3. Buy, Buy, Buy
Regardless of how a title is priced, the more copies sold, the greater the profits. The greater the profits, the more interest and capital will be out there to make the next title. The more profits, the more desire and capital that’ll be out there to make the next title. Also, popular titles tend to spawn competition, and for us that means more simulation titles and choices on our store shelves. With a genre that is inching ever-closer to extinction, we’ve got to make certain our simulation dollar fully and accurately supports the fragile studios that are working to produce the titles that bring our hobby to life. More and more we’re supporting very small business ventures that are operating on a “labor of love” mindset, rather than a wealthy, diversified corporation. So when you find a title that you like, make sure to buy a copy for each PC you plan to put it on — and maybe a backup copy as well. Notice that I am talking about purchasing game titles that we enjoy. No one here would advocate buying crap titles that don’t really “scratch our itch” when it comes to realism, challenge or immersion. Blindly buying poor-quality titles just to support the genre actually sends the wrong message as to what we’re looking for in a product. So choose wisely, and when you do, show your appreciation with your wallet.
Likewise, we all need to discourage piracy within our genre. Certainly we all love to get something for nothing. Remember that purchasing a game title is how you “vote with your wallet” in the software marketplace, and burning a copy of a game off of a friend’s original isn’t going to keep our genre alive.
4. Give Constructive Feedback
The relationship between many simulation fans and the developers of those titles can be wildly fluctuating, and at times highly dysfunctional. The very nature of the participants — highly complex, hyper-detailed games with labyrinthine code, written to please what is arguably the most discriminating and finicky crowd in all of electronic entertainment — almost guarantees that the relationship will suffer from the more volatile aspects of a “bad marriage.” The resulting outcome is often less than a fairy tale ending for either consumer or developer. Any frustration simulation consumers feel is typically vented in public forums, sometimes without the benefit of rational thought added in. As a community we need to “tighten up” the way we critique and review new titles. Consider it your volunteer contribution to the health of the genre.
As consumers, when we trade our hard-earned cash for a product, we have certain expectations of product quality and satisfaction. Unfortunately for us, the very nature of the genre further strains the relationship between developer and consumer. Arguably, vehicle simulation titles are some of the most complex programs to write in all of electronic entertainment, particularly flight simulations. The result is that often the code can be ‘buggy’ or unstable. Most certainly, it will push existing PCs to their limits — or beyond. While no developer wants to release an unstable title, consumers really do deserve better than they often get in this genre. The culprit is often unrealistic or arbitrary timelines for release, or unrealistic budget restrictions, imposed by publishers that don’t know or care what goes into titles like these. Here, the voice of our genre should be heard loud and clear in the ears of producers and developers. But “loud and clear” implies both volume and clarity. As a community, often our more vocal critics spoil their message by trading clarity and precision for ranting and emotion. Undisciplined statements actually hurt our genre more than help it, even if the intent was otherwise.
Assuming a product reaches store shelves with clean and bug-free code, the simulation genre faces yet another hurdle. Regrettably, when it comes to simulations or models of reality, today’s computer technology cannot allow for a 1:1 recreation of that reality, no matter how much processing power you apply to the problem. This is as true for multi-million dollar military aviation and automotive simulators as it is for our lowly PCs. Since a true recreation of reality cannot be accomplished on a PC, compromises and tradeoffs must be made when creating a model or simulation. Developers must therefore make decisions on where to focus the fidelity in their title, as well as interpretations on how to emulate a real system’s capability or kinematics. Unfortunately, there can be as many interpretations of how to best model reality as there are consumers in the genre. The bottom line is that developers do the best they can and hope that their interpretation is sufficient to satisfy a broad base of customers. In general terms, developers usually succeed in their efforts. But the trade-offs they make don’t completely suit every consumer. Often many aspects of detail in a sim can be altered in software updates, if the developer decides there is a need to do so. Their decision process (and understanding of consumer desires) can be greatly aided with focused and clear critical commentary from the consumer — something that many hobby web sites try to promote through discussion forums. But angry, rude, or hostile comments usually inject so much emotion into a critical commentary that the message is lost, which is unfortunate for all parties involved.
It is incumbent on everyone who posts in forums or writes reviews to keep these points in mind when making critical commentary on new titles. The goal of any review or critique of a title should be to make the product better fit our needs, and be more worthy of our spending dollar. You could assume that sales of a title should be sufficient to show the success of a simulation title, but keep in mind that in the eyes of the producers, even the best simulation titles can look like losers because of their tiny consumer base. That reality makes what we say on the Internet even more important than other genres.
Remember that when we critique products, our feedback essentially makes us part of the development process, and that feedback needs to be as clear, focused and realistic (and unemotional) as we can make it. Finally, never forget that critical feedback must include both negative and positive inputs. In today’s society, we often take the “goods” in a product for granted, and focus only on the “bads”. That actually hurts the feedback process, because the true spectrum of the product’s quality is lost without a balanced critique. It’s just as important to tell developers what parts of their products are “on target” as it is to tell them what’s wrong, so we can help them perpetuate the good features, while eliminating or minimizing the bad features, in their next patch or title.