I can't throw a rock at the internet these days without hitting someone proclaiming that PC gaming is a shrinking violet. Consoles have become near PC-like themselves, and seem to be drawing both developers and customers away from the PC.

NPD data would seem to reinforce the notion. According to a report by the NPD, PC gaming software sales are looking down compared to the rest of the industry. Last year, the NPD says, PC gaming did about $970 million, a rather small chunk of the roughly $13 billion games market.

And what about the old notion that the PC was a haven for the most innovative developers? Well, recently John Carmack announced that his next-generation game would find its way to the XBox 360, PS3, Macintosh, and the PC. Developers seem to be making more games with a multiplatform focus, with seminal PC series such as Bioshock (the spiritual successor to the System Shock games), Unreal Tournament III, and Call of Duty 4 making their way to consoles.

You can hear the cries of doom and gloom miles away: PC gaming is dying, dead, on the way out, yesterday's news, whatever. But is it really? Because when I look at PC gaming, I see not only a growing market, but a place that is still the premier platform for videogames.

Take games for instance. It's true that more and more games are multiplatform, but that trend has been developing for a while, and has spilled over to consoles as well; very few games are exclusive to the XBox 360 or PS3. This is simply a result of the fact that code can often be ported between platforms with relative ease, and doing so can increase the potential games audience by millions – a more prudent strategy than making separate games for each platform. But the PC still has more AAA, platform-exclusive content than any console. Just this year, we've seen Crysis, World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, World In Conflict, STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, The Witcher, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Team Fortress 2, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, Hellgate: London, Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance and Tabula Rasa.

Meanwhile, the PS3's most notable exclusives were Lair and Heavenly Sword, both widely regarded as duds. The 360's only notable exclusives were Mass Effect and Halo 3, the former of which has already been confirmed for the PC. And PC gamers even got a graphically-updated, expanded-content version of the 360's last AAA title, Gears of War. Most of the other big games this year – Orange Box, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, DiRT, Kane & Lynch, etc. – were all on the PC as well. This isn't to say there aren't some great console exclusives; Guitar Hero III and all things Nintendo certainly count – but no single platform has had as many top-notch games as the PC.

But what about the hardware market? It certainly is easier to purchase a plug-and-play console than a gaming PC where you have to think about drivers, hardware upgrades, monitor resolutions, memory compatibility, etc. etc. Right? Well, sure. PC gaming is, and always has been, somewhat of a niche market for precisely that reason; it's not as user-friendly as consoles. But gaming hardware is still going strong. Dell recently acquired Alienware, maker of high-end gaming PCs; subsequently, Dell has aggressively entered the gaming PC market with their XPS systems. Hewlett-Packard acquired Canadian boutique Voodoo PC, and has also entered the gaming market with their sleek-looking Blackbird 002 desktop systems. Meanwhile, for do-it-yourselfers like me, more and more hardware choices are out there than ever, many of them marketed toward enthusiasts, with motherboards boasting built-in liquid cooling and overclocking-friendly features. Would these companies be investing so much in PC gaming if the market was clearly in decline?

But what about those software sales? Well, just as the NPD doesn't take into account sales from Wal-Mart, there are two other rather large markets they ignore in PC gaming: subscriptions and digital distribution. With stores like Steam, the EA Store and Direct2Drive becoming ever more popular among PC gamers, more and more gamers are sparing themselves annoying CD checks, scratched or lost disks, lost activation codes and cumbersome DRM software by turning to digital distribution. Personally, I don't buy boxed copies of games unless I have to – I love the convenience of digital distribution. And most MMORPGs have subscription fees – World of Warcraft for example has a remarkable 9 million subscribers. But, their dutifully paid monthly fees are not included in the NPD's data. Finally, it's worth noting that while console games have crept up to $60 apiece, PC games are still never more than $50 new. So are the NPD's figures really a surprise?

Lastly, PC gaming is still unrivaled in its communities. Whether it's the thriving hardware enthusiast communities, massive online videogames or the ever-present modding communities, no platform can provide the unique community experience of the PC.

The fact is, PC gaming is still the premier platform for videogames. No other platform has better technology, more AAA games, more sheer variety, more tightly-knit communities, or more flexibility for your budget. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against consoles, which often have some great exclusives and provide an excellent gaming experience for the money. In a perfect world, I'd own every console and a great gaming PC; unfortunately, I have to make a choice. But those who shout doom and gloom for the PC need to look again – PC gaming is not just alive and well, but better than ever.

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11 Comments on "Doom and gloom for PC gaming"

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Joe
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[quote]And considering that a graphics card allows you to watch hi-definition movies and do video editing as well and added RAM will improve the overall performance of your PC, it’s rather disingenuous to directly compare the costs of a gaming PC with buying a console.[/quote] You’re cutting this awfully thin here in support of your point. Yes, in my $1350, I assumed that one already owns a television. I don’t think that’s the same thing as assuming one already has a PC. Sticking in a new proc/RAM/graphics card is just not within most peoples’ skillset. And what about an upgrade… Read more »
Mike Doolittle
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[quote=Joe]I can get a Wii, 360 and PS3 for around, what, $1350 total, and that’s with not cheaping out on the gimped 360 or the low-end PS3. I can pretty much guarantee five years of working content out of a console generation, with games coming out in Year 5 still working on my Year 1 system. In your opinion, what’s a top-end Windows PC cost, and how much do you have to pump into it over five years to keep it competitive? If I buy one of those $750 PCs today and spend nothing else on it, will I still… Read more »
Bruno
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Personally i prefer consoles over computers for games for a series of reasons that i’ll try to summarize… COST – PC gaming is much, much, much more expensive than console gaming… as Joe already pointed out. USABILITY – You can’t just put in the CD and go. You have to install, configure, reconfigure, keep up with updates, fix incompatibilities, and so on. PERFORMANCE – You’ll never get full performance out of the hardware, because there’s always the operating system taking up system resources and working while u play, and because as direct the DirectX can be, programmers on PC will… Read more »
Joe
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I can get a Wii, 360 and PS3 for around, what, $1350 total, and that’s with not cheaping out on the gimped 360 or the low-end PS3. I can pretty much guarantee five years of working content out of a console generation, with games coming out in Year 5 still working on my Year 1 system. In your opinion, what’s a top-end Windows PC cost, and how much do you have to pump into it over five years to keep it competitive? If I buy one of those $750 PCs today and spend nothing else on it, will I still… Read more »
Mike Doolittle
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[quote=Joe]I’d also wager that I could buy all three current consoles for the price of supporting a gaming PC rig for five years.[/quote] Not only is that patently wrong, but last I checked, your consoles don’t do much besides play games. [quote]But I still don’t see this variety of PC games you speak of. I stand by my retort that almost NONE of the games I mentioned (and that was just from my personal console library) have parity on the PC side. You’re the one making the claim; you find me a PC game that was as fresh and different… Read more »
Joe
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Well, you seemed to lump the entire world of consoles into one non-PC category, so my list across multiple systems seems valid. I’d also wager that I could buy all three current consoles for the price of supporting a gaming PC rig for five years. But I still don’t see this variety of PC games you speak of. I stand by my retort that almost NONE of the games I mentioned (and that was just from my personal console library) have parity on the PC side. You’re the one making the claim; you find me a PC game that was… Read more »
Mike Doolittle
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PC vs. consoles isn’t an either/or; both have a lot of value. What I said my friend is that the PC has more variety than any single platform, and I stand by that. Sure, you listed a lot of games – PS2 games, DS games, GameCube games, Wii Games, etc. I’d be more impressed if all those were available on one platform. No platform has more games for more types of players than the PC. It’s also the only platform where literally the entire back catalog is available, all the way from the 80s. And that doesn’t even begin to… Read more »
Joe
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“more sheer variety”? That’s not what I see when I look at the racks. Where is the PC equivalent to Pikmin, Elite Beat Agents, Pokemon, Mario Party, Katamari Damacy, Kingdom Hearts, LocoRoco, Cookie & Cream, Amplitude, Boktai, Chibi Robo, Chulip, Cooking Mama, Deception/Trapt, Disaster Report, Donkey Konga, Rock Band, Drawn to Life, Drill Dozer, Elebits, Eternal Darkness, Fatal Frame, Ratchet & Clank, Feel the Magic, Pac-Man Vs, Pokemon Snap, Hey You Pikachu, Killer 7, Lost in Blue, Paper Mario, Mario Strikers, Metroid Prime, Mister Mosquito, No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, Odama, Okami, PaRappa, Phoenix Wright, Trauma Center, or WarioWare?… Read more »
Anonymous
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Well I play PC games and I reckon as a gaming scene overall it’s alive in some areas but dead in others, due to the advantages you mentioned of tightly-knit communities and better hardware. For example, all the good games you listed are FPS or RTS, all hardcore gaming titles, most with online competition. This squeezes out casual titles like adventure or puzzle games. Now with the Wii around, there’s even less of these kind of games. So PC games are still being made but with a more narrow focus on competitive, graphics intensive play. Whether or not that is… Read more »
Mike Doolittle
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Thanks for the correction. I should also correct that World In Conflict is slated to arrive on the 360 at some point.

CrashT
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Team Fortress 2 is part of The Orange Box and therefore available on 360 and PS3 as well as PC. And Guitar Hero III is coming to PC, so isn’t a console exclusive.

Another segment of PC gaming which seems to be ignored is the huge area of casual games, the like of PopCap and Mumbo Jumbo are doing very well on the PC.

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