Monday, May 13, 2013

Whatever happened to "Essential PC Games" lists?

For about a decade I maintained a monthly subscription to a PC gaming magazine called PC Zone. Perhaps my favourite bit of the magazine was their list of essential PC games. This buyers guide changed format a few times over the years but the basic principle remained the same. It was a ranked list of essential PC games classified by genre. The genres included Shooters, RPGs, God Games, Space games (for a while) and a few others I can't remember. There were about ten games in each category.

For several years this list was a cornerstone of my PC gaming. I strove to acquire and play every game on the list in the categories I was interested in.  I even tried to get the top titles in those categories I wasn't so enthusiastic about.

I miss that list because gaming seemed much simpler then. I could play perhaps ten games and consider myself an expert on shooters or RPGs or whatever. Once a game got on the list it usually held its place for some time so this was an achievable goal. Some games (most famously Deus Ex) maintained  their place for years.

I don't know of any equivalent list today and I don't know if it would even be possible. There are many many more games around than there used to be and also there are fewer games that stand head and shoulders above the crowd. This is natural in a maturing industry where innovation has become incremental rather than radical. It is also natural that the difference in quality between best and worst has become smaller. This is actually a good thing. Games have gotten better and even mediocre titles from today are better in many respects than classics of the past although we older gamers tend to forget this when we don our rose tinted history goggles.

Another difficulty with recreating the list is that the gaming public has grown and has become more segmented. Gamers have their own individual tastes, which is a good thing but it means we no longer all speak the same language and we no longer agree on what are the essential games.  A quick Google search for "Essential PC Games" will confirm this. The various lists thrown up differ as much as they agree.

It is not all good news however. As AAA games have grown into mega brands reviewers and their scores seem to have lost much of their power. Nowadays it all seems to be about pre-order and first week sales which owe more to multi million marketing budgets than to the commendation of professional reviewers.

I still miss the list though. Nowadays my game purchasing algorithm is more haphazard, an ad hoc combination of "games in a genre I like" with "games I have heard good things about" with " games that have a reasonable meta critic score" and of course the all important "games that are on sale this week". 


Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think lists like those don't exist anymore because they simply can't exist any more. So much of current games journalism consists of paid marketing shill and unrealistic review environments, never mind the potential for publishers to blackball outlets who give low scores. Not including a game would probably put in the same bucket as a bad score, with all of the same fallout.

mbp said...

Yes indeed game reviewers themselves have questions to answer about the impartiality of their work. Mind you the post launch review itself has become almost redundant now that we have so much hype over "pre-orders".