tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

The most lively corpse I’ve ever seen

I’m a PC gamer. Sure, I’ve owned consoles, and I still do, and I didn’t really have a gaming-ready PC for about 3 years, but it’s always been my platform of choice when it comes to playing the newest games.

That said, keeping up with PC news is getting harder and harder for me. This isn’t because it’s being drowned out or neglected (although one might be able to make such a case) but because almost every single article contains some throwaway line about how the PC gaming market is dying or already dead.

First off, I’ll acknowledge that consoles have really taken off in the past few years. This generation of consoles is capable of far more than the last, and for the most part they deliver quality gaming experiences. That said, it irritates the hell out of me when someone interprets news like this as yet another sign of PC gaming’s imminent demise.

The most commonly-cited argument is piracy. True, the fact that the PC platform is open (relatively speaking) makes games easier to pirate. However, this is nothing new. Before BitTorrent, there was Usenet; before that, there was the shady corner store that sold copies of your favourite games for $5 (incredibly popular when I was in high school). The only thing that has changed is that the gaming market has gotten a lot bigger.

The CEO of Stardock said something particularly interesting recently which I think rings very true – some people are going to pirate your game no matter how much you try to stop them, so there’s no point in trying to. Instead, aim at the people whom you KNOW will buy your games. Stardock used to be known for tools such as Windowblinds, but as of late, they’ve become a pretty successful PC game publisher. In particular, Sins of a Solar Empire quietly sold 200,000 copies in its first month of sale this year, in spite of not containing copy protection of any kind.

Another quote from the article which I find particularly interesting goes as follows:

The way to make money in the world of PC gaming, according to Wardell, is to make sure many systems can play your games, while continuing to make them attractive.

When judged in the context of what kind of developer Crytek is, the real reason Crysis didn’t sell becomes pretty clear. In every piece of coverage and interview about the game, Crytek was constantly hyping up the fact that you would need a powerful machine to run their game. I suspect this inadvertently restricted their target audience to people with PCs who could actually run the game, which was probably way too small to meet their sales projections.

Scalability is something so many people who develop for the PC fail to grasp. PC games need to be designed to run on as wide a range of hardware as possible if they’re to reach the maximum audience. Team Fortress 2 will run on pretty much any decent computer purchased or built in the last 3 years. The aforementioned Sins of a Solar Empire has system requirements that suggest a video card from 4 years ago as being adequate to play. And of course there’s the ubiquitous World of Warcraft, that will run on pretty much any machine out there today. And yet, when Ubisoft performs a poorly-optimized, shoddy port of Assassin’s Creed to the PC, they complain that no-one is buying PC games, and the market is doomed. It’s true that there are limits to scalability (expecting Half-Life 2 to run on your integrated graphics card with shared video memory is asking to be laughed at) but at the very least games should be able to degrade their visual fidelity so as to run on lesser hardware.

That said, the issue of hardware is often overblown by critics of PC gaming. Used to buying a new console every few years, they seem to assume that PC gamers need to upgrade their video cards every time a new one is released. It goes without saying that this is utter nonsense. My current PC gaming rig cost me a shade under $1,100, and that was because I opted for a number of components which I probably didn’t need (like a dedicated sound card and an SLI motherboard). It’s entirely possible to build a PC that’s decent for gaming for well under $1,000. The trick, as always, is to aim at the second tier of parts, just under the ‘top-of-the-range’ items that manufacturers market to enthusiasts. My own PC has a GeForce 7900GS, a video card that was considered state of the art sometime in 2006. Yet I can run games like Bioshock with all the bells and whistles turned on, and highly-scalable games like Team Fortress 2 run like a dream.

There are still several things I like about PC gaming. I like the fact that PCs are modular in nature, making it easy for me to swap components whenever I deem it necessary. I also prefer the variety of input methods available to me – I can use a mouse and keyboard for my FPS and RTS games, but if I feel like playing something like Psychonauts or Prince of Persia all I need to do is plug in a gamepad. I like how I can fine-tune the peformance of my games as well – if running Bioshock at 1680×1050 kills my framerate, then I can knock down the resolution to 1600×900 to turn on all the graphical details (and still get a higher resolution than the Xbox 360 version of the game, by the way). I love how I can get full retail titles over my Internet connection through services like Steam or Stardock’s upcoming Impulse. I particularly love how PC games have so much longevity thanks to excellent community-generated content like mods and custom maps – and of course community interest translates into continued developer interest in maintaining the game in question.

I probably do end up paying more to maintain my hobby than the average console gamer, but I think that’s a tradeoff I can live with.

2 comments

2 Responses to “The most lively corpse I’ve ever seen”

  1. AcidicEnema says:

    Its funny how much money there is to be made off the fringes, outside whatever revenue generating structure is considered “current”. Arcade fighters were declared “dead” by Capcom no less, 5-6 years ago, and we’re getting 4 big titles this year. I guess profits are still to be made cause people just don’t change as fast as we’re supposed to, and that’s a damn good thing.

    • sonictempest says:

      That’s true. Heck, every major release for the PS2 is lauded by game journalists as the system’s “swan song,” only for 3 more games to be announced for the platform. First it was Rogue Galaxy, then Final Fantasy XII, then God of War 2, Persona 3…

      For a supposedly outdated system it’s still doing really well. Although I suppose this has more to do with the fact that it sold millions of units, heh.

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