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The New PC Gaming

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There have been a startling number of PC-Games-Are-Dying sort of statements coming out lately, the latest of which coming from Cliff Bleszinski of Unreal Tournament fame. This statement no doubt related to the poor sales numbers of Epic's own Unreal Tournament 3 and Gears of War PC. I suppose it's worth noting that Gears of War PC was released almost a year after its 360 version and its relatively high system requirements may or may not be a contributing factor in its sales numbers.

Of course, there is certainly a point to be made here regarding the kinds of sales numbers that PC versions of games see in relation to their console counterparts. A Gears of War PC to Gears of War 360 comparison is fairly meaningless, but a Bioshock 360 to Bioshock PC (800,000 in its first month to the PC version's 80,000) or the order of magnitude difference between the 360 and PC versions of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (383,000 for PC and 3.04 million for Xbox 360). The low PC sales numbers were attributed to rampant piracy by Rob Bowling, the Community Relations Manager for developer Infinity Ward. Although the percentage of users playing pirated copies of the game was never given, it's safe to assume that Bowling's claims were well-founded. A number of companies have attributed poor PC sales to piracy in recent years but, unless there's a vast, overpopulated colony of pirates somewhere that I'm unaware of, if every PC gaming pirate had a change of heart and bought a copy of the game they were previously pirating, I would wager that the total PC sales for a game still would never touch the enormous console sale number.

This, in my mind, is due primarily to a changing PC gaming climate. Video games are becoming increasingly mainstream as is evidenced by a single game like Call of Duty 4 selling over seven million copies across all of the platforms it was released for. The PC is, however, becoming the dark horse platform when multiplatform game releases are the topic. When you switch the topic to something like Massively-Multiplayer Online games there is a different case to be made, what with World of Warcraft's ten million subscribers and the continually high sales of The Sims month after NPD-counted month. Does this trend mean that all PC games should become MMOs and life strategy games? Well, as the sea of dead MMOs would all scream up in one blood-curdling yelp: no.

PC-exclusive games still have a very well-defined place in the world of video games. As a platform, the PC has a lot going for it that consoles can't compete with. For one, it's an open platform that doesn't have to have patches and content packs monetized as a necessity (though it can be if the publisher or developer wishes). As another, it has the benefit of an incredibly wide and varied user base. While I don't have numbers to back the forthcoming claim up, I would say that more people have computers of some form than they have current-gen video game consoles. These computers probably don't all have DirectX 10- or even DirectX 9-capable video cards, but they're all capable of playing games. When I was growing up, my mother was an absolute solitaire fiend. She played the game so often and so much that even my best score (and, as gamers go, I'm no slouch) would have been scoffed at by even this most nurturing of figures. Standard Windows games like Minesweeper, snake, and so on and so forth are basic computer terminology for people. Even if the mention of World of Warcraft falls upon deaf ears, the mention of computer solitaire or minesweeper should get an ear perk.

Yes, I'm advocating the idea of the Casual Game as being a genuinely good sign for PC gaming. Despite what some people might say about the single-person development teams or the garage developers being dead and such nonsense, there is still a very strong place for small development teams within the scope of casual games. A good game mechanic is a good game mechanic; people of all ages and gaming proficiency recognize this as a truth, whether they can put it into words or not. Bejeweled, for instance, is loved by anyone with a pulse. There's something inherently addicting about it. It's nothing that hasn't been done before in some form whether it was a tabletop game like Connect 4 or a Genesis game like Columns. It didn't even have to be the first to think of the game mechanic, it just had to be the first to do it well and make it as easily-accessible as possible. And who's say that a legitimately fun game can't be made out of this simplest of mechanics? If you say something in the negative to that claim, then Puzzle Quest would love to meet you out back for some words. The ease of accessibility is something that Garage Games is taking to heart with Instant Action as well; they already have a combination of games available along with a forthcoming Tribes-like title that by no means should qualify as a "casual game" so much as it should a "fun game" with a unique distribution method.

And none of this is to say that big, complicated PC-exclusive games should be abandoned, because they shouldn't be. The point that is consistently echoed by gamers in response to "PC Gaming is Dead" variety news is concise and simple: if a PC game is good, people will buy it. This is not a cardinal truth, of course, because there are always truly excellent games that fall completely under the radar of all but the most well-informed gamers. A few recent examples of this are Ironclad's Sins of a Solar Empire, Crytek's Crysis, and CD Projekt's The Witcher. All three of these games are fairly niche titles, with Sins being a mixture of 4X and Real-Time strategy gameplay and The Witcher being a herald back to Baldur's Gate 2 with a very mature, morally ambiguous, fairly chauvinistic RPG. Crysis is less niche in its genre so much as it is its appeal in the current gaming atmosphere; it's an adrenaline-fueled first-person shooter with a very high system requirement entry fee. These three games have all received critical praise while also proving to be surprisingly strong sellers -- though, it's a bit early to give a definite commercial judgment to Sins since it was just released a couple weeks prior to the time of writing.

In the end, the "PC Games Are Dead!" type of articles seem more and more like the reactionary and ill-founded claims that they are. The concept of PC gaming ever dying is just a vacuous concept; so long as PCs remain a common fixture in the lives of so many types of people, PC gaming will live. It may evolve and shift forms as time goes on, but a good game will remain a good game.
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One current trend that has had an effect of the opinions of people in this area is that of games being so called exclusive when released on platforms like the 360. Games like Mass Effect that were originally planned for a PC release and then later, once negotiations with Microsoft began, were changed to 360 exclusive titles has had a mass effect on console sales. It would seem that the strategy to this is to boost console sales, which it probably has, but it's a poor marketing strategy in my opinion. Especially sense now it has been revealed that a PC release will be done in May of this year. For all those people who bought 360s for that title and others like it, where they were told it would be exclusive, are not only being lied too, but now the PC sales are going to suffer because people already bought the 360 versions. As time goes on, that sort of data could be used as an argument that PC gaming is dieing. When in fact, it's probably just simple shock economics to try and push out the PC so a stranglehold can be put on the market. Microsoft games studios is the only one I'm noticing following suit in this area. Another example I can think of is the Force Unleashed Title that was originally supposed to be a pc title, but once microsoft stepped in the title is now supposedly discontinued for the pc. I'm willing to bet it'll eventually be released on the pc as well, but not until it's had a chance to sale as many 360 units as possible, and not until people who haven't bought a 360 yet, that want to play that game, will go a head and buy one.

I'd personally just rather see a more robust market place for games, which the indie scene will continue to provide, especially as trends like this become more common place, if they indeed do. Hopefully that won't be the case, but I guess it's the field of dreams of scenario, where if you build it they will come, meaning if it's only on one console and they want to play it, they will buy. Which from a business standpoint will make more money for that company, so why would they stop doing it?

Viva La Indie!

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