9 November 2008





Part 10: Brand Chumpions

The modern gaming PC is an amazing piece of hardware. With much more raw power than any console, capable of far superior graphics and glorious surround sound, equipped with near-infinite versatility of control and able to access data with lightning speed from massive hard drives, the PC is the greatest games machine in the world. Or at least, it would be if it wasn’t for YOU.

Many centuries ago, viewers, I used to write for a games magazine for a computer called the Amiga (ask your dad). The team on the magazine were an inquisitive bunch of scamps, and one day, on hearing that a secret management assessment of the mag’s strengths and weaknesses had been conducted and reported on, some of us caused a distraction to lure the publisher away from his office while a couple of us sneaked in and read the report. Among many scurrilous lies (in both the pro and con columns), your correspondent found a section on himself, under the heading “STUART CAMPBELL – BRAND CHAMPION”.

Apparently this was (and is) a marketing term, meaning roughly that the named person is seen as someone exhibiting great enthusiasm for, and driving consumer loyalty to, the brand in question - which in this particular case was seen as being the Amiga itself, in the specific context of a games machine. In other words, your correspondent was seen as someone who made the Amiga seem like a great games platform by enthusing over games which were available only for that format.

This interpretation came as something of a surprise to all of us on the magazine, because none of us gave a damn for the Amiga as a games machine, owned one ourselves, or cared in the slightest bit if it succeeded as one, and we’d said so openly in the magazine on more than one occasion - all we cared about were games, not which machine they ran on. A machine is just a tool, and if you’ve got a tool that doesn’t do its job very well, you buy a different one. It doesn’t matter if Hotpoint made your fridge - if Zanussi offer a better washing machine, that’s the one you get.

So the idea voiced on the TPCG letters pages and forum that this column has been in some way criticising the PC as a games machine couldn’t be missing the point by a greater distance if it tried. The PC is capable of doing absolutely ANYTHING that any modern console can do (with the partial exception of the DS). It’s more powerful, more flexible, and these days it’s barely even any noisier than a console if you put it in the living room and hook it up to your giant plasma telly. It should be a monster crushing everything else into insignificance. So why does it struggle to sell a fraction as many games?

Over the last nine months, this column has tried to help, by pointing out what the PC is capable of, if only everyone involved with it would get their heads out of their arses. Hardware manufacturers (and the media) should ease up on the ridiculous tech-spec arms race that constantly excludes the majority of the potential audience from running the latest games. Peripheral makers must stop fighting and come up with some standardised controllers that would free the PC from the dictatorship of the mouse-and-keyboard nerds. But most of all, YOU need to stop being such a hyper-defensive fanboy muppet and open your mind to the enormous breadth of experience that PC gaming could offer if only you could stop buying the same three tedious orc-filled games over and over and over again. The PC is a machine. It doesn’t have feelings. So stop treating it like your frail, defenceless little granny and make it dance for you.

“Stuart Campbell” weeps every time he sees another fantasy RPG full of dragons or racing sim that takes longer to learn than driving a real car. So given that he has to read at least one PC games magazine a month, you can see why he takes so much heroin.

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