Stuck in the past

This was originally posted on my old, defunct Tumblr

My earlier observation that technology companies too often don’t appreciate the needs of normals is hardly groundbreaking. What is less intuitive is how often geeks are the ones stuck in the past.

During a recent discussion about the future of the PC, a friend posited that the PC as we know it wasn’t going anywhere soon – after all, netbooks and upcoming Internet-only devices don’t play games, for example.

So let’s consider games. Here are the top 10 PC games of all-time (via Wikipedia):

  1. The Sims (16 million)
  2. The Sims 2 (13 million)
  3. StarCraft (11 million)
  4. Half-Life (9.3 million)
  5. Half-Life 2 (6.5 million)
  6. Myst (6 million)
  7. The Sims 3 (5.9 million)
  8. SimCity 3000 (5 million)
  9. Doom (5 million)
  10. Riven (4.5 million)

Right off the bat, you can see that casual games – aka games played by normals – have a significant presence on the list. But that’s not even my point – the reality is that these numbers are tiny, at least in comparison to a game like Farmville.

The number of players? 22 million.

A day.

It may be controversial, even radical, to say that the PC as we know it is dead, especially to a geek. He can list off any number of things he can only do on his computer. Edit photos, use a fully-featured spreadsheet application, and even little things like a real email client. Those aren’t random examples – they’re applications I use every day. But that doesn’t mean my wife does. Or my mom. Or the 22 million farmers on Facebook. It’s to the geek’s peril that their affinity for and ability to use fully-featured desktop applications obscure the fact that the normals have moved on.

UPDATE: A fantastic article about Normals and iPhone apps:

The people who are consuming software now are a vast superset of the people who used to do so. At one time, especially on the Mac, we’d see people chose software based upon how well it suited their requirements to get a job done. This new generation of software consumers isn’t like that – they’re less likely to shop around for something rather they shop around for anything. These are people who want to be entertained as much as they want to have their requirements met. They’ve not bought into a tool they’ve bought, either financially or emotionally, into The Future. The Future is never about the most practical and useful outcome, it’s about flying cars and cute robots who shit talk but will still mix you up a killer G’n’T when you need it. The Future isn’t a service that’ll send you a text message when you’ve been out too late on a work night, The Future will get you laid on a Tuesday and make excuses to the boss the next morning.

How did applications that make farting noises or make you sound like T-Pain do so well on the App Store? The answer is simple – they made people laugh.

That should have been the first sign that the software market was changing. It’s obvious in retrospect; people were buying software that would make them laugh. This runs counter to the common understanding of an Application. An Application represents the developer’s best effort at creating software that applies the capabilities of the device to solving a specific problem. Making people laugh is not a problem an Application can solve; it’s not about the device it’s about the person using it.

It’s worth noting a lot of geeks hate the app store, not just because of Apple’s policies, but because of the kind of apps that proliferate. The article actually addresses that too, quite elegantly. Go read it.