Game Development Reference
9.2 Know Your Audience: Who Plays Simulator Games
and the main appeal of playing the game is (usually) simply that—by mastering a
virtual representation of the relevant vehicle, the player enjoys the fantasy of being
a fighter pilot, a race car driver, or a submarine captain. Simulators are inherently
very detailed and complex and typically require an extensive training mode to teach
new players how to play. As noted above, this is a major aspect of what makes them
attractive to certain fans of the genre, though it also limits the potential size of the
audience. Most simulator games attempt to broaden their audiences through option
settings that let the user determine the degree of realism. More casual play is pro-
vided through an “easy action” or “arcade” mode with simplified controls and relaxed
Hardcore fans of the genre are generally fascinated with the technology portrayed
and are often quite knowledgeable about the performance characteristics, history,
and use of said technology. For this audience, “realism” is often of paramount im-
portance, and they are highly critical of inaccuracies. For them, mastering such
games should require above average performance in a number of skills: situational
awareness, eye-hand coordination, multitasking ability, quick wits and coolness un-
der pressure, perseverance, and attention to detail. They revel in the agon 1 and fiero 2
that such games afford and take pride in the development of elite abilities. They are
not, as a rule, terribly concerned with story and characters, and they may even find it
More casual fans, while also loving the sexy hardware and the heroic role-playing,
are not so dedicated to mastering the deeper complexities of a “realistic” simulator.
They prefer an easier, more accessible game (though they still value skill-based game-
play) and are far more tolerant of foolishness and fakery as long as the result is fun
and looks cool. In fact, “looking cool” is probably one of their top concerns. This
audience doesn't care so much about accuracy of the simulation; they just want a
lot of action and excitement and cool explosions. They are more likely to appreciate
some story and characters, but what they consider “good” is usually rather predictable
action fare that features strong characters, rather than actual character development.
The hugely successful Wing Commander series is testament to this approach.
It's worth noting that most hardcore simulator games are developed for the PC
because of the greater input capabilities and interface depth afforded by keyboard,
mouse, and specialized peripherals. In fact, hardcore fans typically invest in special-
ized peripherals such as HOTAS (hands on throttle-and-stick) and rudder pedals to
further enhance the perceived realism of the experience. The limits of the typical
console controller preclude such complexity, so there are very few hardcore simu-
lators available for consoles; such vehicular combat games as there are tend to be
1 Conflict, struggle, contest.
2 An Italian word for the feeling of personal triumph over adversity.