So PC Gaming is Really Dying, Eh?

Up until few days ago, I used to completely dismiss the whole “PC gaming is dying” idea. It seemed ridiculous to me. Few years ago I even wrote a lengthy post on why I think it is not the case. And for all intents and purposes what I said back then was probably still true… But a lot has changed in the last 3 years – with the exception of my ideas about PC gaming. I just never bothered to revise them. I was stubbornly clinging to the idea that the PC gaming market is still as strong as ever was.

Then I saw this video:

Initially I wanted to write an angry rebuttal, trashing his video but the more I pondered it, the more I was convinced that Movie Bob is right. As you can probably tell, I’m not very happy about it but what he says can’t be easily dismissed. The computing environment has changed quite dramatically the last 3-4 years.

High School through College my friends always had better gaming PC’s than me. I was never an early adopter, and I was never particularly wealthy, so this was just something that happened naturally. I was always a generation behind. But recently, the situation reversed itself – now I happen to be the one with the best gaming PC. And my machine is not that new anymore. What is going on here? Oh, right… I simply happen to be the only person out of my friends with a gaming PC, and so I’m winning by default. Everyone else have jumped ship few years ago, and now use a combination of a high end laptop (usually a Mac Book Pro) and a console (usually Xbox). Few who still dabble in PC gaming usually just to WoW, which is not that resource intensive. That says something, no?

Maybe not. This is purely anecdotal evidence after all. But it does ring true, right? If you think about your friends and family members, how many of them bought new desktop computers last year? People just don’t buy the big beige boxes the way they used to. Back in 2009 Reuters reported that laptop sales officially overtook desktop sales in US across all platform. But the trend was there for several years before that.

For some companies, this happened way earlier. For example, here is a graphic that Apple released last year, showing percentage sales of their desktop and portable lines over the last 10 years:

Click for source article

As you can see, for them the game changing year was 2006. That’s when their sales numbers flipped. 2010 on the other hand is almost an exact mirror image of 2001 with the 80/20 ratios reversed. I’m pretty sure most companies can produce charts with a similar pattern. So this is not just me and my group of friends. This trend is nation wide, and probably even global.

People just don’t want PC’s anymore – gaming or otherwise. They are simply not buying them. Rather than dropping 3k on a high end gaming rig, they buy a nice laptop a console and a smart phone instead. Granted, you can buy a pretty decent portable gaming machines these days, but they are not as powerful as a stationary box could be for the same price. And I bet most people don’t use them for hard core gaming anyway. Companies see these charts, look at the sales numbers and adjust their policies accordingly.

This is probably why most video games these days ship with horrible console friendly UI. They could easily redesign the interface for the PC port, but… Why bother. While there are still a lot of PC gamers out there and it would be silly not to sell games to them, they are clearly not the main source of income. They are a smaller market compared to the console gamers. I assume that a lot of publishing houses simply don’t think they would get a return on the investment required to design a PC interface for their game from scratch.

Even Valve which was the last great PC-centric company has seen the writing on the wall. While they are not jumping ship yet, it is clear they are maneuvering to position themselves in preparation for such jump in the future. Firstly, they ported a lot of their games to the Apple platform. What does that say? Well, they probably noticed that nowadays it is much, much more likely for an average teenage boy to own a Mac than a tricked-out custom box, or an alienware rig. So they are delivering their older games (thus less resource intensive, laptop friendly products) on a platform that is becoming increasingly popular, and mostly ignored by most game publishers. Valve is positioned to become the primary game publisher for Macs.

Secondly, they are bringing Steam to Playstation, which shows that… Well, you probably know exactly what it means. They are breaking into console market now, because that’s the future. They are basically putting their leg in the door, so they can slowly start switching focus to the new gaming platforms over the next decade or two.

But, have no fear, there is a silver lining here. The death of PC gaming does not necessarily mean the death of PC games. Why? Because the PC platform is still going to be around for a while. And while it is still around, there will always be some demand for games.

Let me give you an example: have you ever tried to do some actual work on an iPad or a super-small notebook computer? If you did, you know that it is just not hat comfortable. It’s not really about hardware or software – it is more about the form factor. When you are doing any kind of serious work, nothing beats a traditional desktop type setup: a desk, a comfortable chair, an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, and a big monitor or two.

Please keep in mind that when I say work, I don’t mean your day job. I mean stuff that you actually like doing: hobby programming, graphical design, creative writing, web design, etc… Granted, you probably don’t need a big bulky desktop for most of that stuff. But a desk with a docking station for your portable computer goes a long way. So even if desktops go the way of the Dodo, there will still be legions of people out there with pretty capable portable PC’s and Macs, who wouldn’t mind playing some games on their machines.

So the platform is not going to die. You just won’t be able to assume that all potential PC gamers have top of the line machines anymore since they will more likely have mid range laptops and portable. Fortunately, consoles happen to have fixed hardware and relatively long life cycle. This means that most people will be able to afford a machine as powerful as the current gen console a year or two after the launch. Since the PC’s will always have ample time to catch up with the consoles in terms of hardware, this will open them up as a viable video game market. I’m fairly confident that this will keep PC platform relevant enough to warrant ports of all major triple A titles at least for another decade. Granted, we will probably get shafted with crappy, and we may need to invest in an X-Box controller at some point. We probably won’t run out of games any time soon though.

Coincidentally, death of PC gaming may mean the end of the graphical fidelity race that has been consuming the video game industry for many years now. With fixed hardware platforms dominating the market, there is a chance that developers will now shift their focus from bump shading techniques to game play, and storytelling. So this may not actually be such a bad thing.

Finally, as all major developers switch their focus to consoles, a smaller, less lucrative PC market will become a playground for experimental projects and indy games. This month’s boring sequel of yet another brownish FPS may not cross over to the PC but we will definitely see more cool little games like Amnesia. And I’m actually fine with that.

What do you think?

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14 Responses to So PC Gaming is Really Dying, Eh?

  1. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I don’t really care, consoles will get all the casual boring games that mainstream demands, PC will be left with all the awesome games.

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  2. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    Haven’t we danced this dance before?

    I guess the PC will become less mainstream and more for niche gamers. I have very much given up on so-called “AAA” titles from big publihers (except maybe Blizzard). I don’t find myself getting excited by Dragon Age 2 or Super-Epic-FPS anymore. Crysis 2? Yuck!

    For me, the appeal of the PC are indie games. They’re cheaper than the dredge that big publishers continually put out. I look forward to the releases of indie games, like Age Of Decadence or Eschalon Book 3. Magicka is a ton of fun to play. Din’s Curse has an amazing dynamic quest system. Minecraft is minecrack. Such games are proof that a game does not need $50 million to make selling at $59.99 each.

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Oh boy. Sorry for the rant, and if this was a trolling attempt, you succeeded.

    Video

    I don’t agree with him.

    Old consoles likes the NES are about as different from current generation consoles as the latest laptop is to an Apple II. Controllers have vastly evolved. Capabilities have been vastly improved, online access included and service extended. Games have very much changed, you don’t see platformers or side-scrollers any more. Is console gaming dead ? Apple II gaming is probably dead, just as NES gaming is. PC gaming is still very much alive.

    I don’t like how he hand-waves MMO. Even if their basis is social interaction, they are games nonetheless and consoles have had little success in converting them. Games have evolved into something other than top down turn based RPG and Point & Click Adventures, it may be sad for those that enjoyed this kind of game, but it does not foretell the death of the platform altogether. PCs are still the platform of choice for FPSs, few apart from manufacturers’ exclusives haven’t seen a joint release or a later port. How many strategy games do you find on consoles ? MMOs ? Sims-like ? Adventure games are making a comeback on the Wii… as (bad) ports of PC games.

    How many people still need a PC ? Pretty much everyone now, considering more and more essential services require and/or are facilitated by internet access. Using a game console or a phone for writing text or browsing the web isn’t ideal. Have you ever tried browsing the web on a TV, even with a keyboard ? It really isn’t comfortable to read from your couch, and getting closer is a pain too with the limited resolution most TVs offer. Phones are somewhat better, but I can’t stand the constant scrolling you have to do with any decent amount of text. They’re good for short news and random browsing, not for filling your declaration of income.

    Oh, right… I simply happen to be the only person out of my friends with a gaming PC, and so I’m winning by default. Everyone else have jumped ship few years ago, and now use a combination of a high end laptop (usually a Mac Book Pro) and a console (usually Xbox). Few who still dabble in PC gaming usually just to WoW, which is not that resource intensive. That says something, no?

    That you don’t have the right friends ? :) Seriously, a gaming PC is something I’d be hard pressed to identify. What does it need, to be able to run the latest FPS at max details ? Games can be good and use little resources (Amnesia). You don’t need a top of the line machine to run games now, simply because few people have them. Sane developers have understood that for a long time now, and most games don’t have preposterous system requirements.

    Maybe not. This is purely anecdotal evidence after all. But it does ring true, right? If you think about your friends and family members, how many of them bought new desktop computers last year? People just don’t buy the big beige boxes the way they used to. Back in 2009 Reuters reported that laptop sales officially overtook desktop sales in US across all platform. But the trend was there for several years before that.

    So, people are buying more laptops than desktops. What exactly does it tell about PC gaming ? I have made the transition myself and seldom use my desktop computer anymore. I still game, less than before but still centered on games that have as of yet no equivalent on consoles. Isn’t that the very definition of PC gaming ?

    People just don’t want PC’s anymore – gaming or otherwise. They are simply not buying them. Rather than dropping 3k on a high end gaming rig, they buy a nice laptop a console and a smart phone instead. Granted, you can buy a pretty decent portable gaming machines these days, but they are not as powerful as a stationary box could be for the same price. And I bet most people don’t use them for hard core gaming anyway. Companies see these charts, look at the sales numbers and adjust their policies accordingly.

    Again, you assume hard core gaming implies high end computer. Sorry, but I really don’t agree. I can run Fallout 3 or Stalker on my 3 years old mainstream laptop by turning down the visual quality down a notch or two. Does it make me less ‘hardcore’ ? The fact that people are buying less expensive computers just shows how uninterested they are about the graphics race development studios have been raging for years now, it’s time to stop. Did they adjust their policies ? I haven’t noticed : big post-processing effects and graphical quality is still one of their main marketing arguments.

    Secondly, they are bringing Steam to Playstation, which shows that… Well, you probably know exactly what it means. They are breaking into console market now, because that’s the future. They are basically putting their leg in the door, so they can slowly start switching focus to the new gaming platforms over the next decade or two.

    They want to become the ubiquitous online distribution platform, that much is clear. Having a monopoly and a head start from the others is always a good thing for a company. They need to expand to increase profits, and Steam can’t really improve its position on the PC market : it’s already winning far and wide. The easiest option is to tackle at the faulty distribution platforms on Macs and Consoles. I don’t think that shows anything about where the future of gaming lies, except that Valve want to be anywhere it can be.

    So the platform is not going to die. You just won’t be able to assume that all potential PC gamers have top of the line machines anymore since they will more likely have mid range laptops and portable.

    That has been the case for a long, long time. The specificity of the PC platform is hardware diversity, and developers know that better than anyone. Most commercial games run fine on a my gaming desktop, that hasn’t been updated for four years now. It wasn’t top of the line at the time either, one or two generation late for both processor and graphics card, and the price tag was below 500€. PC developers have never assumed people owned top of the line gaming PC, that would cut them off from many potential sales. Even Crysis at its release could be played on medium hardwave of the time. Not with all the shiny effects, but are they really needed for the experience ? I would say they’re not.

    Coincidentally, death of PC gaming may mean the end of the graphical fidelity race that has been consuming the video game industry for many years now. With fixed hardware platforms dominating the market, there is a chance that developers will now shift their focus from bump shading techniques to game play, and storytelling. So this may not actually be such a bad thing.

    It’s not really where the trend is going. Fixed hardware is one thing, optimization is another. You can have vastly different graphical quality given a standard platform, and the maximum quality is usually only attained in its ending years. Better graphics is still one of the major selling points of some console games that are just sequels, nearly identical in their gameplay from their predecessor.

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  4. road UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I don’t think any sort of wii-style point-and-shoot controller will ever approach the precision of keyboard/mouse for FPS games. I’m always surprised to see people enjoying FPS games on consoles so much, but I’ve never really tried to get good with a controller like that.

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  5. road UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I don’t think any sort of wii-style point-and-shoot controller will ever approach the precision of keyboard/mouse for FPS games. I’m always surprised to see people enjoying FPS games on consoles so much, but I’ve never really tried to get good with a controller like that. Otherwise, I completely agree. I just bought a new iPad and it occurred to me that, while it can do some other neat stuff, it’s by-far the most expensive game-console I’ve ever bought (or heard of)…

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  6. SergeDavid UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yes it isn’t that pc gaming is dying, it is just that it is changing. Macro payments and online features to reduce piracy seems to be the future direction. Where most of the games aren’t visually intensive but either more short time wasters or focuses on gameplay over multi-million dollar graphic budgets. And there will probably always be the starters out and flash games that pepper the spectrum as it is the easiest thing to learn on.

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  7. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    How are you even going to play strategy game on a console? What about competitive gaming? How are you going to be competitive when you have auto aim?

    PC gaming is not going away any time soon. It may become smaller, but it will never go away.

    PC is open platform, anybody can make games, anybody can modify their hardware. Even if all major publishers moves to consoles, indie developers will release games for the PC.

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  8. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Just another note, why does MovieBob refer the “PC” in “PC Gaming” as hunky desktops only? Who buys high-end PCs from Alienware or some other “gaming” vendor anyway? Such PCs are likely overpriced and are usually not balanced for price-performance. The people I know who game on a desktop build their own desktop.

    @ Zel: Cool rant btw!

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  9. xWittaker UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Whenever I see these pc vs. console arguments, I always think most people are forgetting that a console is essentially a dedicated gaming pc, albeit, one that trades hardware and software flexibility for a reduced price and a more streamlined user experience (ideal for the less tech savvy). I’m having a feeling they may add keyboard and mouse support in the near future for certain games further reducing the differences.

    A signifcant change has been taking place over the last few years. Console prices have dropped while console life-spans have increased. This has made it a lot more sensible for people to purchase their own personal console instead of having to stop by a friend’s house for some split screen or share with the family.

    As a natural result of this, more and more people have begun setting up their consoles so that they can play in a desk environment. A 22″ LCD is a lot cheaper than a 50″ flat screen. This desk environment makes mouse and keyboard use feasible (as opposed to the living room couch environment).

    I’m of the opinion that they won’t allow keyboard and mouse support in fps games. The controller has become iconic in the console fps market and allowing k&m support would alienate a lot of players. However, keyboard and mouse support would finally enable rts and mmo genre’s to penetrate the console market.
    ——————————————————————————
    On the other hand though, as processing power increases, I wouldn’t be surprised if the market for non-portable gaming devices completely dries up. But would they still be called consoles then, or dumb laptops? Or would they instead shift to a model similar to valve’s Steam service? If consoles and laptops ever achieve processing power parity, I doubt that most consumers would be willing to buy both devices when a laptop can do everything.

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  10. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    @ xWittaker:

    Adding keyboard&mouse to console is not making it any better for me. Example, Unreal Tournament 3 did this on the console version.

    Console games will completely kill custom content for games. Custom content has always been big part of gaming. And they are not going to open up the games anytime soon. Why lose huge DLC map pack sales by giving mod tools? Why let users generate new content for games when you can just sell more games?

    Consoles are very restricted platforms and I am not seeing any reason why they would make consoles open platform…

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  11. xWittaker UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ k00pa:

    Oh I agree. I’ve never really been a fan of the console market’s walled garden. I’m just trying to think of what steps the console makes might make in the near future.

    I’m just wondering if the whole console market will dry up in a few years time as laptops grow more and more powerful.

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

    @ Mart:

    I’m right there with you. That said I did buy Dragon Age 2, mostly because I had so much fun with the first game.

    Zel wrote:

    PCs are still the platform of choice for FPSs, few apart from manufacturers’ exclusives haven’t seen a joint release or a later port.

    This is still true, but I would like to point out that all of the big selling multiplayer FPS games (Call of Duty, etc…) had huge success on consoles. A lot of people play these games on consoles competitively.

    Granted, I have no clue how do they deal with the crappy controls but they don’t seem to give a fuck since they play against other console players who are similarly handicapped. I actually met few youngsters who claimed they prefer console controls.

    So I’m no longer sure if the argument that FPS games are better on PC is going to be relevant that much longer. I absolutely agree that keyboard+mouse is vastly superior, but the new generation of gamers may never actually find that out. A lot of them currently their iPads to browse the web, MacBooks to type up homework and game exclusively on consoles. They may never grow up to be PC gamers. :(

    Zel wrote:

    How many people still need a PC ? Pretty much everyone now, considering more and more essential services require and/or are facilitated by internet access.

    iPads work fairly well for web browsing, and I see a lot of kids carrying around these low powered notebooks and MacBooks and MacBook Air machines that probably can’t run decent games… So the trend seems to be to move away from high performance machines toward ultra portable stuff.

    But yes, the PC platform is not going away yet

    .Zel wrote:

    Seriously, a gaming PC is something I’d be hard pressed to identify. What does it need, to be able to run the latest FPS at max details ?

    Yes, that’s what I was using as my measuring stick. Yes you are right, a well made game does not need crazy resources. I agree. I loved Amnesia, and Minecraft and they don’t need a powerhouse. But that’s not where the money is. The big, big money is in games such as Call of Duty, Crysis 2, etc… This is where the big companies make their money and if they abandon PC platform they will take a lot of talent, money and resources with them.

    Zel wrote:

    Again, you assume hard core gaming implies high end computer. Sorry, but I really don’t agree. I can run Fallout 3 or Stalker on my 3 years old mainstream laptop by turning down the visual quality down a notch or two.

    Point taken. Maybe I am looking too much into this trend. See, I’m still sort of stuck in the “I need a big spacious box with a large video card with a big fan on top of it for my games” type mentality.

    Anyways, you make some really good points. I feel much more optimistic about this now.

    Thanks!

    @ road:

    Yep, I don’t think I will ever get used to console controls for FPS games. They just seem so clunky and counter intuitive.

    As for iPad/iPhone gaming – some of the games on iOS platform are fun. But traditional games suffer when you introduce touch screen controls. I bought Street Fighter IV when Capcom dropped the price to $.99 and donated proceeds to Japan relief funds but it’s just not the same without button mashing and tactile feedback. It’s amusing, but much less frantic, and much less precise.

    You sort of have to design games around the touch screen mechanics – porting existing games genre’s and shoe-horning touch control schemes does not work that great.

    k00pa wrote:

    How are you even going to play strategy game on a console? What about competitive gaming? How are you going to be competitive when you have auto aim?

    Believe it or not, but I spent many, many hours playing Command & Conquer Red Alert and Warcraft 1 on my PS1 back in the day. :) It can be done… But just like with FPS games, the controls feel backwards, clumsy and sluggish.

    Oh, and few months ago I posted about my experience playing CoD on PS3 at a friends house. I didn’t like it, but my friend is quite competitive and keeps bragging about his exploits… On PS3…

    Which I guess works – since everyone is equally handicapped by the shitty controls they can still compete against each other.

    xWittaker wrote:

    On the other hand though, as processing power increases, I wouldn’t be surprised if the market for non-portable gaming devices completely dries up. But would they still be called consoles then, or dumb laptops? Or would they instead shift to a model similar to valve’s Steam service? If consoles and laptops ever achieve processing power parity, I doubt that most consumers would be willing to buy both devices when a laptop can do everything.

    Very interesting point. This may very well be the case. On the other hand, what Movie Bob mentioned is that we are currently seeing this compartmentalization of our electronics. People seem to prefer to buy dedicated “appliances” for specific tasks rather big all-purpose machines. So they get smart phones for their email and internet/games on the go, they buy mac laptops for word processing / work, consoles for sit-down and blow away an entire evening type gaming, iPads and tablets for reading books and online articles, etc… It is interesting to see which way this is going to swing.

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  13. terracide UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I find the comments on this post much more interesting than the post.. Ive been a PC gamer Die hard since 1992. I have owned pretty much every high end PC gaming configuration available since that time. I use Windows for most gaming, and Linux for some games and everything else. I build my own PCs and I work for a very large computer manufacturer. PC gaming since the 90′s has taught me just about everything I know about computers, and I was able to make a career out of computing because of it. Having gamed exclusively on PCs since then, I can tell you that a whole lot of things have changed in the industry over the years, and the PC has come a long long way. Console gamers should not forget that they have a symbiotic relationship with PC gamers ,because the PC gaming platform is the testbed for your next generation console. for this reason, if no other, I see PCs being around for a long time to come.

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  14. Kevin UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Yet another example of a desktop computer used for work that cannot be done on a laptop:
    My wife recently had a desktop computer custom built for $5k, because her laptop is incapable of doing what she needs to do.
    The thing would make any hard-core gamer sell their souls to just use the machine for an hour. But she’s not using it for gaming. It’s for running a particularly poorly-written piece of software to perform 3-D rendering from 2-D cross-sections of critters.
    When I went to pick up the computer for her from the local, non-big-box, computer store and told the guy that it was not for gaming, he seemed to me to be disappointed that it wasn’t for gaming. I think the entire staff in the store knows her computer from having salivated over the potentials of the hardware for gaming.

    PS: I, personally, have three desktop computers, and no laptops.

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