Thursday, December 3, 2009

State of the (PC Gaming) Union Address

Well we're rapidly approaching the arse-end of 2009, so it's time to assess how good this year has been for PC gaming.

It's been a very mixed bag. There have been both highlights, such as Borderlands turning out to be quite fun despite some shortcoming that could have been easily dealt with and the announcement of a new game in the PlanetSide universe. We've also had lowlights, such as Microsoft deciding to can the PC version of Alan Wake and the lackluster release of Prototype, a game that seemed to get bitchslapped by the much-better Infamous on the PS3. Can any conclusions be drawn from this year's PC offerings?

Aside from the usual "death of PC gaming" stories which come out every year and still manage to not be true every year, we've had a lot of ups and downs. Microsoft's dissing of the PC in regards to Alan Wake was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, as Microsoft has not released a PC game now since 2007. It seems they have clearly identified where their bread is buttered, and I'm guessing the bread has a giant X through the middle of it. Yet there was also the release of Windows 7 which offered a good reason for gamers to upgrade their OS to something that wasn't as bad as Windows Vista and get good performance as a result of doing so. So while Microsoft is quietly offing anyone who remembers that it used to develop and publish PC games (Freelancer, anyone?) it has at least tossed us the bone of Windows 7, a rock-solid OS that will run your new (non-Microsoft-developed) games quite nicely for the foreseeable future.

As I've already mentioned before, Borderlands was a great game but still suffered from being a poor console port. It was only through the loyal PC community coming up with fixes for many of these problems that made much of the console cooties go away. These days just getting a major multi-platform release to hit the PC is a win in itself, so I guess we should at least be grateful to Gearbox for that. Not every developer has this problem though, and indeed Capcom this year talked about how they wanted to pursue the PC as a major gaming platform, and then followed through on their talk by delivering the best version of Resident Evil 5 that just happened to be on the PC. Capcom are now talking about seeing the PC as a "growth platform" and making efforts to perhaps sync their release dates up a little better, since while the PC ports of their games are usually solid they will often lag behind the original console versions by several months. I hope other developers are paying attention here and will follow Capcom's lead, because pushing the PC as a serious platform is only going to pay dividends for them in the end. Lost Planet 2, another Capcom game, is eagerly expected next year on consoles and will hopefully make the transition to PC down the line, as the original did. Let's also not forget that Capcom delivered the best version of Street Fighter IV on the PC as well, with higher-resolution textures and better visual effects than were available on the console versions, and PC gamers only had to wait a few weeks behind the 360 and PS3 releases to get their sweaty hands on the game, too.

While we're at it, let's confront the elephant in the room. Retail PC game sales are down, and they are down quite a lot. Why isn't this the problem it seems to be on the surface? The simple fact that NPD, the main group who collate and publish gaming industry statistics, including sales and revenues, still do not include digital distribution or MMO subscription fees as part of their PC statistics. As such, their figures can be said to be unreliable at best and downright misleading at worst, since digital gaming platforms such as Valve's Steam, Impulse's Stardock, IGN's Direct2Drive and newcomer GamersGate are commanding increasing sales and market penetration every year. Factoring in MMO subscriptions, including World of Warcraft (which at the last count had almost 12,000,000 subscribers worldwide) likely pushes the PC into first place among all gaming platforms, X-Box 360, PlayStation3, Wii or anything else. Until NPD, or someone else, starts collating accurate information with regards to PC games then the "officially published" figures will always be woefully inaccurate. What I am trying to say is that the PC as a gaming platform is strong and the industry figures do not reflect that strength. Blizzard HQ is full of gold-plated toilet seats for their employees to s(h)it on, and it is rumoured that the executives have a big vault full of money that they can jump into a la Scrooge McDuck, whenever they feel the need to be comforted by vast amounts of cold, hard cash.

Valve also seem to manage to eek out a living as one of the leading game developers in the world despite their concentration on the PC. 2,000,000 gamers can't be wrong - right?

Any talk of PC gaming being dead or dying is simply that - talk. When you run the numbers and look into the sources you can plainly see that the PC is the strongest gaming platform there is, and is unlikely to be displaced by any heretic console anytime soon.

So my plea to developers is to embrace the PC as a viable gaming platform. Follow Capcom's lead and devote more resources into PC releases and reap the benefits when you get increased revenues from better sales. Focus on the strengths of the PC:

- that most people are going to have a PC in their home just for Internet access, for working with Office applications or as a media centre for their family.

- that a PC can essentially play any type of game. RTS? Sure. FPS? You 'betcha. MMO? Ideal. Sports sim? Why not. RPG? Always better on a PC.

- that since consoles are so PC-like these days it is not going to cost much extra to add a PC port of your game. Heck, 360 games are built around DirectX making 360-PC ports easier than ever.

At the end of the day us PC gamers have to be a part of the solution as well. Reward developers and publishers of good PC games by buying them and not pirating them. Email or post feedback of games that particularly stand out to the company or to that company's forums. Likewise, avoid those companies who are content to treat the PC as a gaming pariah. Inform them that PC gamers demand games that are just as good as console games, and releasing half-assed bug-ridden ports is as much as a slap in the face to us as no release at all.

Together, we can make a difference.

Goooooooooooooooooooooooooo planet!

1 comment:

  1. Fuck yeah Gaff, well said. I used to be among the pirating community but, I try to buy all the games I can these days. Even if they are on sale on Steam a year later. I feel better about things now.