In the past I argued that PC Gaming is far from being dead but the more I think about it the more I start believing that I was wrong. I don’t want PC gaming to be dead – I have been a PC gamer most of my life, and all my favorite games are PC titles.
- Upgrade Treadmill – It is getting progressively harder to keep up with the new hardware. Few years I was shopping around for a new video card and a I was looking up specs online, comparing prices on neweg and doing all kinds of research and I could not figure out what to buy. I ended up asking a friend who builds and sells tricked out gaming rigs (you know, water cooling, binged out cases and the works) for advice/ And I consider myself a knowledgeable computer professional. A Shamus wrote about this some time ago and it is getting progressively worse. At this point for example my brother doesn’t even bother reading the system requirements on the box because he knows he won’t understand them. He just asks me to investigate whether or not a given title will run on his machine before he buys it. Average customer won’t “upgrade” his video card – he will wait and buy a new computer when the time comes and hope that it will expect it to come with a video card that is able to play the newest games out there. Unfortunately this is not the case. A computer illiterate friend of mine bought a brand new, very expensive Dell which was advertised as a top of the line gaming machine. Few months later he bought Crisis and was disappointed and outraged that his brand spanking new gaming rig could barely run that game on medium settings. This is the sad reality which causes people to jump ship and buy a console. When you buy an xbox360 game you are guaranteed it is going to run on your xbox360.
- DirectX 10 – in addition to upgrading hardware, you are also forced to upgrade your OS. As far as I can tell, no one wants to run Vista these days. All my coworkers who recently bought new computers absolutely hate it, and keep telling me how happy they are our company is not migrating to that infernal system. But guess what? If you want the new shiny game to run on your PC, you may just have to switch to the big V and take the 80% performance penalty that comes with it. :P
- Stable Development Environment – I’m going to link to Shamus once again because he explains it better than I ever could. Console developers can rely on a stable environment that never changes. They can optimize their code, polish their engines to perfection and squeeze every last bit of juice out of the hardware. PC game developers on the other hand tend to be stuck in a runt, always chasing the latest and greatest rendering/shading/mapping technology. Consoles simply offer friendlier developer environment and one where you can accurately test the game play experience you are delivering to the player. No wonder many development studios shift their focus towards consoles more and more
- Price – a $600 buys you a PS3, including software, a blue ray player, controllers and etc – in other words a complete gaming system. Or if you are a PC gamer you can spend that $600 on a new video card alone. I don’t like this, but you can do the math and see where this is going.
- DRM – most PC games these days ship with a draconian DRM, online activation, installation limits and hidden rootkits. Not only do you have to jump through hoops to get them installed and activated – they can also damage your CD/DVD drives, or make your system unstable and vulnerable to attacks. Console games have none of the above.
- Fewer and Fewer Exclusive PC Titles – at the moment, the only games that actually require you to own a computer are the popular MMO’s. Almost everything else gets released on at least one of the nex gen consoles almost simultaneously with the PC title or soon afterwards. Interestingly enough many of the MMO’s are not exclusive to the Windows platform. For example WoW will happily run on a Mac.
- More and More Exclusive Console Titles – this trend started long ago, and is becoming more and more prominent. A lot of popular games never get a PC version.
- Console to PC ports done as an afterthought – those console games that do get a PC release, often get a poorly done direct port, complete with a cobbled interface designed for a controller rather than a mouse, and wonky controls and many artifacts of the console-centric design. In most cases you are better off playing the original rather than torture yourself with the PC version.
- Demographic Shift towards Consoles – most people around my age and younger these days own a next get console. Some own both the xbox360 and PS3. Most people own a Wii in addition to their primary gaming console. Conversely few of these people actually own an up to date PC gaming rig. Some do, but most either have an older machine that won’t play newest titles anymore, or a lightweight laptop that has enough powa to run WoW but not much else. Younger people seem to eschew desktops altogether, and shop for computers that are most battery efficient, and have good ratio of size/weight and comfortable keyboard layout rather than checking the specs on the video card. You can see this trend when you go to a local Wallmart (or other high volume retail chain) for example. One close to me has a single wire rack in the corner of the gaming isle where you can find PC games. And you’ll be lucky to find anything other than WoW and it’s expansions there. Occasionally there are few boxes of new hot releases but most of the time it’s mostly the same old MMO’s, 1 or 2 WW2 shooters, and few RTS games which have “Age of” in the name. Each console on the other hand has it’s own isle full of games. Consoles are the mainstream market now.
These trends are scaring me. I don’t want PC gaming to die, but the facts above do not suggest a rosy future for the PC as a game platform. Unless something changes, consoles will take over and the number of original PC releases will dwindle. It made me think though – the imminent death of PC gaming may mean hard times for Windows monopoly.
Let’s face it, gamers make up a very large chunk of Windows user base. The biggest source of income for Microsoft is naturally the business sector. I don’t see them being pushed out of there any time soon. The home desktop market however is huge chunk of change for them, and loosing it could mean trouble for the high and mighty MS. Home market consists of three types of people:
- Clueless users who don’t know any better
- Gamers who elect to run Windows as a gaming platform
- People who would love to switch but are locked in
- People who simply prefer windows
Group #4 consists of MS fanboys, Visual Basic developers, or simply loyal customers who might have tried other alternatives but prefer to use windows for some reason. These people are stuck in their ways and will likely use Windows until the day they die.
Group #3 includes people who are locked into the OS because the software they use for their hobby/creative work is not available on other platforms and there are no good alternatives. Many of them might be open to an alternative OS if they can figure out a way to take their favorite software with them or find an alternative. Since projects such as Wine and Cedega are continuously getting better, and emulation is getting easier, and open source community is rolling out new projects to replace proprietary software every day the number of the people in this group is bound to fluctuate and fall over time.
Group #1 is the most flexible one. A clueless user is usually bound to windows because that’s the OS which came with their computer. They generally rely on relatives, friends or co-workers for tech support and generally don’t know how to use anything other than a browser. They’d be equally confused using Windows, Apple or Ubuntu so you can swap their OS at any time. I mean, if your user doesn’t know the most basing stuff like navigating the file system, copying files or changing basic display settings will it really be a big shock to move them to another platform? They still won’t know how to do these basic things, no? So what is the difference?
As long as they can still get to MySpace and Facebook they will be fine. In fact, a lot of members of this group actually buy Apple laptops these days and use them without realizing they use a different OS. In fact, I recently talked to someone who was convinced that everything looked so different on his new MacBook because it shipped with Vista. This is a market that can dwindle down to zero provided that there is enough computer savvy people out there willing to switch their clueless friends and relatives to a non-windows platform.
Then there are gamers, whose primary reason for using Windows is that it is currently a major gaming platform. What happens to this group when the PC Game market fades away into oblivion? There will be some reshuffling. Some gamers will decide to stick with windows and move to group #4. Others won’t know any better and will move to group #1. Some will remain stuck and will end up in group #3. The rest may jump ship.
Note that each gamer jumping ship may potentially pull several friends and relatives from group #1 with him. Why? Many gamers are computer savvy enough to provide free tech support to their close ones when needed. Enough gamers switching away from windows may whisk away a huge chunk of group #1 sales from Microsoft. This in turn may create a critical mass of Apple and Linux users forcing major software and hardware companies to acknowledge these platforms and make their products available for them. Thus members of group #3 may after a while find themselves unstuck. Perhaps the death of PC Gaming will be a first step towards a better world – one in which no software company has almost complete market monopoly.
Again, this is wishful thinking – sort of best case scenario if you will. Still, being a gaming platform is a major selling point for Windows. Apple marketing has already cornered the “all fun and no fuss, entertainment platform” market. Windows is already viewed as a primary work related OS by many people. If the PC games go away Apple may actually have a chance to crave out a nice chunk the household computer market for themselves. And where Macs go, Linux will follow since both OS’s are of the Unix’y kind.