It’s a long held belief that the hardest of the hardcore gamer, rocks a PC. Near infinite expandability, game modding to the point that entirely new games can be fashioned out of others (e.g. Portal) and an always on community linked directly to the greatest online gaming experience available; the untethered internet. But PC gaming has seen a serious decline in press coverage recently from the major blogs and gaming sites out there and for one very good reason; the ‘PC gamer’ is very much a dying breed.
It was, with the widespread use, integration and acceptance of the internet and a rapid increase in bandwidth from broadband suppliers, almost inevitable that PC gaming would flourish beautifully for a moment and then die, like the Christmas trees we threw on the compost heap last week. With the transfer of goods comes piracy and it is this that has left the bigger publishers reluctant to put out IP with the lead skew being the personal computer. There have been attempts to counter the illegal sharing of games across the internet of course, though most have been unsuccessful and even detrimental to the growth of gaming in this sector. Digital Rights Management has gamers up in arms with boycotts, the threat of any other DRM except Steam is apparently just too much for many spoilt by the freedom to do with their games whatever they please. The ability to play on dedicated servers has also traditionally been a great benefit for PC fans, however this feature is quickly being removed as an attempt to control large and significant portions of several titles, with the heavyweight that is Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 being widely panned by critics and PC gamers as having this method of multiplayer being the only way to play one of the most anticipated games for WASD heads across the globe.
But look beyond piracy and there are further problems; society at large is still not particularly comfortable paying large quantities of money for non-physical products, yet for many PC gamers digital delivery services such as Direct2Drive are the only way to access most titles, with major outlets such as Gamestation and Game having an extremely limited choice of titles available. Speaking of which, the issue of choice may well have been null for years, with seemingly only real time strategy and first person shooters getting any real attention in the PC charts. The nail in the coffin though is the potential to upgrade machines I mentioned earlier. Being able to purchase and easily install the latest tech is a fantastic thing, enabling games to be created that simply aren’t possible on current home console technology. However this is ultimately a double edged sword as it negates the PC being a standard platform, designers wanting to appeal to a traditional PC gaming audience must decide whether to risk poor reviews of visuals but create a game a majority of people can play, or create a high end showpiece that only the elite can access. With a modern console the specifications are set, designers work within them to get the best whilst any person with the hardware can run any product available for it.
The market is then, for all intents and purposes, on its last legs. With FPS and RTS titles now truly possible on console, it seems that PC gamer numbers are dwindling as fewer and fewer people reinvest in gaming rigs, newer players skipping PCs altogether in favour of their Wii, 360 or PS3. In Part 2, I’ll tackle what can and, most importantly is being done to revive the PC arena and why, in some regards, PC gaming could well be the future of video games…