PC Gaming is Dead!

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!

LOL

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:

Superior Hardware

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.

Demographic

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.

Independent Developers

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]

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21 Responses to PC Gaming is Dead!

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I used to game on consoles and PCs, now.. only on PC.

    Mainly because it’s a lot easier to have one device in the room that serves all my entertainment needs, than have to think “hmm… internet or games or movies?” before I hit an on switch.

    Online distribution is also a major plus, anything that leads to me spending less time in a video game store is.

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  2. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I am sure I left a reply here earlier… now I don’t see it

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  3. Jaba ITALY Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Clear, precise and complete essay. I totally agree.
    After 10 glorious years, I still play StarCraft :D

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  4. fridrih BULGARIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Hello, I don`t play PC games. In the past I was gamer but now… I am agree with you – pc gaming is death.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Matt` – I actually like to watch TV while I play games or browse the internet. Yeah, yeah – I’m weird like that. When I want to get into the game I put on headphones. If I catch glimpse of something interesting on TV I take them off and pause the game. Multitasking is fun. :)

    Oh, and your first post was snagged by Akismet for some reason. Second one didn’t though. Odd. Maybe it got triggered by the close proximity of words like video games, movies, internet, PC and etc or something.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Jabba – Oh man, I haven’t played StarCraft in ages. :) That reminds me – I should to dig out the CD and install it again. I wonder if the sequel will live up to the hype. :P

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  7. Mackenzie UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    OK! YOU WIN!

    I will surrender my beloved little black cube of ergonomic, wavebird joy. I will surrender my black and green brick of humming and smooth analogue stick control in return for frustration with a mousepad. My Master System, running 8 bit sprites at eyebleeding speeds due too the sharpness of the pixels, and those cute little A button B button D pad controllers, I will surrender. My N64, with ocarina and goldeneye, will be surrendered. The nostalgia of japans finest, sacrificed on the altar of alienated loner PC gamerdom.

    In return, I ask for nought but a shitty Dell, with a shitty OS, with a shitty mouse, with some shitty frustration with mouse control, with some shitty hunch that comes from squinting at pixels. “Oh, it’s blob of brown and brown pixels. Do I shoot it? ;Foom.; Oh, sorry hank. I’ll tell your momma you died bravely.”

    Cool, I’ll just go blow 700£ on a sweet setup. And then have too continually update graphics cards. And then have too continaully download fucking patches and custom sound files. And have too continually swear at the machine for giving me sys32 errors. And then on top of that, get into a PC gaming console community full of fucking pin point sharp mouse shooters, with all their 1337 bullshit. Or have too put up with the PRESENCE, the mere FACT, that some stupid MMO with numbers floating out monsters heads is a serious “Gaming Possibility.”

    I don’t want too play with a mouse. It’s a horrible interface compared too an ergonomic control pad. I don’t want too hunch over a keyboard. I want too lounge in my gaming chair of leather joy with a wavebird. I don’t care enough about pretty graphics too make it worth having a dynamic platform- That’s for hardcore loonies who don’t own flatscreen TVs. Static platforms are good- When you’ve developed your game, it’s not already obsolete. I don’t want too play counter strike, with it’s mindless, repetitive gameplay. It’s rubbish. So is Windows Vista. Like Counterstrike.

    IT’S NOT WORTH THE MONEEYYYYYY OR THE BACKK STRAINNNNN

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Mckenzie – hey, welcome back. I thought we scared ya. :mrgreen:

    Just to clarify – this rant was not aimed at you. You just happened to remind me of an itch that needed to be scratched. No hard feelings I hope. :)

    Btw, I never said console gaming is dead. It’s far from it – it’s constantly growing and improving. Consoles are here to stay and I would be a fool if denied this fact.

    I also don’t deny the benefits of lounging on a comfy couch with a wireless controller, playing on a wide screen plasma TV. It’s actually pretty sweet. Consoles are great in that aspect – and they deliver a lot of value for your money.

    My point was that while they do offer you all these benefits, there are some areas in which PC is still a strong competitor. There will always be PC enthusiasts out there who do care about graphics, or enjoy RTS and MMO games that are dominant on the PC.

    Personally I think mouse is way better FPS controller than the gamepad but I guess this is a matter of taste. Also, not all mice and keyboards are shitty. I’m using MS Sidewinder now and I’m actually really happy with it. It’s a great mouse which lets me adjust precision on the fly and has great tactile response.

    I do admit that for some games the gamepad is just a better interface. I struggled through Prince of Persia: Sands of Time with mouse and keyboard but I constantly wondered if this game wouldn’t be much easier and rewarding with a game pad.

    Oh and I’m hardly a hardcore loony. I usually don’t play any games on the weekdays. I usually only play games for few hours per week. Exception was that WoW thing which was sort of an experiment for me and it left me exhausted. :P This is one of the reasons why I don’t own a console. It would be just sitting there in the corner most of the time.

    On the other hand I can still use a fast PC with lots of memory and a nice graphics card to browse the web or code and do other day-to-day things. So I don’t see buying PC hardware just a gaming expense. I see it as investing in my workstation and entertainment rig.

    Also, my gaming PC is obsolete. It has been obsolete for several years now. :( And yet I can still play a lot of the new games on lower graphical settings. So yes, PC is a dynamic platform, but it’s not as dynamic as some people may think.

    :)

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  9. Mackenzie UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    Lol, don’t worry, it wasn’t taken personally at all

    Just needed too get all that off my chest. x]

    But.. keyboard is binary. WASD is binary. It’s a step backwards- the equivelent of forgoing a C stick on the gamecube in preference of the push button version on the N64.

    I also find analogue pads a lot smoother. Whacking up the sensitivity to Insane on Halo2 really just works.

    I’ve never really got into PC gaming because, simply, it’s on the PC. I don’t want games on the same machine I’m working at. I find that using a dedicated games console is just that touch more rewarding because of it. It makes playing games an activity in itself rather than something that can be booted on and off as software.

    I got PoP SoT on cube and the controls are pure friggin’ liquid. They’ve been worked too smooth perfection. It’s so satisfying just pinging around the rooms on that game like a buff arabian hamster. Infact, I would go so far as too recommend investing in a gamecube for SoT alone, and too pick up other gems like Beyond good and Evil and Resi4. A second hand cube is like, what, 30 bucks in the states?

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Yes, there is definitely something to be said for analog controllers. Then again I could just as easily buy an analog game pad that can be connected to the PC. In fact, I think the Xbox controller can work with your PC if you ask it nicely. :P

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  11. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    [quote comment="7821"]Hello, I don`t play PC games. In the past I was gamer but now… I am agree with you – pc gaming is death.[/quote]

    LOL. I forgot that most of the internet only reads the first paragraph of a long post. I must remember to do those tl;dr tags on longer posts. :P

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  12. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Mackenzie: Hi dude! I’m not here to bash your posts or anything, but if you had been offended by mine in the other blog post of Luke’s, I apologize. I

    @ Luke’s post: I think PC gaming in general is not dead. I’ve just read that Blizzard-Activision just said that their subscription base for World of Warcraft has reached 10 million, a number unprecedented in previous MMOs. Is that number real? They’re making more than a billion dollars in revenue every year! The “PC gaming is dead” cry is heard approximately every 4-5 years, when a new gen console comes out. But each time, it has prevailed on, unabated.

    However, i do think good games for PC are dying.

    My gaming career started when I was 9 or 10, with the Sega Genesis console. From there, my dad’s boss at the time donated his old PC to him which my dad gave to me, an ancient 386 at the time when Pentiums were just about coming out. It was my first foray into PC gaming. And I’ve never looked back since.

    There are some games I absolutely loved since then. XCOM: Ufo Defense (adapted to run in XP now), Star Control 2 (now released as freeware under the name “The UrQuan Masters”), Civilisation, Simcity, Transport Tycoon… the list will go on.

    Today, gaming has reached mass appeal and the PC industry has thrived in its wake. But to me, it has just been one fancy graphical application after another. There have been some gems in there: Command & Conquer, Warcraft 2, Baldur’s Gate (1 & 2), Diablo 2 (median 2008 mod looks great), Fallout, etc. But somehow, lately, I’ve been having trouble finding games to play.

    I just don’t buy into this whole graphical debacle that gaming has become. A game sucks just because the graphics suck. A game is awesome because the game looks awesome. There seems to be some shift somewhere in the past: improving graphics became more important than improving gameplay. Oblivion is a good example. Graphics are killer for an RPG. The world is huge. But I had to use a few user created mods to make it a nice game to play. I always wondered why the devs thought the world leveling with you would be a good touch.

    Sigh. To me, the PC gaming scene is dwindling down to dumb, uses-less-imagination, leet-graphics, FPS-like genre.

    Lucky me, there’s hope! For every 10 “Crysis”-es, there’s always “Eschalon: Book 1″. For each “Hellgate: London”-s, there’s “The Witcher”. In between, I kill time by playing (and dying in) Madness Interactive or I Want To Be The Guy (thanks for this Luke!).

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  13. Geoff CANADA Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    So what’s the second thing that may harm PC gaming in the future? The 4GB memory limit?

    Three cheers for PC games! Even though Doom3 is the newest game I can run without buying new hardware!

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  14. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Muhammad – very good point. The quality of games does seem to decrease. But maybe it’s just an illusion because the shallow but pretty looking games get all the hype and media attention.

    @Geoff – oh… Hmm… I think I wanted to say DRM in there and then forgot. But I guess now we could just go with what Muhammad said – the pursuit of graphical perfection at the cost of neglecting game play.

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  15. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I just found out that you can compile a 32-bit kernel in linux to use PAE which allows the use of RAM past 4GB – a friend just did it with an 8GB ram machine. So if your cpu has PAE flags, you can do it. Theoretically Windows could do it but… then they lose leverage to make you buy another copy.

    @Mackenzie
    What you just did was a beautiful example of a strawman argument.

    @Muhammad
    I have to agree on the increasing monoculture in gaming. To me, gameplay is king, graphics a distant second. Given that I like strategy/resource management games, I like PC gaming, because no-one else has much of a range in that area. Plus I get most console games on the PC anyway, regardless of which console they’re originally released on.

    Part of the reason why gameplay has taken a backseat is because games software is such a big business now that the folks with marketing dollars don’t want to gamble. They want tried-and-true formulas. So here comes another graphics-intensive FPS/sports sim.

    If you’re into a great example of gameplay over graphics, try Dwarf Fortress. Freeware, beta stage, only a year old or so. ASCII-style graphics, and a learning curve like a brick wall… but if you like strategy/management games, it will own your life for a while. So far I haven’t met a single Dwarf Fortress lover that hasn’t sworn violently at the person that introduced them to it. All this in a 2.5mb game (5mb with music). And for the mousecontrol haters out there, you never need touch the mouse :)

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  16. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ vacri: Windows 2003 has official PAE support. I’ve also just recently installed RHEL5 32-bit on 2 servers with 8GB ram at my workplace, but you will need to download the kernel with PAE. I’ve read some articles on the web on turning on PAE for Vista (but none so far for XP), but since it’s not a supported feature, I’m not sure how stable it will be.

    Yeah, the money factor is true. I was a bit sad when EA bought Maxis. I had so much high hopes for Spore. Now, I’m scared it will end up like another Bio-Shock fiasco.

    Thanks for the Dwarf Fortress recommendation! I’ll be sure to check it out!

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  17. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Forgot to add, for the benefit of those who don’t know, a good place I’ve found recently for indie games would be Rampant Games. There are quite a number of hidden gems there too. Discovered Eschalon: Book 1 from that site.

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  18. Jaba ITALY Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Never too late for a game at StarCraft. SC2 seems to be simply GREAT (check it out on youtube), but meanwhile SC has earned his name…
    [OT] I’m not linked with “The Hutt” in any sense, my nick is about the “Jabawack”, or “Jabberwocky” :D I really don’t like much Hutt-slug, does anybody? :D [/OT]

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  19. Mackenzie UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    Xbox controllers can be connected too USB because the Xbox controller port is actaully a cleverery disguised USB port. An Xbox is a scaled down cut back PC- Hence it’s easily possible too convert it too one by ripping out the HD and installing one with Xboxlinux on.

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  20. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @vacri – I keep hearing about the Dwarf fortress. I will need to check it out. I’m not that big into strategy games but my brother is so maybe I can infect him :P

    @Muhammad – thanks for the link to Rampart games. I will definitely check it out. Indy games FTW!

    @Jaba – LOL, sorry. I was totally convinced it was Jabba as in Jabba the Hutt. Believe it or not, he does have a following out there. :P

    @Mckenzie – well, installing linux on things became sort of an art over the years. There are few electronic devices out there that can’t run some sort of linux based OS. Last time I checked, regular release of Ubuntu will actually install and run on a PS3 without major tinkering. :)

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  21. Kentk94 UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m sorry to say but PC gaming “is” in fact dying. Take a look at the list of titles being released for 2008. There really isn’t much to get excited about at all. I see Warhammer being the only one. Other than that, you really have ports from already successful console titles. (And we all know how well ports work. Ok, sometimes you get a great port, but it’s pretty rare.)

    Huxley has been pushed back, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Starcraft 2 and WoW: WotLK will be pushed into 2009. Look at the list of releases for the PS3/360 and then compare them with the PC. It’s really sad.

    A Battlefield game for the console but not for the PC. That is just wrong on so many levels. UT3 was clearly designed for the console before the PC, again, such a sad day when past PC dominant games are starting to take a back seat to the consoles.

    About the only thing I play on my PC now is Call of Duty 4, and the only reason I do so is because I can’t stand playing with a controller. Other than that, the game looks a lot better on my PS3 with a 37″ HDTV vs. my current rig. Granted it’s a bit outdated, it still runs CoD4 with most of the settings maxed.

    I just think that developers are the problem here. They see the money in the market of the consoles and PC’s are now becoming the after thought. MMO’s are going to be the only thing PC gamers have left.

    Such a sad state. I need my mouse and KB to frag! :(

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