PC Gaming: A Positive Look

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.

Crowd Funding

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.

Hardware Cost

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.com
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
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.

/R/BUILDAPC
/R/BUILDAPC is a sub-community (or subreddit) of reddit.com where you can read and post about the ins and outs of PC building.

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.

Visuals

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.

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19 thoughts on “PC Gaming: A Positive Look

  1. Good article on the current state of the PC gaming industry. Steam really makes a lot of difference, not only for reformed pirates but also for people like me who don’t have a proper retail store nearby. I have purchased four times as much in the last year through steam as compared to the pittance I have bought in the last decade and its simply because its so much easier.

    • Thanks for the comment. I live in an area where the only retail option I have is Wal-Mart or Best Buy. While Best Buy has a larger section of PC games than Wal-Mart by far, neither can compare to what you can get online.

      While I love having a boxed copy, I also love a good deal and Steam as well as others provide that.

  2. This is little more than another reassurance post for PC gamers like you see on every PC gaming forum. Consoles are thrashing PC because most people hate DRM and it doesn’t even stop piracy. So gamers lose and devs lose. Simple as that.

    PC may be superior hardware, but over the years consoles have gotten more profitable every gen while PC gaming has been steadily losing ground since the 90s. If the console trends continues, we’ll probably see PC gaming phased out completely for some PC-like media center consoles that can be upgraded every few years. All the benefits of a PC but locked down like a console. Even Valve were hinted at developing that exact thing, but they probably leaked it “by accident” to see people’s reactions and it wasn’t very good.

    But it will happen. That’s where gaming is headed, and I really don’t mind.

    • If it were 2005, I would probably agree with you, but PC gaming is doing phenomenally well nowadays, while several console-gaming industry watchers have questioned whether or not traditional console gaming will survive past the next generation.

      As to your comments that “we’ll probably see PC gaming phased out completely for some PC-like media center consoles that can be upgraded every few years”, well, a system that has “all the benefits of a PC” is still a PC. So what if you can’t upgrade it? I can’t upgrade my laptop, but that’s still a PC. A closed system that people don’t have to think about will just make PC gaming better, not worse, especially if it’s affordable, so if that’s the future, then bring it on!

    • The biggest games in the world right now are on PC; e-sports is 80% PC-based right now; the PC is still the largest individual gaming platform in the world. People have called the PC platform dead since 2004; this has and will never be the case.

      Think about the games that have grown super rapidly in recent years; ALL of them are on PC. Some of them are ONLY on PC.

      High-end developers and publishers perpetuate this kind of “panic” because they don’t like the PC as a platform. The amount of piracy is extremely high. Windows is shitty platform to code on. There are way more things to consider when developing for PC (aspect ratio, key mappings, different hardware, etc), and that drives developers insane. So they complain to journalists, who then pass it on to their readers.

      But the demand, somehow, is always there. People like the idea of having one computer to work AND game on. Mouse controls feel more exact and less wobbly. Some people like more keys to control their games with.

      PC gaming will not die; there is no sign of it dying. The sales figures don’t show it and logically there’s no reason to believe that DRM is causing a decline in sales. Publishers know that users hate DRM, so they are moving to digital distribution systems that make them less intrusive. Compare that to console, where when you lose the disc, you lose the game.

      • I agree PC gaming is not dead, not ever will be, but I have a few areas where I disagree.

        I would have to disagree with your statement about publishers knowing users hate DRM and by moving to digital distribution will somehow make things better for them. UbiSoft and Rockstar are prime examples of companies who continue to pile on the DRM. When released, GTA IV needed SecuROM, Social Club, and if you bought through Steam, there was an additional layer of DRM. Of course, the actions of UbiSoft speak for themselves.

        You also mention games are all on PC now, which is confusing. Sport titles aside from NBA and MLB have been abandoned by publishers and developers. Madden has not seen the PC since 2007 and same holds true for Tiger Woods (not counting Tiger Woods Online and the abomination that was Tiger Woods 12). The last wrestling game on PC was RAW in 1999 and the PC is just now getting quality fighting games. I certainly do not buy the “plays better on a couch” theory either.

        As for controls, most games released on PC from consoles have some type of sensitivity issue due to the developers use of the analog stick as a point of reference instead of working with a mouse. The menus in Skyrim are terrible with the mouse, Dead Space and Ghostbusters were also awful when it came to using a mouse.

        My thinking is if you are going to release a PC port, either do it right, or do not release at all.

  3. “a system that has “all the benefits of a PC” is still a PC”

    Not true. Many PC gamers seem to forget that a PC is not a gaming machine. You can optimize it for gaming, sure, but it is made for a wide variety of uses, of which gaming is just one minor aspect.

    A closed system with PC parts is a console. XBOX more so than the others is almost exactly a PC by hardware but of course you have to use illegal means to give it the full functionality of a PC. That’s the model gaming will most likely move towards rather than use actual open system PCs and adding layers of DRM. DRM clients for PC games is afterall basically just adding console type closed systems through a client, except they have huge gaps in security that consoles don’t, or can patch firmware to remove. From a business standpoint, that’s the much better option moving forward.

    • Um… so you’re saying one of the benefits of a PC is being able to run non-gaming software on it… but a system that has all the benefits of a PC, which includes being able to run non-gaming software, isn’t a PC because it can’t run non-gaming software?

  4. PC gaming never went away, the real issue is game development became extremely expensive starting with PC 3D hardware and the PS2 era. Game dev costs and development times have been skyrocketing. Consoles have also been feeling the pinch in terms of game quality, many console games have sever quality issues.

    It never was just a PC gaming issue, it’s that hardware power pushed consumer expectations way too high for many B and C tier developers. Now those B and C tier developers are coming back to the PC via indie games movement.

    If you had the sales of half-life 2, diablo 3, starcraft 2 and World of warcraft you wouldn’t have noticed anything about “pc gaming dying”. There is a lull in all of gaming these past two generations as the entire industry adjusts to making high fidelity games and it’s far from over.

    We’ve seen signs of getting proper PC versions (Saints row the third) and ports have become good enough (examples: darksiders, Transformers: WFC).

    With diablo 3 hitting in two months and the next starcraft 2 chapter on the horizon you’d have to be a moron to say ‘pc gaming is dead’. PC’s have been getting more and more ports from console land these last 3-4 years. All the big releases – assasins creed, darksiders, modern warfare, battlefield, saints row, mass effect, all get ported to PC.

    If anything the last five years have made owning most consoles obsolete except for a few titles you’d want to play (darksouls, demon souls, bayonetta, etc).

    And even then darksouls is looking like it’s going to get a port. Only morons who haven’t been paying attention think PC is dead.

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  6. It still bothers me a bit that there is such a distinction between consoles and PC’s. Especially when you consider the Xbox is really a PC in a different shaped box. Still, people do seem to love to argue over the smallest of details so I shouldn’t be surprised someone who plays computer games can see PC’s and consoles not as different solutions to gaming (ie. console for the living room, PC for the bedroom/office) but as competing digital religions that should have one winner.

    Well having said all that and finding the article here pretty interesting. I think we’re all ignoring the real threat to these types of gaming devices. PC’s, consoles, laptops, they’re all under huge threat by tablets, you can get even more granular by calling it the ipad. Not only is that eating into what would have been PC sales, with the ipad 3 the level of gaming was raised and I’d now see consoles themselves as under massive threat.

    Think about it this way. Don’t look at the ipad 3 and think, well that doesn’t do X,Y and Z that my PC/console can do. Think of it as a platform that’s out iterating everything else on the market. With yearly launch cycles, each launch improving upon the last. You only have to look to the consoles with the incredible investment they need to get a new one out the door, so great in fact that cycles are heading for several years between new releases. Some minor updates to form factor and such in-between but nothing like the leaps Apple is making.

    Ignoring for a moment what these devices do. Just consider that one electronics company is releasing yearly, the others are releasing every 5-10 years. You don’t need an analyst to tell you that the company taking 5 years to get its product to market is dead in the water.

    I should point out I’m a die hard PC user. I enjoy gaming on the PC and have also enjoyed gaming on consoles. So I’m certainly no Apple fanboy talking nonsense because that’s the brand I love. I just can’t see other platforms keeping up with it. And while I find Android really interesting (at last linux has its day! errr.. in a way) I can’t really see it being very successful outside of smartphones. There it’s doing well because there is a culture that suits Android in the phone market. The tablets don’t respond well to having many different kinds of devices where some software may or may not work. A device like that needs one standard and Apple are already so far ahead there with major inroads made to partnering with the film and music industries that I would happily bet it has it sewn up.

    PC gaming too is under threat even though it can iterate very fast. Right now it can’t as it’s as much tied to the consoles as the consoles themselves. By that I mean that until a new console comes out that pushes what’s possible up a notch, PC games have to by and large stick to that level of performance so developers can get games out for both platforms and maximise the money made. This holds the hardware back as while you can bring out faster graphics cards, any real leap in technology is going to be useless as new games won’t be able to take advantage of it since the consoles can’t either.

    So the real story for me is what’s going to happen with tablets. Just how much can they eat into the markets they’re already happily gobbling through. I suspect the ipad will become the dominant way to compute and game in the coming years. Development will shift over to it in ever greater numbers. Already the bulk of development is happening on that platform anyway but what’s possible is very much contained by the tablet itself not having the resources PC’s have access to. Once that tipping point is reached however, and the ipad3 pretty much hit the tipping point arguably, I can only see exponential growth of what the hardware can do, how many develop for it and its userbase, to the detriment of everything and everyone else that has a PC, a console, a laptop.

    It’s actually quite distressing for me as I love my desktop PC with huge monitor. My brain is hard wired to think in terms of a keyboard and mouse in everything I do. I guess it’ll be the younger generation that make the transition to touch and start to think of people like me as ancient dinosaurs interacting with their computers with these mouse thingies. As they touch and talk there way through ever more complex UI’s, that can take advantage of the fact you have 10 pointing devices (errr.. fingers) that can manipulate a whole lot more than a single mouse pointer on a screen.

    So enjoy this rebirth of PC gaming while you can, I sure am. I have a feeling it won’t last as long as we PC users would like.

    • Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the time and effort it took to type out your thoughts.

      Running with your iPad example, the downside is not everyone can own one due to needed service to activate the product plans via credit checks and so forth, and if your credit is bad, a very large deposit is required. Plus, a monthly data plan and finally to buy the games to run on the iPad. Anyone can go out and buy a PC or console without the need to worry about about any of the above. All they need to do is have the money. I am only 36, but I guess that makes me old in the world of gaming as I am not interested at all in the mobile market. Honestly, I want my phone to do two things: make calls and receive calls. Again, I am probably in the minority.

      Perhaps I have my head in the sand, but I simply do not see the mobile market as a threat to PC gaming. Yes, they have come a very long way, but in terms of offering PC gamers an alternative, I am not drinking the Kool-Aid. Would you play an RTS on a handheld? Tablet gaming is a niche market, just as PC gaming is. You also have to consider the constraints required from Apple to gaming developers who can pull titles from their store at the drop of a hat. In the PC gaming world, all you need to do is grab a free WordPress site and distribute your game via direct download with no middleman.

      You also bring up the transition to touch. What makes me nervous is Windows 8. Windows 8 is Windows Phone OS tweaked so it can run on desktops. In my opinion, there is no way I would want to use touch/motion navigation in a Windows environment or anywhere for that matter. Honestly, I have not seen an application where I found motion controls to be practical, even playing games on Wii. The move Microsoft has made with Windows 8 is a clear indication they see touch/motion as the future. I do not like people even pointing closely to my monitor, let alone touching it. 😉

      As for yearly releases, I believe it will get to a point where the market is flooded and people will stop buying. Well, perhaps I wish that were the case. Companies like EA with Madden show that the masses will buy every year just because it is labelled as “new” when in reality all you get are minor cosmetic changes with little or no value.

      In the end, I think PC gaming is safe. At the very least in my lifetime.

      • I do feel the same way. I don’t even like mobile phones 🙂 You’ve put a lot of arguments forward as to why tablets won’t dominate and while they all make sense. I can only hope you’re right. This is one time I don’t want to be right. I’d like to know that for many years to come I’ll still be able to buy fairly cheap parts to build my own desktop machines.

        Still, when I read things like ipad3 sold 3 million units in 4 days, and only a year
        ago ipad2 came out. It’s hard to see it as not gathering unstoppable momentum.

        Oh and Windows8, ugh, I refuse to go near it. I’ll see how long I can hold out
        before things like DirectX forces you to be on Windows8. Hopefully by then there will be nicely hacked versions that put things back the way they should be.

      • Yes, the iPad 3 sold really well, but is there limit to how much the consumer is willing to spend on a yearly basis for minimal upgrades?

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