6 Jan 2019

The Appeal of Simulator Games

I've been playing PC Building Simulator lately. It doesn't take up a huge amount of my time. It's usually just a short ten minute session every evening or so. I log in, fiddle around with a PC, maybe try something new, and then close it down. This isn't because it's a boring game, but rather that's how I play simulators.

The Irregular Corporation's PC Building Simulator, like similar games such as Farming and Truck Simulator series, aims to provide a semi-realistic experience. You're building a computer, after all. It's obviously going to try and replicate that process. There are others such as Goat and Surgeon Simulator which take the name ironically and present comedic takes on the genre. For some, these games can be a livelihood. For others, a mere 15-minute distraction.

For those invested in building a computer, PC Building Simulator touches on the core of that group. Whether you're an enthusiast or just looking into learning more about the internal workings of the hardware, there is a great value here. Despite being in Early Access, many of the main gameplay features are already functioning properly. In career mode, you can use in-game currency to buy parts. Once you start putting it all together, the tutorial provides a handy guide to walk you through the process as well as explaining how each component works for those that may want to take that knowledge into the real world. There's even talk of the game coming to schools too.
"We often get feedback from people saying they have used the game to plan our future PC builds," said Stuart Morton, producer at The Irregular Corporation, "we try and keep everything as accurate to real-word specifications so that people can actually learn something along the way. Getting the game into classrooms is something that has started to happen and we plan to help push as much as we can in the future. Nothing gives me more pleasure than getting pictures from a classroom with students using our game to learn from, we need more games that can make learning fun!"

"PC Building Simulator leans pretty heavily on the realism side, with real-world licenses and proper compatibility of parts we try and stay as true to actual PC building as possible with a game. That’s not to say it’s not fun, we have players that come to the game from all angles and enjoy it for many hours, some hundreds."
It can also come as an incredible surprise at how these games appeal to certain groups. There are farmers that play Farming Simulator. There are lorry drivers that play American Truck Simulator. Besides that, these games also allow insight into the jobs they're simulating. "I think one of the main reasons people love a good simulator is it enables them to try something they just don’t have easy access to in real-life," Morton said. "They can be a great way to indulge in activities that might be out of reach due to financial or other circumstances. In addition, they can provide a more chilled out experience to other more action focussed genres which a lot of people like."

SCS Software's Truck Simulator series has garnered a particularly significant following on Reddit, with almost 20,000 subscribers. User APeacefulWarrior says it's the game's post-launch support that has kept the wheels going: "As far as the DLC goes, it's absolutely worth it. In fact, it's kind of the focus now. And that ties into why I think it'll be a long time before there's an ETS3, if ever."
"They've already made a lot of engine upgrades over the years, including some major ones like totally overhauling the lighting engine a couple times. (Not to mention voluntarily spending six months revising the entire ATS map.) It's pretty clear they're just going to keep incrementally upgrading ETS2 and ATS while releasing more and more maps, until people stop buying. And I'm fine with that. It's certainly a lot more user-friendly than trying to do the forced-obsolescence thing where users have to re-buy the core game and DLC every year like some other games do."

In an interview with GamePressure, Pavel Sebor - the CEO of SCS Software - described why Euro Truck Simulator 2 became more popular than many AAA games: "Part of it is due to the fact that we have been working on the same genre for more than 10 years and the fan base has been building slowly over time. The other thing is that with Euro Truck 2 we exceeded some sort of quality threshold and the game has become accepted as a mainstream game – not a niche, low budget game, but a decent game by today’s standards. Another part of it is that I think we work reasonably with the community. We give its members plenty of information throughout our social channels, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and they interact back. I think we keep them around longer."

"There is this snowball effect," Sebor explains, "people are coming when they see their friends playing. More and more of them join over time, so somehow through this and, of course, because of the quality of the game itself, we have managed to keep them playing." The Euro Truck series has been going since 2008, with its sister game American Truck Simulator releasing in 2016. Content is still being added on a semi-regular basis, with the latter receiving a new expansion last October.
While being in Steam Early Access, PC Building Simulator still has a bright future ahead. The Irregular Corporation has laid out its plans for future development, including new features such as water cooling and overclocking, as well as localising the game into more languages and adding more licenced products. "As always with an Early Access period, finding out what your players expect from your game is always the most interesting experience," Morton said on the lessons learned from developing PC Building Simulator, "we never quite knew what people would enjoy when we launched but were pleased to find out it was mostly the career mode which is why we spent more time improving that mode during Early Access."

Disclosure: PC Building Simulator was supplied by KA Games PR.

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