Do people actually still play on the PC? Have you been to a store lately? The PC games don’t even have a isle at most gaming outlets these days. Games for current generation consoles line the walls, last gen console games sit in the isles while the PC merchandise is relegated to a bargain bin in the corner. And rightfully so – all the noteworthy titles these days are developed for consoles and then sometimes ported back to PC. Let’s face it – PC gaming is dead!
Inflammatory title and first paragraph FTW! In case you didn’t notice I’m fucking with you guys. Personally I think that this whole “PC gaming is dead” thing is total bullshit, but they say you should start a post with an attention getting sentence or two. I’m assuming that the blood pressure of most of my readers went through the roof while reading that – I know mine would – so I think attention has been gotten. While your rage is subsiding, I would like to talk about why PC gaming is not dead.
Btw, if you read that first paragraph nodding in approval… WTF dude?
For me it is obvious that PC gaming is doing well and that there is no indication that it is slowing down. However I keep hearing a spiel very similar to the one I regurgitated above increasingly more often. In fact, this topic has been tossed around in the comments here. So let’s discuss it. I invite the “PC Gaming is Dead” people to post counter arguments, or explain to us why they think console gaming will overtake PC market one day.
Here are some reasons why I think the PC gaming is still alive and well, and will continue this way for a long time:
Console hardware is static and frozen for the lifetime of the generation. PC hardware is dynamic, and consistently improving at the speed of Moore’s law. Not only is the console market lagging behind, it also grows in discrete jumps. Every few years companies put together set of top of the line hardware and call it the current generation. You are stuck with that hardware for several more years despite the fact that it is entirely obsolete after 6 months or so.
Don’t tell me that gaming companies like to develop for static hardware that doesn’t have the latest pixel shader or dynamic range whatever. Every new PC game these days strives to have graphics so realistic, and so sharp that it will make your eyes bleed. Why? Because of fucking Nathan’s first law – thats why. Software is a gas and it will expand until the hardware cannot support it anymore. If you give me a crazy, top of the line hardware spec, I will give you a game that runs incredibly slowly. Is it actually possible to run Crysis on highest detail setting already? Few weeks ago my co-worker actually went through every possible piece of hardware on the market and came to a conclusion that there was no hardware he could buy that was not short of what Crisis recommended for the highest graphical settings. This might have changed by now but you can see what I’m getting at here.
When you develop for a console, your limitations are dictated by what was possible months ago. When you develop for PC, your limitations are what will be possible at the time your game will be released – and you can calculate it based on mores law. If your are aiming to ship two years from today, you can safely assume that the average gaming PC will be at least twice as fast as it is now.
PC platform will always be a testbed for new technologies. If you want to work on a top of the line graphics, or physics simulation you need to go with PC. You can then scale back when you port the game to Xbox… Or you can wait a bit until the console world catches up with the rest of us and release the game on the new generation hardware.
Do you know why console games line the shelves in gaming outlets? Let’s look at the demographics. I do not have any hard data here but from my personal observations and discussions with others I suspect that the age is a significant factor. I noticed that consoles tend to be more popular among teens and college students. Why? Because a console is relatively cheep compared to a genuine PC gaming rig. It’s easier to drop $300 on a piece of hardware that will last several years, than $2k on a PC that will be technically obsolete in 3-4 months. I know that it doesn’t work like that – hardware doesn’t age this quickly, but that’s how regular folks look at this.
PC gamers on the other hand seem to be more in the 20-30 and above category, having more disposable income to invest in expensive hardware. They are also more discerning buyers who have specific tastes, and discuss/research the games they purchase online prior to spending money.
Again, this is just a speculation but I’m thinking that console games are better impulse buy material than PC games. Personally, I can’t remember when was the last time I bought a game because I was walking down the isle and I liked the box. I mean, other than the $10 jewel case release of Morrowind that one time. When I buy PC games, I usually have a specific title in mind. Last few games I bought were from online retailers or via Steam. I’m guessing the same must be true for quite a few other PC gamers out there. I haven’t bought a game from a dedicated store (like game stop) in years. When I stopped by one last year the experience was comparable to that blurb in the first paragraph. It was all console games, and the only people shopping there at the time were parents with screaming brats running around messing with the displays, and high school teens who btw were the schoolmates of the teenage sales clerk.
The Best Buy in my town on the other hand had had 4 isles dedicated to PC games – go figure. So I guess different places pander to different customer base. If I thought that a Game Stop was the end-all-be-all of gaming retail I would probably think PC gaming was dying too. But I don’t shop there because they seem to focus on console sales. And it’s probably a good choice – since teens and parents are more likely to go to an establishment like that to get a game, while someone like me might just buy it online, or perhaps at Best Buy while shopping for electronic accessories. :P
No Content Control
Nintendo is notorious for censoring the titles that appear on their consoles. Sony and Microsoft are less anal about this but they still have full control over their platform and can refuse to license you the development kits. Look at the Manhunt 2 debacle. PC platform is much more open and accessible to titles that may not be family oriented enough for the big console makers.
If you make an NC-17 movie you do not need to ask anyone for permission to distribute or sell it. It will still play on any DVD player, or a movie projector in theater. If you make an AO rated game (equivalent to the NC-17) you will most likely get locked out of all the console platforms. So it’s obvious that there will always be market for these types of games on the PC.
You may not realize this but indy developers are a huge driving force behind innovation in gaming. Valve’s Portal, which is considered one of the most interesting and innovative titles of 2007 was based on Nabacular Drop – a senior project by a group of students from Digipen.
This sort of innovative work is possible because PC is an open platform that anyone can develop for. There are groups of hobby developers working on Xbox and PS platforms but they constantly hit roadblocks. One such roadblock is that using the XDK without a Microsoft license is illegal. If you do want to license XDK you need to sign a restrictive NDA which among other things prevents you from disclosing any information about the kit and Xbox architecture. So it really prevents development of open source games on that platform.
There is the OpenXDK but it has it’s own problems and it is not supported by Microsoft, which can at any time subtly break it by minutiae firmware upgrades.
Then there is modding. Hosts of PC games are moddable gathering huge communities which produce crazy amount of free content to enrich your gaming experience. Mods range from simple bug fixes that were never addressed by the developer to total conversions such as Beyond the Red Line I wrote about recently. A great example of modding community is Planet Elder Scrolls which indexes thousands of user made additions to Morrowind and Oblivion games. You don’t get this type of community generated content on console titles – mostly because they are locked down in one way or another.
Genre Distribution among Platforms
How many RTS games have you played on a console? Let’s face it, consoles have some strengths and weaknesses. They are great for twitch based arcade games, sports games and racing sims. They are adequate for RPG games, and sometimes ok for FPS titles. I played FPS games on the game pad and it felt retarded but some people swear by it. But one genre that consoles completely fail at is RTS.
I know that there are RTS games for consoles – I even played Red Alert on PS1 back in the day. It was very… Strange experience. The RTS gameplay just doesn’t translate well into the whole gamepad + living room couch environment. This goes double for turn based strategy like civilization.
You can clearly see the division of roles between the console and PC market. Xbox and PS3 get all the sports action, racing and platformers/beat-em-ups as well as 3rd person perspective shooters and single player RPG – mostly in Final Fantasy like format. PC’s get strategy titles, tons of FPS and healthy dose of traditional RPG (ie. mostly Fantasy but not the “Final” one) and MMO.
RTS and MMO markets are huge, and they are inexplicably tied to the PC platform and it doesn’t seem like this is about to change. FPS is really the domain of PC too but Halo freaks will argue with me till they drop that this is not the case.
What may end up killing PC gaming in the end?
As of right now, I can only see 2 things that may be harmful to PC as a gaming platform in the future. And neither one of them is a console. First one is Windows Vista. Yes, I think Vista is harming the PC gaming scene mainly because of the insane hardware requirements that it takes to even run it. Back in December when I was doing Christmas shopping I looked at many “Minimum System Requirements” specs on many games. At the time they were actually splitting them and had one set of minimum specs for XP and one for Vista. The vista requirements were usually roughly double of whatever XP requirements where – or damn close to double. What does that tell you? That the overhead of actually running that OS in the background is huge.
Since we are getting dangerously close to the 4 GB RAM limit of 32 bit architecture there is nowhere to go from here. 32 bit Vista will always be a huge resource hog that will eat up most of your RAM. As the minimum requirement specs creep up this will become a huge issue, forcing the whole gaming industry into 64 bit universe. And from what I hear that running 64 bit Vista is like having a perpetual diarrhea that never ends. But then again, once we reach that point perhaps both hardware and software vendors will finally get their shit together and actually get the 64 bit support right.
In other words – consoles are no threat to PC gaming market. While they completely took over certain niche markets that were never very popular on the PC (sports and racing), PC will remain the dominant platform for FPS strategy and massive multi player titles.
Please feel free to disagree or add your own argument in the comments.
[tags]gaming, consoles, xbox, playstation, nintendo, sony, microsoft, xdk, pc gaming[/tags]