for over 6 years and communicating on an almost daily basis. I guess to call it mind boggling would be an understatement. Here’s what the group looked like…

Hard core gamers are the backbone of the industry and hard core PC gamers are on the cutting edge. The things we have known for years are the sort of things that executives at the big publishers like to think are their latest brilliant innovations. It was laughable when Microsoft announced that it was going to create a whole new way of playing games by taking games online and having people actually playing together online over the internet!!! PC gamers had been doing that for over 6 years when they fingured it out. Similarly, being able to talk to each other while doing so has been basic to online PC gaming since the turn of the decade. You see hard core PC gamers have been doing these things online for years when the game industry executives had these revolutionary “breakthroughs.” Maybe its just the hype machine. But I suspect it is really just the fact that the folks who make the important decisions about much of what occurs in our industry just simply don’t get it!

So here’s a few industry trends that I see as a hard core PC gamer that those non gamer folks in the publisher’s marketing and development department should keep in mind.

You get people playing a game with a cool game, but you keep people playing a game through community.

The online sever and net code of any new online multiplayer game are as important as the game itself.

There need to be enough servers online at launch and they need to be optimized for both CPU utilization and bandwidth.

Many user based servers are Linux, so both need to be available for free download simultaneously at the time of release.

Money spent on community management is money well spent. User communities are the core audience and if they can be accommodated in any way it is a good thing. When given the sort of support they deserve they will build and follow a franchise.

Supporting the modders (those who modify the game with custom derivative works is the best way to continue selling a game way past its primary market. More people have purchased Half Life to play Counter Strike then bought Half Life in the first place. The potential here is huge. That’s probably because so many gamers aspire to make games and this it a great way for them to channel that desire. It should be facilitated and nurtured in every way possible. It’s just good business.

Digital distribution is a reality. Hard core PC gamers do it all the time. Heck there are patches released for most major hardcore PC games that are as big as many games out there. I’ll do a separate rant about digital distribution soon…but let me tell you, it is the next big thing. And if it is handled properly it will be an huge benefit to game developers. And some folks are doing just that!

Well that’s all for now…and oh yeah - Happy New Year!

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