The Needles

The Needles
The Consolization of the American Videogame

Andy Chalk | 1 Aug 2007 21:00
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Accessibility in action: You buy a game for the PlayStation 3. You bring it home, stick it in and wait for it to tell you what buttons to punch. Punch 'em, and a few seconds later you're racing through mud-splattered canyons or beating the crap out of some guy in Tulsa. PCs don't offer quite the same experience; if the game doesn't autostart, you'll need to find and run the installation program, at which point you'll tell it where to install the game (you do have enough free hard drive space, don't you?), select your resolution and perhaps your sound hardware, and finally whether you want a desktop icon, a quick-launch icon or, if you'd prefer it, just be buried somewhere in your Start menu. Not exactly brain surgery, perhaps, but my dad still hasn't quite figured it out, and I'm beginning to doubt he ever will.

It's an unintuitive system, and it's killing PC gaming. PCs were created by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts; gaming consoles were born of the idea that everyone has a television, so everyone can have a game system. Everything since Pong has demonstrated that videogaming at home can be simple, an idea which has taken sufficient root over the years to make the once-necessary complication of the PC seem entirely unneeded. Most gamers coming on stream today, young and old alike, don't even know what a sound card port address is, much less an IRQ or a DMA; suggesting that such knowledge is an inherent part of gaming is likely to elicit nothing but weird stares.

Microsoft's Games For Windows program is designed to eliminate much of that headache by mandating an "easy installation" option that simplifies the process as much as possible; like consoles, gamers will insert the disk, make a few mouse clicks when prompted and be ready to go. Not everyone thinks it's an ideal solution - some gamers are loathe to surrender any degree of control to an automated process - and presumably the more standard installation options will also be available. But for today's game-buying masses, "turn it on and play the game" is vital.

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Accommodating streamlined gameplay is also an unavoidable part of the evolution of the videogame. Having 104 keys and eight mouse buttons doesn't necessarily mean they all need to be used. An overly obtuse interface spells trouble for any game. Some games are more complex than others and will be inherently more demanding as a result; but just as often, if not more so, a concise and simple control scheme will allow for easier and therefore deeper immersion into a game, heightening the experience for everyone.

While the gaming market as a whole continues to grow globally, the PC games market is predicted to shrink. According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, spending on PC games and related hardware will be down to $840 million by 2011 from $969 million in 2006, itself a paltry number compared to the $13 billion value of the global gaming market predicted by 2012. The number of female gamers is growing, as is the number of "old" gamers. (Sorry, Mom.) While the hardcore crowd may look upon those demographics with disdain, Nintendo continues to put the boots to the competition from Sony and Microsoft largely by appealing to them; likewise, Gary Grigsby's Pacific War may be one of the most accurate and detailed simulations of the Pacific Theater ever created, but it's never going to make anyone's bestseller list.

Gaming is converging. The future, if not exactly here at this very moment, is at least clearly inevitable. And no matter where it's going, the consoles are leading the way. So to the diehards, the throwbacks, the purists and the true believers: Things have changed, and they're not going back. Warren Spector is designing for the Xbox. Civilization is coming to the Nintendo DS. And yes, your games are being consolized. Be thankful for it.

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