In the weeks since E3 2005, the staff here at SimHQ has opined at great length on the current state of the genre, and where it might be going. Now I think we need to talk about what we, the sim hobbyist, can do to keep our niche market alive. And I believe that can be summed up quite simply as, “we need to make a little noise” in the marketplace. Here’s five ways to do that:
1. Be A Conscientious Simulation Consumer
We’ve already discussed that in the electronic entertainment industry, “money talks and BS walks.” We really do need to vote with our wallets if we want to see the genre continue. But that doesn’t mean we should buy every single sim-ish title that comes along. We all know that some titles “have it” and some don’t when it comes to gameplay, physics, stability, immersion, etc. We don’t want to blindly endorse every title that comes along. But this community, perhaps more so than any other, is often harshly over-critical of even the smallest flaws in a simulation game. Constructive, focused and honest criticism might sting on occasion, but in the big picture its good for the community. Unfortunately, our community is often unskilled in this area of feedback. Excessive bashing of minor issues (or in some cases, non-issues) and abusive, emotionally-charged (even intentionally hurtful) comments send the wrong message to developers about what we want in a game. And since we are now relying almost solely on self-motivated, independent developers and small studios to produce new entertainment titles for us, needlessly harsh or inaccurate bashing of a new product can actually demoralize a dev team to the extent that they leave the business. That’s really not good for our future. So remember that even if the devs don’t post on the SimHQ forum boards, we have it on good authority that they are reading the forum threads. So do our genre a favor, and when you post about a problem, bug or technical issue with a game, be calm, be specific, and be helpful.
2. Find The Fair Market Value
Somewhere, in some board room in the corporate world, a demographics brief was given. And after that briefing, it was decided that the standard price for new games was between $40 and $50. That might be fine for Donkey Kong or Metal Gear Solid, but what about our demographic? Your typical simulation fan is an adult in their 20s or 30s, educated, and working in a profession that pays fairly well. Most of us could afford to pay more for a sim title, and few would complain if we knew that the extra cost would pay-off in a polished, challenging and rewarding product. We certainly don’t skimp when it comes to controllers, where most of us own over $100 in joysticks, HOTAS, FF wheels or high-tech optical mice. Surely the hard-core sim consumer would willingly pay upwards of $100 if we knew a new title was going to be a “keeper” in the sense that Grand Prix Legends, Falcon 4.0 or Operation Flashpoint have been.
And often times our games require a higher retail price due to cost. Our games take longer to develop, require more research, demand more exacting code, and therefore cost more to develop than less demanding fare. Since they don’t sell to as large an audience as other genres, one could make a case that in order to enjoy our genre, we need to pay a bit more per person for our titles. And because our games tend to have more replayability than other genres, we don’t go through as many titles per year as the rest of the gaming world. Think of the amortized value of Falcon 4.0. For some, the game has resided on their hard drive for 7 years. That means they paid about $7 per year to enjoy that one PC title. Heck, most of us aren’t even running the same operating system 7 years later. I’d venture to say that for many Falcon 4 fans, it’s the oldest piece of software on their PC, except for Notepad.
In my case, since 1999 I’ve bought six racing titles, six flight sims and five tactical shooters. Even at an average of $45 a game (they didn’t all cost that much), that’s less than $800 in software, roughly $110 a year, or less than $10 a month to enjoy the software of my genre. I wonder if the rest of the gaming world gets that much value for their dollar from their titles.
The only drawback to higher priced sim titles might be a reduction in sales to consumers who are “on the fence”, or in other words might be interested in the genre but haven’t yet tried a sim title. Higher prices for them might actually turn them away from realistic sim titles, thereby slowing the growth or turnover in our genre. Likewise, holiday gift purchases of sim titles might also suffer, and even though many of these purchases may not be “on target” entertainment for their recipient, on occasion a sim convert might emerge from gift purchases as well. Perhaps the best way to handle product pricing is already happening, in the form of nominally priced titles and the moderately priced add-ons that follow (IL-2FB / AEP / PF). Certainly this may be one of the most challenging aspects of simulation merchandising, and I wish the developers, producers and marketing folk the best of luck in finding the right alternative.