The Game Stash

The Game Stash
Game Stash: The Death of PC Gaming

Steve Butts | 14 Jul 2010 21:00
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As a lifelong PC gamer and a full time game reviewer since the release of the original Half-Life, there's almost no issue in this industry that is as important to me as the vitality and value of PC gaming. Of course, there's almost no issue that is as tedious in its tireless recycling of the same old arguments and defenses of this often quirky and misunderstood subset of the larger gaming market, either. To me, it's like the whole "Games as Art" debate; individual opinions on both issues are interesting up to a point, but the real proof is in the games themselves. Even so, given that I'm still a little new here, it's worth expressing how I feel about the whole thing.

Before I get too deep into this, I don't want to suggest that PC gaming is better than console gaming. Anybody who feels the need to elevate his or her platform of choice at the expense of someone else's is just insecure. Sure, there's a value in the objective comparison, but once we begin talking about the games that we love, worth is entirely subjective. With that said, however, the PC development environment exhibits some unique and peculiar qualities that have helped to spur innovation throughout the entire industry. Over the last few years, many of those qualities have been suppressed as publishers have sought to reduce the risks of investing in new projects by leveraging development across multiple platforms. It would be naïve to deny that some of those compromises are coming from assumptions made in the very different console market.

The PC is most distinct from other popular gaming platforms in the open nature of its hardware and software environments. Both of these qualities leave the PC free from the oversight of a single license-holder. Now, to the extent that Windows has become in a sense, the software platform PC games are most often designed for, my characterization of the freedom of the PC development environment may not be true in its most literal sense. In any case, game and hardware makers are free to enter the market without the approval of a larger company.

Because there are no restrictions, developers are free to try new things - from urban planning simulations like SimCity, to online air combat arenas like FighterAce, to real-time strategy games like Dune II. At one time, publishers were even willing to fund those projects, particularly those with successful precedents. Genres were created and refined without necessarily being subjected to the diminishing effects of the expectations of the mass market. The mass market is definitely more of a consideration in determining what gets greenlit on the consoles these days, and the fact that so many developers and publishers are spreading their releases across multiple platforms means that mass market thinking has crept into the PC catalog.

I guess I should explain what I mean by "mass market." The term tends to be pejorative but I'm not intending to use it in a negative way. All I want to suggest by it is that the PC audience is less homogenous than the console audience. Combine that with the consistent hardware platform that you find on the consoles, and it only makes sense for a publisher to want a particular console title to appeal to every single person who owns that console. I think publishers who understand the PC market are less inclined to make that assumption, but when push comes to shove, the trend of cross-platform development tends to minimize the idiosyncrasies of most PC games. Just look at the evolution of IPs from big publishers like Ubisoft, Microsoft and EA that began on the PC and found new life on the consoles.

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