If This Is How PC Gaming Will Live, Maybe It Should Die

There was a time when Brian Reynolds was best known for his work on epic computer strategy games like Civilization II, Rise of Nations and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. But nowadays he's the poster child for the casualfication of gaming.

It was Reynolds and his work on FrontierVille that proved to a lot of people, both game players and game makers, that Zynga and its steady march of Ville games, could deliver meaty, fun gaming experiences.

It was Reynolds' FrontierVille that convinced Bruce Shelley, Civilization designer and the father of Age of Empires, to jump ship and make his way over to the world of casual and social game making. Folks like Ultima's Richard Garriott, Dante's Inferno's Jonathan Knight and Doom's John Romero all seem to be following suit.

This is not OK with me. I don't want the people who made some of my favorite games laboring away at the next big Facebook title. And that's what I told Reynolds.

"I understand there's a wondering about what's going to happen," he said. "I don't think that traditional hardcore games are going to go away. I think they are going to keep making those. But it's a consolidated industry and now there are only these several gigantic franchises.

"I wouldn't start a triple-A studio these days. Ten years ago, it almost felt like when we started Big Huge, 'Wow, good thing we did it then because we never could have done it after that because the door was closing.'"

At the same time that people like Reynolds think the door is shutting on the ability to craft and publish big new gaming franchises, a window opened to the world of casual and social game development. A really big window.

While the endless reports of PC gaming's death are an exaggeration, its metamorphosis seems inevitable.

"The strategy genre kind of mostly went away," he said. "There's still StarCraft, they're still making some of those things, but for the little guys who can only spend $10 million to make a game, it stopped really happening.

"But it turns out that the skills we have are really valuable in social games and it's actually really fun to design those games. First of all, I'm working on the forefront of a new thing. Second of all, I'm reaching (millions), tens of (millions) of players I could never have reached before. And third, I really need my skills. It's harder to design these games. We do the same things we did with strategy games: Design simple systems that interact in complex ways, but they have to be so much more accessible then they used to."

Reynolds says he knows the hate some gamers, especially hardcore gamers, direct at Zynga and their Mafia Wars, CityVille and FarmVille games. But he thinks that's changing.

"I saw a big change in their attitude this year when FrontierVille came out, when CityVille came out," he said. "I suddenly started getting letters from folks that said they wanted to work at Zynga."

While the endless reports of PC gaming's death are an exaggeration, its metamorphosis seems inevitable.

When I mentioned to Blizzard president Michael Morhaime the common refrain that PC gaming was dead, his first defense was pointing to World of Warcraft. His second? Facebook.