Is Accessibility Killing PC Gaming?

Written by Joe Martin

August 30, 2008 | 10:45

Tags: #accessibility #bioshock #death #deus-ex #dying #feature #joe #orange-box #pc-gaming #portal #system-shock-2

Companies: #bit-tech

History All At Once

It seems simple and quite possibly flawed, not even taking into account the fact that games like Portal and Crysis do have great level design, AI, and so on. All those things are obviously true, but it’s the overall approach of making something uncluttered and as familiar as possible which I think contributes the most to a successful game.

And, just in case you need further proof, then you can expand the comparison further. Throw Call of Duty 4 in and compare that to Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament 3, BioShock and so on. All great games, all from late last year, all of them on the PC and all of them different.

Yet, all of them are familiar and immediately playable even to somebody who hasn’t played a game before. All have short and snappy tutorials and just a single core idea at the centre, whether that is realism, multiple classes, team work or a focus on telling a dense and complex story.

This approach had sway all through gaming last year, from the massive success of something like Assassin’s Creed right down to indie success and total newcomer Audiosurf.

Is Accessibility Killing PC Gaming? Are games more accessible now?
Audiosurf managed to leverage accessibility into becoming a cult hit

In fact, to me, Audiosurf was the exception that proved the rule. It was an independent game, with no hype or buzz around it, simple graphics and a one-man development team. It was also one of the few games where you can’t say that the success should be attributed mainly to excellent level design, pacing or whatever as all the content is created procedurally from the music you upload.

And yet, Audiosurf was one of the runaway hits of last year for PC gamers and proved so popular that it even outsold Call of Duty 4 on Steam one month. Why? Because it was immediately familiar to anyone who had ever played a music game before and it could be tailored to personal tastes - that got a lot of people interested. Then on top of that, it was cheap and got a glowing bit-tech review.

This actually ties very closely into a theory of mine that the simpler it is to describe something, the more likely somebody is to like it. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people to play some really good games in the past, but it doesn’t matter how many times I go over the complex storyline of Deus Ex and the intricacies of the multi-path gameplay – the thing that really gets people’s attention is when I say just that it’s kind of, sort of like BioShock, but better.

That’s a large part of why Audiosurf was so successful – people were just easily describing it as Tetris meets Guitar Hero. People like easy reference points and congratulating first levels that are familiar and easy to master. They don’t like lectures about SHODAN or long articles which get all introspective about a hobby which is essentially just supposed to be fun.

Is Accessibility Killing PC Gaming? Are games more accessible now?
One of the great things about Guitar Hero is that everybody knows the levels already

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, obviously. There are definitely games out there which are successful mainly because they buck the trend or don’t offer new, comparably accessible experiences. Games like Rez and Katamari Damacy fly in the face of normal gaming conventions. They still have great game design, but they take longer for people to get interested in them, even if at some point down the line the hype and word of mouth then makes them snowball.

And really, that’s quite a sad indictment of the gaming industry, that in order to be successful then something should be mostly similar to the things that went before it and should be simple enough to explain in just two or three sentences.

In the end though, that’s really what people want isn’t it? We may say that we want a new game to be a new IP with likeable characters who we spend a lot of time with, great open levels with multiple paths through them and a dozen different endings tying up the expansive and moving storyline…but what we’re really saying it that we’d like to see another game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

We like accessible games, though what this trend means for the future of PC games is something which probably needs investigating…
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