Andrew Tsai is the founder and administrator of PC Gaming Wiki, a site born out of frustration for PC game troubleshooting information being locked away in deep, dark corners of the internet, with answers to issues often being absent or vague. The wiki aims to hold information for just about every PC game in existence, documenting their known issues and how to fix them so you never have to fruitlessly scour Google for help again. I got in touch with him to talk about the site as well as some other issues surrounding PC gaming.
So tell us about your background as a PC gamer, at what point did you get started, how did you start off?
I think my first game was Wolfenstein 3D, and I gradually moved onto Doom, Doom II, I played a lot of first person shooters, a lot of Quake II online on my old 56k modem. More recently, after I finished uni, I started playing a lot of World of Warcraft and I got married, then my wife started playing it as well and I suppose that now that we’ve had a baby, I’ve had very little patience now for fixing PC games in the same way that I used to. I used to have a lot of enthusiasm for modding games and figuring out little hacks and fixes to make things that work better, but these days my attention’s much more divided.
So you’ve been in the PC game fixing territory for a while now?
Yeah, I used to do it a lot and I still do it, it’s just that if I find a game that’s very difficult to run then I pretty much give up because the research really takes a long time. For example, I picked up L.A. Noire in the Steam sales and, having read nothing about the crippling performance issues with that game, I thought I’d be getting the ‘premium PC experience’ with my fully loaded computer but little did I know that I’d be running the game at less than ten frames per second, whereas I can run other stuff at full resolution at much higher specs than that.
I went through the forums, trying to find the various fixes and I think, curiously for a lot of these types of games you can get more stability from disabling some features, for example like disabling some cores on your CPU. For most people that works but for some it has no effect at all so I’ve ended up giving up completely on that game just because of the difficulty of getting it to work.
I must admit I had a pretty similar experience with L.A. Noire and I suppose we’ll get onto that kind of wider issue in a moment, but was that the point with those sorts of games like L.A. Noire that you felt it was necessary to start a website like PC Gaming Wiki?
I think that it’s experiences exactly like that which cause me to create a website, I was just frustrated with the way that information was spread around so many disparate sources, so they’d be on forums or like Q&A or you’d just have to go through many pages of a forum thread to find the information that you need and you wouldn’t really know if it worked or not. So some people found that it didn’t work, or they were successful or unsuccessful then it was just pot luck whether they reported that issue again.
Plus I know for a lot of older games, forum moderators, they like to lock threads or people who reply on these kind of support threads, they private message each other and the information – the collective information never gets out or it’s buried deep and it’s very difficult to find. I think that’s part of the frustration that caused me to create the wiki and it’s great because you can have a single page on every single issue and it’s user-editable so its resources can be continually updated forever and it doesn’t have to be statically locked away.
Yeah, I absolutely know what you mean with regards to the forum posts, I think most PC gamers can probably empathise with you on it as well, I saw that it was the kind of focal point of your Reddit campaign – was it you who designed that little comic strip? I thought that was pretty funny.
Yeah, I’ve been a Reddit user for a long time and…I always knew that these kind of image macro posts and memes and stuff are really effective on there and I find myself having a really fun time when talking about these issues, so the comics are a really effective way of demonstrating that info and it converted a lot of people over to the site and it’s pretty much the best way to approach a community like Reddit.
Yeah, because you got something stupid like the second-top post on the frontpage? I’m not totally Reddit-literate so I’m not 100% sure if that’s right.
Yeah, that was a crazy day because the traffic that that post brought, I didn’t realise that it would get so high. What happened on that day was that post received so many upvotes and before it even made the frontpage my servers were completely overloaded, my hosts emailed me and said ‘We’re refunding all your money, take your business elsewhere, customers are complaining, we can’t keep your site on our servers anymore’ and they disabled my site, locked everything down and before my biggest marketing push, people weren’t able to access the site at all and the whole thing was down and it was a bit of a disaster.
But out of that experience I did manage to recruit a new server admin (JRWR) and he’s been really good with helping me with managing server load, so spike traffic for example, the kind of traffic I get from Reddit or other popular sites.
So that’s good, I mean things seem to be set up nicely for you in the future but in terms of the present day and what the site is doing now, there are a lot of games listed there and obviously that list will grow, but having a lot of games on the list might be a bit of a double edged sword because it means there’s a lot of problems out there, so do you think that publishers and developers can do more to ensure that PC releases aren’t quite as buggy and unpredictable as they are, or are there just too many variables to take care of what with the amount of different PC specs there are?
I think that part of the problem is that if they acknowledge that there are issues with the game then they have a responsibility to patch them as well, so I think that partly it’s their ‘face’, their public face, they don’t want to admit that the game has problems, otherwise they’d be forced to fix them. There’s a lot of common fixes out there; for example, field of vision, a lot of games don’t support the adjustment of that and so people tend to use third party hacks just for adjusting that and I don’t think game companies really want to acknowledge that their game can be improved by their community, it is like a double edged sword. They have a responsibility, but then the community’s kind of taking care of it for them.
And when it comes to developers and bad PC games, we mentioned L.A. Noire, I thought that was an absolutely terrible port and there’s already quite a long page on your site about those issues and how to fix them – I looked for that game specifically after all the problems I’d had, in fact. Do you think in those cases that developers like Rockstar who’ve been neglecting PC gaming for a while now, either releasing badly made ports of their console games or just not releasing them at all, should just forget about developing for PC?
I think it’s better to always have more games than less games and it’s better to have a port, a really bad port, than nothing at all. But I think that developers should maybe do a little bit more to support the community. That doesn’t mean allocating a lot of resources to doing that but it might be to allow modders to provide more service for the community in general and I think that when developers make games a bit more open, a bit more moddable then it allows the community to kind of carry it through.
So for example, one of the original things that really made me start thinking about founding PC Gaming Wiki was when I bought Titan Quest from the last Steam sale and I didn’t really know anything about the game except that it was quite popular.But the more research that I did about how to do the installation, the more I realised that the community had really picked up the game and completely changed it and completely supported it, whereas Iron Lore had closed down in 2008 I think, but the community had been developing the game way past that with their fan patches and mods and I think that the kind of work the community does is really important and we should try to harness that and put it in pages on a wiki instead of going through forum posts and leave the research up to individuals, there should be a resource there. Obviously, the developer can’t do it because they’ve shut down, but I think it’s good that we should have somewhere to put all that stuff.
So you’re all for having more control being handed over to the community for a lot of games.
Yeah, because if the game is good then the community will pick it up and make it better.
And then there’s the kind of sad cases where games are being taken offline instead of being entrusted with the community. You can kind of understand why it happens, you as a webmaster yourself might have some sympathy for games like Star Wars Galaxies and various old sports games for example that shut down their multiplayer servers. Is that just a part of PC gaming’s life cycle that we should just accept?
Well in those examples you have lots of private hacked multiplayer services that you could use to support those games even after the official services have gone down. Like there’s quite a few examples on our site such as Tribes…I think Tribes 2? There’s a lot of private services you can run a lot of these multiplayer games on even past their developer support.
Heh, I guess we don’t have to accept it then! Anyway, I really want to ask…out of all the Ubisoft DRMs and Games for Windows Lives of the world, what do you think is the biggest problem that PC gaming has at the moment that you’d get rid of if you had half a chance?
I think that the biggest problem with PC gaming is that it’s inaccessible and frustrating for the average user. The situation has improved tremendously with the advent of services like Steam, which provides almost everything a PC gamer needs to get a game running, including distribution, updates, drivers and support. However, even within Steam, there’s a huge discrepancy between how games work, including things like save games and graphic performance.
For example, Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy share a developer and art style, and you might expect them to work in a similar way. Super Meat Boy is a slick native port that has controller support and can run on a netbook with Steam Cloud. Binding of Isaac is a poorly optimised Flash game with really esoteric save location (cleaned by default by programs like CCleaner) and has zero controller support and runs awfully on lower-end computers. Storefronts like Steam, and game developers could be more up front with information like this, which would allow users to make more informed decisions about the games that they buy and try to get working.
Alright, so I wanted to just wrap this up with a final question of; with all of these issues we’ve covered, why should we still bother with this as a hobby? What makes PC gaming worth putting up with all these trials and tribulations for?
I think that PC gaming really can provide the very best experience out of all the ways that you can game, because of the ways that PC games are so moddable and you can improve performance so much or you can customise your experience to the way that you want it to be and I think that that’s what makes PC gaming really good.
Andrew, thank you very much for your time and answers.