Re-Defining the PC Gamer
What makes a PC Gamer and what makes a computer part a gaming component? This is question I think the industry needs to take a serious look at, especially after a few recent conversations. You see a I know a lot of PC gamers, they range in age from 70 to 8 and play every type of game you can imagine. In the past few weeks I have noticed something that seems to be underlying in all the conversations I have had, a lot of them feel that the computer world does not truly represent them or know who they are. After taking an objective look around I find I have to agree.
You see back in the early days of the PC, two groups drove PC hardware forward. First we had the hardware geeks, the tinkers that loved to play with new hardware toys and discover it’s limits. The gamers made the second set and included a lot of the first set in their numbers. Early PCs were advancing fast, as was gaming software and they had to learn to tinker in an effort to play the games they desired. The industry was able to cater to both due to the huge overlap, giving us new hardware that was super tweak-able and could push performance limits of their generation.
Now lets look at today, we still have the same two groups but something had happened. As the gamer group has swollen and continues to grow the techie hardware geek group has not. Okay that’s not fair, it has grown in pure numbers but it’s percentage of the gamer crowd has drastically shrunk. Were at one time the techie and gamer overlap was likely as much as 80% for the gamer sphere, the techies now account for only about 15% of the same sphere today. The reason for this is simple, tech has outpaced software to a degree that you no longer need the ability to tweak your PC to have great gaming.
The problem is that when you look online for help with your PC and you are gamer, you find techie sites. Oh there are gamer sites for sure but go ask for help in them and you get the hardware geeks offering the suggestions. They spend time talking about overclocking and the latest high end parts. One gamer I spoke with expressed a though I have had for months. He told me how he is tired of going to tech forums because the build forums are all the same, a bunch of people putting together upper tier system and then asking others to pat them on the back for their part choices. When he looked for gaming help the number of responses were next to none existent and none of them were really about how to solve a minor issue he eventually figured out on his own.
With new perspective in my mind I went exploring forums and was amazed. Part suggestion seemed to mostly be based on what people read someplace else. They consisted of higher cost, higher end components that we have proven on our show make no real difference in day to day use than the next level down. In fact the recommendations tended to float around the same basic mantra for chips and GPUs, only three models were commonly suggested and anyone pointing out other options were generally considered not knowledgeable based on many of the replies I saw. BTW all of the suggestions were based on overclock ability, a trend that pervades the “enthusiast” world despite the fact that more data is constantly appearing that shows it impact is less significant on daily use with each new generation.
Todays gamers do not want to be techies, they do not want to tweak a BIOS or learn advanced overclocking techniques. They want to load up their game of choice and tear through it. When you present this position on a typical tech forum however you are called a name usually based around a console and told to go buy a gaming console. This is a DUMB response. PC gaming needs more gamers, we should be encouraging these new prospects not attacking the fact they want to just use their PC like 99% of the world. The PC is a more versatile platform, offers more horse power and in the end the chance for a richer gaming experience than the console. There is data that shows the trend is for many people to move from consoles to the PC for gaming.
The argument used in the “enthusiast” communities when then people arrive, is that a true PC Gamer learns how their system works. They are falling back on the history that exists between the tweaker and the game. This is laughable to me since a large percentage of todays “tweakers” buy their way to the horsepower they have rather than tweak. I am one of those old school, I was there when we first started overclocking the CPU, I was there for the first 3D cards. I saw the birth and death of 3DFX the god father of all PC gaming as we know it today. Tweakers back then were not a bunch of guys that spent the most money they could to gain bragging rights over others. Back then we worked within limited budgets and needed to find some way to get more performance. When we achieved that extra umph to our system we did not brag, we explained to our compatriots what we did and worked together to see if there was a better way. Overclocking and computer building was not a race to see who had the biggest E-Peen like it is today.
Another area they felt the industry has left them behind in is one that really caught me off guard, it was in aesthetics. Look at the various boutique gaming PCs you can buy. They are full of LEDs, bright colors and aggressive designs. Look in the industry at parts that are labeled as being “for gamers”. Headsets with blinking lights, fans with various light patterns, keyboards with a ton of extra buttons, lights and access ports, mice with enough buttons to build three mice and the list goes on. Somewhere along the way someone in the tech industry decided gamer meant gaudy, flashy or strange looking.
One gamer I spoke with explained to me that he had to rebuild his system because of the looks. The friends would come over and actually spend time staring at his PC build, and not in a good way. The PC became a focal point of the living room. He loves to game and he has a small home, the living room is the only place that has room for the PC. As we talked I offered him some case options that are a bit more subdued and he is in the process of building his first PC just so it does not stand out in the room.
Now lets be fair there are a lot of people of that want the aggressive styling that is so common, on so called gamer components. There is nothing wrong with having a case that makes a fashion statement, but the truth is simpler designs out there are the minority when you look for parts that claim they are designed for gamers.
Now the industry is working to redefine the PC gamer, new PC designs are getting smaller and slowly the DIY community is beginning to embrace these none tweakers. In fact one of the larger trends in DIY right now is the move to mITX systems. These systems are smaller and usually the case design is less gaudy than larger systems. The good news is that a lot of the new designs allow for standard components so that means these do not have to be underpowered, as often happened in the past.
The time has come however for us to stop trying to put square pegs in round holes. The DIY world has diversified and it no longer the sole domain of the uber-tweaker, they are in fact the minority. The gaming world is no longer the fiefdom of hardware geek but today is run by the people, the gamers, the hardware elite have been pushed to the fringes. Hardware geeks still have a lot to offer but they need to stop trying to force every gamer into their mold. The truth is the gamer is becoming the predominate force in the PC world. The hardware geeks are slowly being forced back and take a lesser seat at the PC gaming table every day. No more can the industry think of a PC gamer as just another geek, now they are their own entity and force in the market.