7.07.2009

Homespun

There is a Goodwill outlet down Fillmore St. from my apartment. Being that this Goodwill is in the middle of San Francisco, there are sometimes exciting finds in the used software section. Most recently, I picked up an original boxed copy of SimCity (on 3.5" AND 5.25" floppy!) as a cheap collector's item-- the cover art is wonderful, one of my favorite video game box covers:


Inside, I found the following slip:

click for big

20 years ago, the makers of SimCity could reasonably solicit users to submit bugs and suggestions through the post, in exchange for "nifty prizes." (Don't forget to include your phone number in case we need more information!) Web forums have taken over this function, sure, but there's something incredibly nostalgic about picturing some computer game player (in, let's say, Minnesota, on a chilly November evening in 1990) sitting down at his kitchen table with a ballpoint pen and writing out his great ideas for how to improve SimCity, then walking out to the mailbox and sending the letter off in hopes of receiving a reply from the game's creators, and maybe a nifty prize.

Times have changed and cheap nostalgia is easy, but I don't think it's unfair to lament the personal feeling the games industry had to it at the turn of the 90's. The entire industry has gotten exponentially larger in the intervening years, and so the creators of the biggest games tend to be the furthest distanced from the average player, unsurprisingly. Certainly this is one draw of the indie games community-- that it feels like a community, with relatable individuals making small, personal games to share with their dedicated playerbase.

It's wonderful. But it doesn't diminish the fond memory of buying a box of disks from Babbage's or Egghead Software, taking it home, and feeling that you'd opened up a personal conduit to the creators of the thing you held in your hands. We may have entered the age of impersonality... or maybe we just need to restart the practice of packing in a signed letter with our street address on it.

4 comments:

joshleejosh said...

Going a little further back than this, there was a time when games came hand-packed in a ziploc bag, with mimeographed instructions stuffed inside. And as often as not, the developer's address was their *home* address. Good times.

Is the distance between developer and player caused more by the size of dev teams, or by the size of the audience?

Also: I love the phrase "Software Toys," and think it's way overdue for a comeback.

Rich Wilson said...

I think conduits like forums and Twitter can actually help foster the personal connection to a fan base. Look at Introversion, for example. Their devblog is posted to a forum where anyone can chime in, and they talk openly about financial woes, design challenges, etc. I think the wall comes up when your company gets so large that marketing handlers and PR people creep into the mix and start managing things for you, deciding what image is right for the company, etc. Sure, if your fan base is large enough, you can't reasonably chat with everyone, but the mass messaging can still be pretty genuine.

Darius Kazemi said...

I have the exact same box on a bookshelf here in the office. I just pulled it down and yes, it does contain that card! Very nice.

Savin (Nay) Wangtal said...

I certainly do not think that developer becoming more divorced from the players is a bad thing.

Ah.. but I do missed the good old days. I don't call our kind nostalgic. I call us "hopelessly romantic". There are something innately fulfilling about riding steam engines in this age of air planes, or the smell of a hand written letter over e-mails. A human touch, maybe.