Well, are they? It’s a topic which has been discussed a lot during the first half of 2009 and depending on who you ask and when you’ll get a series of different answers – and I’ve definitely been guilty of trying to persuade others one way or the other, which is due to more than just my argumentative nature. It’s a complex issue.
It’s probably an over-inflated issue too because, interpreted in the widest possible way, the answer to ‘Are PC Games Dying Out?’ is simple.
No, they aren’t. PC games have never been bigger – there are regular releases, several big exclusives every year, a glut of exciting new developers rising out of the indie scene like zombies from graves and there is, of course, the mammoth MMO genre. Specifically, there is World of WarCraft (and a few more notable cousins too, such as EVE). WoW is the trump card that gets pulled out by anyone who chooses to support the PC as a platform - but this single game isn't enough to keep the platform afloat, and indeed, its success may be one of PC gaming's problems.
A look at the weekly top 10 sales charts for PC games, stocked with the Sims, WoW and CoD4 is enough to tell you that there are issues - for big publishers at least - with the direction PC gaming is going in. We've decided to take a look at the state of PC gaming and see if the complaints are justified, if we'll ever see another game like Crysis, and if the current model of big publishers and multi-million dollar development budgets is sustainable when it comes to PC gaming.
Is PC gaming dying?
The obvious place to start is World of Warcraft: it has more than 12 million players, a simply astonishing statistic when you consider that all of those people pay a monthly fee. The figures boggle on the borders of comprehension, but boiled down we know that WoW alone makes up around 56 percent of Activision Blizzard’s total income, meaning that that one single game sells more than Tony Hawk, Call of Duty and Guitar Hero do on all platforms even when combined.
So, no. PC games aren’t dying. Just look at how much money they make.
Except that to present those easy and regularly spouted arguments doesn’t actually tackle the depth of the problem and every step in that elaborate rebuttal can be easily deflected. It’s also irrelevant for fans to confidently take that position if it’s at all detached from the facts as the large publishers see them.
So, let’s play Devil’s Advocate. While there are definitely regular releases for the PC it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a lot of those games are going to be multiplatform titles, also available on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. There are times when it seems that nearly every new release is actually just an Xbox 360 game at heart, targeted at that console and then moved to the PC because Microsoft made it so easy to port it to PC. In that regard this issue also affects the PS3, which isn’t as easy to transfer code to according to some developers. All that, while easily skipping over the recently covered issue of how bad most game ports are.
Indie developers are increasingly moving to consoles to turn a profit
As for those ‘several big exclusives’ that come to the PC every year, yes there are a few and they are often very, very good and we love them to bits…but there’s no way that a game like the PC exclusive Men of War is going to do as well as Halo Wars. It may be successful in its own right and we hope it is, but that level of success is beyond its reach and not just for brand and budgetary issues either. That fact limits the ambitions and future of the developer and franchise.
As for the indie community, which is the last bastion of innovation to many – if small and free games are the future of the PC games industry then it likely won’t be a true industry for long. Especially not when consoles are forever poaching the talent for PSN, WiiWare and XBLA and developers know they can get an easily accessible captive audience there. Just ask Jonathan Blow about why Braid came out on the Xbox 360 first, for example, or why Metanet took N+ to consoles and handhelds as a retail product despite the history on the PC.
As for MMOs, while we can’t even pretend to have an argument that refutes the success of WoW, it is worth pointing out that there’s not been an MMO yet that’s come close to being that successful – even with the might of the Star Wars, Matrix or Warhammer licenses behind them. Everyone talks about ‘the next WoW’ every time a new MMO comes out, but it’s yet to arrive – and when it does it may well be on a console.
Besides, what about those of us who don’t like MMOs? What about those hardcore singleplayer gamers who are aching for the next Deus Ex – what hope do they have on the PC compared to the Xbox or PlayStation?