The brave new world of the PC

How publishers' abandonment and overpriced upgrades helped save PC gaming

Picking up on one of the perhaps less headline-friendly observations made to by Minecraft creator Markus Persson, he offered the suggestion that big publishers' general abandonment of the PC - at least in terms of creating games specifically for it - was actually to its benefit.

It's a fascinating and heartening argument. The mindlessly hollow argument that the PC is dead or dying as a game platform isn't going anywhere any time soon, largely due to the meagre retail space it's given. But as the consoles entrench into big brand-reliance and costly failures, the PC has been blossoming into new - and profitable - directions.

No-one knows - or will ever know, most likely - just how many copies most games sell on Steam (or indeed its many rivals, which old world firms such as Gamestop now seek to number among), but that it's been enough for the NPD to have a little panic and declare that their traditional sales-tracking methodology is no longer relevant. Of course, there's Facebook too, and more pointedly a legion of microtransaction-fuelled browser games and MMOs that no-one appears to be exhaustively monitoring.

The excitement, though, is the explosion in indie games. Not purely from a gamer's perspective, but even for the console-makers. The likes of the Super Meat Boy guys cut their teeth on the PC, learning skills and earning awareness that helped propel their platformer into the zeitgeist. That's far from a lone tale. Meanwhile, the esoteric likes of Recettear, a translated Japanese title about playing the shopkeeper of an archetypal RPG store, can sell tens of thousands of copies via digital distribution - with essentially no distribution or marketing costs.

Then, of course, there's Minecraft itself - making its creator a millionaire within months, without running so much a single advert, and without taking a penny of funding. Luck (and press attention) certainly plays its part, but the old ways simply aren't necessary. With so many of the traditional publishers all but absent, the room is quiet enough for smaller, braver titles to be heard.

It's not just the publishers' abandonment that's created this new frontier, either. The same factor that drove so many from the PC to the consoles is precisely what transformed it into the opportunity-rich platform it is today. The graphics card companies' one-time dominance of the PC as a gaming device led to consumer bewilderment and exhaustion at the insane range of ever-updated, expensive 3D cards. No-one can be blamed for feeling that having to spend the equivalent sum to a new console on a new card every 18 or 12 months was Sisyphean cycle they had to escape.

That age is over, though it seems at a terrible cost to NVIDIA and AMD-ATI. There won't be another Crysis, another flashpoint game that seems to demand a system upgrade. While the popular misconception that a gaming PC costs £1000+ remains, the truth is that a £250 machine is a gateway to untold thousands of new games, and a £400 can run essentially anything.

Those big, scary £250+ 3D cards aren't necessary any more, and as integrated graphics come on ever-further they'll only suffer more. Indie and free to play have taken full and timely advantage of a new age where PC owners don't upgrade. They can succeed because anyone can play them, and without having to make the conscious statement of being a gamer that a console purchase requires.

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Latest comments (7)

Jamie Watson Studying Bachelor of Games & Interactive Entertainment, Queensland University of Technology11 years ago
if thats the case then what will all of the hardware enthuist and hardcore gamers do?

whats the point of spending 1000s of $$ on a system for gaming when its not needed and even so only for a few games?..

i think its time to bring back the PC to front of gaming again!
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 11 years ago
Jamie, you answered your own question with that question. Indeed, what's the point of the whole "my system is BETTER!" pissing contest other than to show how much cash one has laid out on a gaming rig? At the end of the day, someone playing the same game on a console or lower end PC that can run the game fine is just as happy as the person who spent hundreds or more on a new card, a few too many bucks on fancy pimp-house lighting and an overpriced cooling system that's more at home on a NASA spacecraft.

Granted, there's nothing wrong with a boss PC that blows the doors off any console. On the other hand, the Joe Gamer types out there don't give a whit - they just want to play good games on any platform (the cheaper, the better).

The main problems with the enthusiast market are that it's a niche market that demands a lot more money that many "new core" consumers have to spend AND other than MMO's the amount of good games made for that money spent are shrinking in terms of being exclusives.

Sure, when Valve's next big surprise hits PC or that next huge MMO that for some stupid reason WON'T run on an off the shelf Wal-Mart PC with an on-board graphics chip, you may see the diehards spring to the defense of the overpriced, overclocked upgrade. Unfortunately, the PC card market has simply out-priced too many people who want to play these games but have gone to console versions instead ("lesser" visuals and controls aside).

Hell, given that console games get almost as many patches and upgrades as PC games (dumb, but it's here for good, it seems), the only thing separating the two platforms are system specs (and it's probably easier for developers to make games for one or two consoles as opposed to a wider assortment of PC configurations they have no idea about)...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 30th November 2010 6:02am

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Jamie Watson Studying Bachelor of Games & Interactive Entertainment, Queensland University of Technology11 years ago
thats the reason why develpers should make titles for the PC market,who spend $1k-2$k+ on a computer to play games....most kids will/want do that anyway

if thats the way devlopment of games is going its a sad day...

most kids who play games on PC want to have a good time playing thats why they spend a fair amout of money on a system.

also if game devs need make more games for PC then AMD/Nvidia/Intel would sell more products and PC would evole rather then been used just as a system for movie watching and video editing/word docs/flash games etc..

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jamie Watson on 30th November 2010 7:13am

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Show all comments (7)
I think we shoudl think beyond PC or Console or even a game unit.

Browser/Portable base is probably where its heading whereby high system specs are the norm. No pissing contest involved. Only apps and content
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 11 years ago
Jaime.... most kids I know DON'T have that kind of money unless they're getting it from parents/relatives, have some sort of magic funding system (a job), or are pro gamers that get that extra scratch from tournaments.

You can have as good a time playing games on a $500 PC as you can on a $3000 one, last time I checked... Unless you are a total graphics ho' who can tweak out a PC like McGuyver with a banana peel, dirty sock and bobby pins...

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Jamie Watson Studying Bachelor of Games & Interactive Entertainment, Queensland University of Technology11 years ago
that is true,gameplay is about EXPERIANCE (spelling error,i know) and yes the PC as a gaming device is in a slight decline right now but will hopefully pick up!

as for games in genral i can see MS/Sony/Nindento making consoles for a least another decade or two..

as the interet gets faster and computers get faster then services like steam/onlive will become the norm for playing and buying games.

i say this "social gaming" faze will end one day and alot of game devs wont be ready for it...i think....bring back the hardcore game market i say!
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Colin.J.C. Garstang Intellectual artist 11 years ago
Jamie and Greg, while your points are all well made and valid i must say that some people buy Ferrari's and BMW's and various other top end cars and then spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of ponuds/euros/dollars "modding" them.... for some it is the modding itself that is the passion, irrespective of what is running on it.
the truth of the matter is that console gaming is very much a wealthy western passtime, the rest of the world is gaming on PC because of financial constraints and time/value issues. There will always be a larger worldwide market for PC games than for console and in truth a top end PC is not needed to play the majority of the "Neo-Tetris" stlye timesinks that occupy the majority of casual gamers. Now.... anyone for Bejewelledminer McClone?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Colin.J.C. Garstang on 2nd December 2010 5:45pm

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