In 2008, PC gaming generated a combined $11 billion in revenues worldwide – making it the most lucrative gaming platform – according to a report commissioned by the PC Gaming Alliance.
The report (you can download the full .pdf here) puts the total global revenue at $10.7 billion, and claims that the PC is the “single leading platform for games” even in Europe and North America – where it accounted for a combined $6 billion over the course of 2008.
Some might use this as an excuse to jump on the platform and point to this report as proof that piracy does not harm PC gaming, but let’s take a closer look. The big winners were, of course, the MMOs – there were several Asian MMOs that “are generating more than $100 million” every year. In the West, the MMO genre was boosted by two high-profile launches, Funcom’s Age of Conan and Mythic’s Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, both of which sold close to one million copies at launch … though success may have been short-lived, particularly with the troubled Conan.
Then, of course, there is the behemoth from Irvine, California: World of Warcraft single-handedly accounted for over $1 billion in revenue in 2008, buoyed by the launch of its second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. Lich King became the fastest-selling PC title in history, eclipsing the record set in 2007 by its predecessor, The Burning Crusade.
Many companies are turning to MMOs because they are difficult – if not outright impossible – to pirate. If one can launch a successful MMO, piracy becomes significantly less impactful on one’s revenues. Of course, the MMO genre has its own problems, such as costly development and increased competition.
Another big winner was digital distribution, with services like Valve’s Steam helping establish a world of PC gaming almost entirely decoupled from brick-and-mortar game stores. Beyond digital distribution and subscription MMOs, the report found that smaller free-to-play games that relied on DLC and microtransactions to turn a profit were fairly successful over the past year.
Of course, let’s not forget that this is simply revenue, not net profit. The PC might have been the most lucrative platform for gaming in 2008, but it might not have been the most profitable.