By Adam Ames
PC gaming has come under fire in recent years due to how most developers and publishers view the PC as a gaming platform and the distrust this has caused in PC gamers. With the many issues facing PC gaming from atrocious DRM schemes along with piracy and poor ports, this platform has left a bad taste in the mouths of PC gamers across the world. While most of the negativity is rightfully justified, there are many areas where PC gaming still shines bright.
Digital Distribution and Indie Development
With digital distribution platforms such as Steam, Green Man Gaming, GOG, Desura, among others, it has never been easier to shop for PC games than it is right now. While there are some who still like to own a physical copy of a game, digital distribution has made the entire process as easy as can be. In the middle of the night and have a need for a new RPG experience? With a few clicks and a little time to download, digital distribution has got you covered.
This holds especially true for those who live in areas of the US where the nearest store is Wal-Mart who is notorious for having a poor PC games selection. The sale price for a PC game has reached titanic proportions with Steam’s weekend, summer and holiday sales events. With prices cut anywhere from 25%-75% off, PC gamers almost always have an excuse to buy a game. In response to Steam sales, other competitors have also tried to match price cuts on their game inventory as well.
An unforeseen positive impact of the digital distribution era has been to the self-proclaimed pirates who have turned away from their illegal downloading ways to become legit PC gaming customers. The act of buying a PC game online has become a much more flawless experience than having to burn, mount or crack a pirated version.
Indie development goes hand-in-hand with digital distribution. How many great indie companies would have never been able to develop or market their games without digital distribution? There would be no Amnesia, no Minecraft, no Aquaria or Crayon Physics, or at the very least, not as popular as they are today. Companies like Valve and Desura offer indie devs an avenue like never before to make their games available on a global scale. Indie developers are the future of PC gaming where we could easily see the beginnings of the next Blizzard or Valve thanks in a large part to digital distribution.
Another aspect to the PC indie gaming scene is the growing popularity of “Pay What You Want” pricing first introduced by Wolfire Games with the Humble Indie Bundle. The premise was simple: offer a select number of games developed by indie companies and let the customer choose how much to pay. At first thought, this may seem like an extremely crazy thing to do, but it worked. Now sites, such as Indie Gala and Indie Royale have followed suit offering their own PWYW plans and perks. Whether or not bigger developers and publishers will take a chance on a pricing plan such as this remains to be seen, but stranger things have happened.
Kickstarter has become all the rage recently with Double Fine and inXile entertainment taking advantage of the ability to bypass traditional publishing companies, and instead, fund a large portion of development costs from customers willing to part with a few dollars. With their astronomical success, there are sure to be many others in the development field who will jump on this bandwagon. While Kickstarter might be the most popular girl in school, others include IndieGoGo and 8-Bit Funding where they are also giving small development teams and individuals a chance to get funding.
Crowd funding, just like digital distribution, is giving opportunity to those who might not have the chance to get their name out to the masses.
Modding and Patching
As long as there are games released for the PC, you can count on the modding community to take those games in fantastic and creative directions. The PC modding community has been able to extend the life of many games that would have otherwise died a slow and painful death. After the release of MVP Baseball 2005 and up until the introduction of MLB2K9, there were no graphical PC baseball games available. It was the hard work of modders from MVPMods.com who decided to keep baseball gaming alive on the PC by creating a series of Total Conversion mods based on MVP 2005 which added updated rosters, new realistic stadiums, cyber faces, high-res uniforms and just about anything else a die-hard PC baseball gamer needed. Yes, there are far more popular examples of mods in recent PC gaming memory, but this shows even niche games like baseball can hold some of the best creative minds on the internet.
Modders have also been responsible for patching games that, for one reason or another, no longer offered official support. One of the best examples of this is with Troika’s release of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Troika Games released VMB in November of 2004 and closed three months later in February. The game shipped with many glaring bugs and game-stopping glitches. In some extreme cases, VMB was rendered unplayable for some users. The modding community dove in and not only fixed almost all of the bugs, but they added new quests and content. VMB is considered one of the finest PC RPGs ever released and this is in large part due to the modding community.
Developers who create their games openly with mods in mind are always going to be one step ahead of others who do not. Mods can also help in sales beyond the initial release window by offering new free content which extends the game past where the developers first envisioned. Fallout 3/New Vegas, Skyrim (with Valve now sporting the new Steam Workshop), STALKER and the GTA series are just a few games who have a massive active modding community.
The greatest thing about modding is that anybody can try it out. The tools created by fans or developers are available to everyone. You do not need a degree in programming, art, design or writing. All you need is time and creativity. There is no better example of this than the fantastic Half-Life 2 mod, The Stanley Parable. The best idea is to find a game you like that has an active modding community and just try a few areas out to see where you best fit in and ask questions to those who have experience in what you want to do. Desura and ModDB are fine examples of a tight knit group of modders.
The cost issue for PC gamers has become less notable over the past several years. With more and more games being ported from consoles to the PC, the hardware necessary to run most games has hit a wall. The cost of quality RAM, CPUs, video cards and hard drives (while coming down from an increased price spike due to a typhoon last year) have plummeted making PC gaming a viable option to those interested in the PC as a gaming platform. You can certainly spend a few thousand dollars if you must have an elite system, but there are only a handful of PC titles such as Crysis, Metro 2033, The Witcher 2, a heavily modded Oblivion or Skyrim and STALKER that will take advantage of such a PC setup. For those of you who are thinking of building your own PC from scratch, take a look at the following online communities and retail sites:
Newegg is the one of the best online computer component retailers. Newegg also offers product reviews from those who purchased any given component, and in most cases, extremely fast shipping.
PC Perspective takes some of the guess work out of picking individual PC components by offering listings that range from Budget System to Dream System.
Multiplayer and LAN Parties
The PC and multiplayer format were simply made for each other. Going back to the 1990s, PC gaming has always flourished in the area of multiplayer action. In 1993, Doom set the standard in online multiplayer with its Deathmatch feature. Three years later, Blizzard released Diablo where Co-Op gameplay was the shining star. Since then, developers have slowly created better and more inspired multiplayer components including MMOs where the entire game is played with friends online.
LAN parties are the end all and be all of PC multiplayer gaming. It is one thing for a PC gamer to play online with a friend half way across the globe, but it is another thing entirely to play online with your friend, or enemy, just a few feet away. There is no larger LAN party in the world than DreamHack held in Jönköping, Sweden. In 2010, DreamHack hosted a total of 12,754 connected computers online. The second largest LAN Party goes to The Gathering located in Hamar, Norway where over 5,200 computers are connected to the network at any given time. Of course, the biggest LAN located in the United States goes to QuakeCon in Dallas, Texas.
Everyday, millions of PC gamers jump into a multiplayer or Co-Op games throughout the world. Some may say if it were not for the first multiplayer PC games, the PC gaming industry would cease to exist today.
One of the key aspects of PC gaming has always been the visual presentation. With the ability to offer hi-res textures, increased widescreen resolutions and an overall crisper feel, the visuals on the PC are hard to match. The features of Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering and improved Draw Distance offer nice options to PC gamers.
The Bottom Line
Every form of media entertainment has peaks and valleys in their popularity. In terms of how publishing companies view PC gaming, it may in fact be in a valley at the moment, but it still is and will continue to be a fantastic gaming platform.