Editor’s note: We published this article prematurely, but have now edited it extensively. Hope it wasn’t too jarring for yall.
Players Like Options
A large part of game design involves how the player interacts within the game, but many game developers fail to realize just how important giving players options is to the overall experience. Emulators offer a myriad of useful tools for gamers to shape how they play, from having access to save states to being able to advance the game one frame at a time. These may not seem useful to the average gamer, but having a wider range of ways to experience games allows them to be more inclusive to those who would normally be turned off to them. For example, adding the ability to alter game speed could allow someone who doesn’t normally like RPGs to run one at 150% speed ─ they may skip the dialog, but at least they’re enjoying a game they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Designers often get too hung up on how they want their games to be played, and forget that they have very little control over the player’s actions once the game “goes gold”. Once developers give up on the fool’s errand of controlling how their users play their games, they should consider making gameplay experiences more easily customizable.
Gamers Have Different Priorities
The rise in popularity of indie fighting games has shown how important roll-back netcode is for online fighters. To make a long story short, most fighting game developers before 2014 designed their online functionality to make their games look as good as possible. Conversely, rollback netcode allows for each player’s computer to reinterpret the other players actions in an attempt to mask any delay caused by latency, which results in jittery visuals. The problem is that fighting games rely on very specific timings, and often, players care more about the game running smoothly than how it looks. It wasn’t until the popularity of GGPO, an arcade game emulator with rollback netplay, showed how good rollbacks can be that gamers started demanding it in their favorite fighting games. Now, it’s widely considered unacceptable to release a new fighter without rollback netcode, as fighting game developers are forced to adapt their priorities to match what their audience wants.
Users’ Access Can’t Be Controlled
Once a game goes live, the developers have very little control over who can play it, thanks, in large part, to online piracy. For example, when Konami wanted to wipe their teaser product, P.T., off the face of the earth, gamers responded by downloading the game onto their hard drives, and recreating the game in the Unity engine. Even MMORPG developers that shut down their games’ servers don’t have total control, as gamers have found ways to host their own servers to guarantee the longevity of online only games. Emulators are often used as examples of how gamers find ways to play their favorite games no matter what, but not everyone who emulates games is doing so maliciously ─ piracy is, more often than not, a response to bad customer service, rather than a malevolent act against copyright holders. After the miserable failure that was the gaming industry’s attempts at DRM throughout the 2000’s, many developers began combating piracy by providing a better user experience. Services like Netflix and GOG show how giving users what they want without any strings attached is a great way to stop them from stealing. Obviously, some developers can’t meet their fans’ every needs, such as Nintendo releasing products on rival companies’ hardware, but they should take as many measures as possible to make their games accessible to their fans. If gamers want to play classic Megaman games, then it’s up to Capcom to make those games available, rather than getting upset that players use emulators.
The Customer Is Always Right
Some of these lessons may seem like no-brainers, but the popularity of emulators and online piracy shows just how much developers can learn about how their audience wants to play their games. Indie developers help the gaming community show, rather than tell, main stream game companies what they want. Thankfully, those companies are listening, and slowly adapting to the rapidly changing relationship between gamers and their games.