PC Gaming is Dying
By Anthony R Brock
PC Gaming is dying. How's that for an opening line from a die-hard PC gamer who wouldn't even touch a console if Buddha himself issued a Halo 2 deathmatch challenge? I despise console gaming – always have. Perhaps it's the same reason I hate reality TV, nu-metal, and heroin: The enjoyment of each requires you to have the IQ of a glass of water, and I'm not talking about that fancy bottled water you get at trendy fitness shops – I'm talking that tainted brown ooze that spews out of the taps in Peru. Why are developers jumping ship from the PC and taking the console path? Let's find out, first by looking at a series of case studies.
Case Study 1 – Pulling an Ion Storm: Ruining your own reputation with dumbed down console ports.
In 2000 Ion Storm, in conjunction with Eidos, released Deus Ex, an unparalleled classic of role playing, action, and story telling. It won 35 game of the year awards and sold nearly a million copies, a poor showing for such a critical success, but still solid for a PC game, and enough to warrant a sequel. In 2003 they released that sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War (made possible by those solid PC sales of the first game), as an XBOX game with a shoddy PC port tacked on as an afterthought. Very few cared when Ion Storm was finally put out of their misery two weeks ago when Eidos closed the studio down, but unfortunately they managed to tarnish both the Deus Ex and Thief series with craptastic console ports of games that owed their original existence to the PC. Why did this happen?
Case Study 2 – Pulling a Rockstar: Capitalizing on cross platform potential.
Rockstar (then called DMA Designs) released the original Grand Theft Auto on the PC in 1997, and the free form, non-linear gameplay, with the added ability to be a badass criminal and kill cops, was something nobody could resist. It was one of the most popular games of the year, and eventually Rockstar went on to make Grand Theft Auto III and GTA: Vice City, two of the most popular games of all time... on the PS2. Sure, the games were eventually ported to the PC, and ported fairly well at that, but why did they move to PS2 development (thus forsaking things like multiplayer modes and next generation graphics) and sell out their core audience that made them successful in the first place?
Case Study 3 – Pulling a Polyphony Digital: Never even touching the PC market at all.
This case study is the most irritating of all, and also perhaps the most telling. Polyphony Digital is the developer behind the incredibly successful Gran Turismo series, and while the publisher is Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA), part of the same company that makes the console the game is exclusive to, that doesn't tell the whole story. Sony has published many games for the PC, and many exclusively for the PC (Everquest being one example, and that retarded PS2 port doesn't count as it wasn't the same game), so they certainly could have brought the Gran Turismo series to the PC without too much trouble, even improving it a great deal with improved graphics, controls, and multiplayer support. Why didn't they?
The answer to every single case study here is a one word answer, and you probably saw it coming already: Money. Moolah. Cash. Some of it in nice piles, others in lovely clanky bits of loose change. Some of it neatly counted into fat little hundreds. Delicate fivers stuffed into bulging wallets. Nice, crisp, clean checks. Pert pieces of copper coinage thrust deep into... well, you get the idea. Money does make the world go 'round, and it is the sole reason the PC is getting crap title after crap title while the console market is seeing record development.
The console game industry saw 6.2 billion dollars in retail software sales in 2004, an 8 percent increase over 2003, so clearly the game market is growing into an even larger behemoth than it was before. However, when you factor in PC game sales, a paltry 1.2 billion in 2004, and a decline from the sales in 2003, you begin to see where this is going. All by itself, Grand Theft Auto - Vice City sold 5.1 million PS2 copies at retail, for a total of around 250 million dollars. That's a fifth of total PC game sales worldwide. One game. Also consider crap titles that were thrown together for movie tie-in promotion, like Shark Tale or Bad Boys 2 : Miami Takedown – These games, made for relative peanuts and with extremely short development times, consistently outsell all but the biggest PC titles – Games which took years to develop and that usually offer much more value for your entertainment dollar. How do you think it feels for a talented developer like S2 with their top notch PC exclusive title Silent Storm when it is outsold 20 to 1 (estimated) by the ridiculously bad console title “Bad Boys: Miami Takedown”?
So now that we have established the fact that console games sell far, far better than PC games, and developers can do far less work for far more money, we have to ask the follow-up question: Why do people buy console games in droves and avoid PC games?
Well, there are a variety of answers, but they all deride from three simple human traits.
The first is impatience, and this is partially the fault of PC game developers, who rush their titles out the door without the necessary polish and development time, and thus often take up hours of the end-user's time to even get running at all, to say nothing of the title running properly. I recently sat for three hours troubleshooting Knights of the Old Republic II on my expensive gaming rig, and that was a port of an XBOX game! I can't expect most people to sit through these types of headaches, especially considering I actually know what I'm doing when it comes to troubleshooting and most of them don't. The inherent laziness of the common man will take poor controls, inferior graphics, and long load times of the console version any day of the week over hours of troubleshooting headaches on the PC version of the same title, and that's one reason why the console version of almost any given title destroys the PC version in sales.
The second is thrift, and let's face it: Human beings are cheapskates. A Playstation 2 is only 150 dollars US at the time of this publication. That's about as much as a low/midrange graphics card for a PC, something you can't do without if you want to play anything on a PC the way it was meant to be played. Notice I said low/mid-range – If you expect to get the most out of your PC gaming experience you can expect to pay around 250-300 dollars, minimum, and that's just for the video card! When you factor in all the components of a high class gaming rig PC gaming looks less and less attractive for people that don't even know how to check email without infecting their PC with dozens of viruses.
The third is rationalization and justification. People who know enough about computers to get their games running right are usually seen by everyone else as geeks and nerds, because the world of computers is (still) a world inhabited primarily by people who only see natural light once or twice a week. “Computer games? Nah man, that's for nerds. I'll stick with my playstation.” I've heard that line so many times in the last 5 years I just want to puke. The second half of this one, the bit about justification, refers back to the cost: Not many people can justify spending over a thousand dollars (at the mid-range) for a gaming rig, but 150 for a PS2 doesn't sound so bad.
With so little (relative) monetary incentive to make games for the PC, it's no wonder developers are jumping ship. Computer gaming, hearkening back to the days of Elite, XCOM, and Star Control, was never a hobby for the uninitiated. I learned much of what I know about computers from troubleshooting games over the years (JEMM with Privateer is a particularly sour memory), and the sooner developers realize that PC gaming is the hobby of the intellectual, not the slacker looking for a quick entertainment fix, the sooner we will begin to see our hobby return to it's roots with well thought out, inspired gaming experiences.
In closing I just want to address all the PC developers out there: It's not about graphics. It's not about movie tie-ins. It's not about dual pistols. It's about games that make us think, reason, interact, and use our minds. If we wanted to turn our minds off, we'd be sitting on the couch with a PS2 controller. As with movies, all other considerations are secondary to immersion. If you want to make a truckload of money, just get out of the PC entertainment market and sell to consoles exclusively. If idiotic tripe like Star Wars: Republic Commando and The Guy Game never touched the PC I'd have no beef with you, but by developing for consoles and then porting those horrid, god awful titles to the PC you consistently stifle the development of original IP, and original IP is what has made the PC game market so consistently great over the years. PC gaming is going to die, and soon, if you don't stop this madness, and I will lay the blame squarely at your feet. The love of the PC and the desire to create original works of entertainment art is what got the PC game market going, but it's the greedy monopolies like EA and EIDOS, whose only concerns are the almighty dollar and pandering to the lowest common denominator, that are going to tear it apart.