The Death Strangulation Migration of PC gaming

Death?

Now that I have a PC fast enough to run modern games, a startling thing that I noticed is just how few of them there are.  I have not bought that many games over the past few years – I was busy with school.   Even so, I somehow owned over half of the (worthwhile) games the local BestBuy had in stock (most of which were mentioned in yesterday’s entry).

In some BestBuys, this would be your Windows Game section.

In some BestBuys, this would be your Windows Game section.

A times like this, my first reaction is to wonder if PC gaming is dying, or even dead.  However, I have a hard time believing that’s truly the case when we’ve awesome games coming out soon: Spore, Warhammer Online, and Fallout 3 among them.   And yet, it seems clear to me that the release rate has decreased over PC gaming’s prime.

I don’t have to take the reduced shelf space at the local computer game stores as the only indicator, consider GameSpot’s New Release List.  On a week-by-week basis, the PC has more or less the same number of releases as a console, but the list is now being heavily padded by obscure indy games, Korean MMORPGs, and even the occasional hentai dating sim.   When did listing those games become neccessary?

Strangulation?

Perhaps it’s more like PC gaming is strangled.

  • Strangled by the tired old procession of clones.  So many games, so little creativity between them.
  • Strangled by excessive competition from consoles: PC is competing for your gaming dollar versus the likes of the Sony, Nintendo, and even Microsoft (talk about a conflict of interest).  Even your cell phone is playing for your gaming time.
  • Strangled by excessive software piracy: it’s hard for big-name companies to take the PC game market seriously when so many people are adept at stealing their products.
  • Perhaps even strangled by MMORPG player retention mechanics, steadily bleeding $15/mo out of every involved gamers’ budget.

It’s not that difficult to imagine a number of reasons why the PC gaming industry would be strangled, but then what?

Perhaps a strangled PC market is a good thing.  Less cluttered shelf space certainly makes finding the gems easier.   Having to buy less games now means having more money around to buy games later.  Most importantly, it leaves the door open to indies, who can sometimes produce something quite exceptional.  In a way, my recent BYOND dabbling is very much the work of an indy, and I wouldn’t have a chance of dazzling anyone with a tile-based 2D engine if they weren’t pretty desperate by now.

Migration!

Perhaps what’s really going on is that PC gaming is neither dead nor particularly strangled, but rather migrated. Maybe the place to look for PC games these days is not at the shelves of BestBuy.  Maybe the place to look for PC games these days is online.  There’s quite a few online services that make getting games easy and affordable without ripping off the developers and/or publishers.  For example:

Direct2Drive – Services like Direct2Drive are becoming increasingly more common.  Simply browse their online game catalog, buy one you like with your credit card, and download.   No fear of losing your download: Direct2Drive saves purchased game information to the individual accounts, so you can simply redownload as neccessary.  They often have big-name games available on a same-day basis – why walk all the way down to the store or struggle with reservations?

Steam – Through Steam, Valve has expanded the mechanism for securely selling the Half-Life series to interested third parties.  There’s considerable debate as to what qualifies as a Steam-powered game (it seems to be an arbitrary Valve employee decision) but the nice thing about Steam is that a healthy majority of the PC gaming public has it installed and running.

GameTap – This subscription-based PC game library includes both a wide number of proven classics and “GameTap Originals” such as the Grimm series.  Many games (currently 143)  are completely free: simply download the software, create an account, and play.  These are simply the hook to unlock complete access to all (currently 1043) games, at a very reasonable $60/year price.  GameTap is essentially a season’s pass to the bargain bin, and there’s quite a few good games of yesteryear you may have missed.

Indeed, it seems the Internet has been around long enough that the problem with PC gaming is not availability of games so much as simply finding them.  The Internet is an undeniably collosal pile of hay in which to dig for needles. I begin to understand the appeal of a dedicated gaming gem hunter, as I certainly don’t have the patience for it.

One Response

  1. I agree with what you say. I’m not sure if I think this is a good thing or not. It’s definately easier to get the games, and I’ve seen plenty of good deals on games on there all the time. I could see some games even being sold for less $$ since the producer doesn’t have to pay for distribution. Or, this could help generate more revenue for game dev firms, since they’re selling games for about $15 less than they are worth considering their price a few years ago. Most gamers wouldn’t notice, unlike how some did with MW2 being priced $10 more than other games.

    But it does take away the satisfaction of owning a physical copy. It’s the same argument of books vs. eBooks. You can’t show off your library if everything is stored electronically. And the lack of PC Games on the shelves makes it seem like they are dieing out to the average consumer.

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