5. Build Our Community’s Ranks
Without newborns to perpetuate the species, societies will quickly die out. This is equally true of the hard-core simulation genre. We’re usually focused on what the community can do for us and how much a new title tickles our fancy, but in these lean times it would be best for all simulation fans to think about what they can do to increase their demographic — and their genre’s survival. They might be annoying and/or comical in online races or the virtual battlespace, but the plain fact is that without “newbies” that get as hooked on simulations as we are, our community will continue to shrink in size and market power.
Example Of A Pro-Active Hobby Community: Increasing the fan base of our genre isn’t just in the hands of the game developers; it’s something we as consumers can influence as well. Take the example of another hobby closely related to PC simulations: Plastic scale models. Having been around for many more years than PC sims, plastic scale modelers have established a well-structured society that is supported by the International Plastic Modelers’ Society (IPMS). The IPMS sanctions model contests, hosts clubs and provides resources to assist modelers in researching historical projects and on model building techniques. Like PC simulations, the scale plastic model industry has gone through its share of market slumps (including right now). Though a site chartered to support the hobbyist, IPMS realized that without model companies there wouldn’t be a hobby, so it looked for ways to build the modeler demographic, in order to keep its hobby alive. Of particular note is the IPMS “Make and Take” program for youth groups. Make and Take sessions are hosted by individual IPMS chartered clubs, and involve the club going to a youth group (scouts, schools, church activities, etc.) and handing out a free plastic model to each child. During the class, the kids build their kits together, while the club members assist the kids, discuss the history the model represents, give construction tips, etc. At the end of the session, the kids take home their creations, and hopefully take away a desire to build more and better models. In fact, sometimes the parents of the kids also catch the model-building bug, making the program a win-win for everyone involved.
So what can we learn from the IPMS? Easy — Find and nurture more fans in order to keep your hobby healthy and strong. While we don’t have an international organization of PC simulation fans, we do have the power of the Internet, and we (well, most of us) have jobs and friends, and most of us have high levels of enthusiasm for the titles we play. By leveraging those tools, we can increase our community’s size and hopefully our level of sway in the marketplace. Here’s two ways you can help yourself by helping the simulation community:
A. Introduce your friends and co-workers to the joys of the genre. Around the water cooler at work, you’re bound to find a few folks with similar interests to yours — including military jets, motorsports, land combat, etc. Like you, these folks might be the type of person that would enjoy the PC simulation hobby, but simply aren’t aware that it’s out there. Take the time to tell them about the genre. Hopefully your enthusiasm and passion for the hobby will rub off on them, but be patient and understanding if their first response is dismissive or sarcastic. Most non-gamers hold an opinion on electronic entertainment that is based on a false assumption that all computer games are brainless arcade fare made for kids. Of course, that’s just the grim reality that we’re trying to prevent here, so remain calm and explain our genre to them. Sometimes you won’t convince the person you’re talking to, but sometimes you will. It might not hurt to have an exciting .mpg video of your favorite game handy, or a quick trip to the Internet to show them an official or fan site (like SimHQ). You might be surprised at how many folks are out there who would love to try this hobby but don’t know it exists.
Personally, I have met many co-workers who, in casual conversation, turn out to be big motorsports fans or aviation buffs, but have never seen or heard of a true, high-fidelity racing or flying simulation. Like many consumers, these folk thought all electronic entertainment was just silly, trivial console games. From their distant viewpoint, they see a forest, but not the various types of trees that populate that forest. Over the past three years, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching about a half-dozen of my co-workers as their eyes, mouths and minds opened up during demonstrations of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, F1 Challenge, Grand Prix Legends and IL-2. Of those, three have become PC simulation consumers, buying Logitech Momo Racing FF wheels, CH products HOTAS and simulation titles (good news for all of us). There’s nothing special going on here, and I think with minimal effort any sim enthusiast can inspire others to try this hobby out.
Think of this — I would have never discovered the excitement of racing sims were it not for the efforts of some of my friends. Although I was already a flight sim-junkie, racing sims just weren’t on my “scope” and I assumed all of them were merely arcade games. That all changed when my SimHQ buddies urged me to try Grand Prix Legends at a LAN meet in 2000. I really found my greatest satisfaction in the motorsports realm of this hobby, all because some of my online buddies took the time to educate me on the excitement of hard-core racing titles. My wife will never forgive them…
B. Get kids interested in the hobby. Like the cliché says, kids really are our future. Getting kids to take the step up from console titles and discover the challenges and rewards of hard-core simulations truly making a long-term investment in the future of our genre. If you have kids or nephews/nieces, follow the “make and take” concept and do a show-and-tell about a historical sim at their school, scout or church group. Find the right context (a big race weekend in your town to show NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, or an air show or national holiday for IL-2 Forgotten Battles or Falcon 4.0), pick the right game, and share with them the enthusiasm and joy you get from the hobby. Get some sim buddies together and do a mini-LAN meet at one of these events. It might catch on in a few of them. And youth are the future of the genre. A civilian friend of mine has an 11 year old son who’s interested in a career in military aviation. He asked me to recommend a “video game” about flying that might be good for his son to try. I recommended Falcon 4.0, which he purchased on Ebay, along with a Logitech joystick (not HOTAS). Months later, my co-worker’s son relishes opportunities to see me, in order to discuss flying techniques and tactics as he becomes a more and more accomplished sim pilot. Score two for Chunx — not only for the hobby, but also for military recruiting!
What should be clear by now is that it’s incumbent on all of us to help keep this genre alive. At this juncture, no one can sit back and rely on the actions of others to keep their hobby from dying out. And regardless of status and capacity, all of us can contribute in some way to furthering the genre that gives us so much enjoyment. By providing good feedback to developers and producers, voting with our wallets, and building the ranks of our community, we can ensure that simulation titles and controllers remain viable products in the electronic entertainment marketplace.
Look for the next roundtable discussion coming soon with sim industry developers and producers.
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