Saturday, July 18, 2009

PC Gaming

I think it’s safe to say that PC gaming is in a state of decline. Not a particularly shocking revelation, but what never fails to surprise me is how many people have an oversimplified view on the matter. Probably the most common reason I hear for the slow death of gaming on the PC is “Pirates (Yarr!).” While there is some validity to this point there are a significant number of other reasons. Allow me to present six other causes, and please note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list:

#1 DRM. I know what your probably thinking. Isn’t DRM the result of piracy? Well…yes and no. It’s true that DRM is a means in which to fight piracy but it does a lot more to hurt PC gaming that you might initially think. I won’t bother talking about how DRM schemes tend to screw with your computer or the fact that they’re (in some cases) a violation of consumer privacy. Instead let’s just break this down into three key points; trade, borrow, resell. Say I buy a game for the PS3. If I want I can lend it to a friend, or trade games with said friend. Plus, I can resell the game and recoup some of the cost of my initial purchase. All of these things would be very difficult, or down right impossible to do, if I had bought the same title for the PC thanks to DRM.

#2 Non-standard Hardware and Software. I’ll lump these two together simply because they’re kind of the same problem. PC’s can come with a variety of motherboards, CPUs, graphics cards, hard drives, etc. all of which have their own operating specs. Trying to make a game on the PC that is compatible with all these types of hardware configurations is a real pain for game developers. It’s also a headache for people who play because every time they install a game on their computer and try to run it they have to cross their fingers and hope that it doesn’t crash right back to the desktop because of some incompatibility. Couple this with having to hunt around on-line for troubleshooting guides or driver updates. Then top it off with the fact that operating systems ranging anywhere from Linux to Windows 95 all the way up to Windows 7 (not to mention all the versions of Mac OS) and you got yourself some serious range to cover.

#3 Higher Cost. At the time I’m writing this article the PS3 and Xbox360 are going for $300 a unit. I think it’s safe to say that an up to date gaming PC is going to cost two to three times that amount. Granted PCs can do more, but I think not unreasonable to point out that a lot of people don’t feel the need use their computer for anything more than Facebook and Email.

#4 Lack of Support. Let’s face it. Up until very recently Apple has done their best to not support gaming on the Mac and since the arrival of the Xbox360 Microsoft has done their best to kill gaming on the PC in an attempt to sell more consoles. Maybe that will change when Google releases their new OS, but for now the big two providers of computer operating systems are basically against gaming on the PC. Oh well…we still got Flash Media games to count on…I guess.

#5 Laptops. Let me start by saying that I don’t have anything personally against laptops. I use one regularly and I can see why many people would consider their compact and portable design a key factor in purchasing one over a desktop. That said they’re not a very good platform when it comes to gaming. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I am entirely sure that a lot of PC owners out there have a laptop and not a desktop.

#6 On-Line Gaming. This used to be a PC exclusive. If you wanted to play on-line games you had to do it on your PC. But since the introduction of services such as Xbox Live and PSN it has become possible to enjoy on-line gaming on non-PC platforms. Hence PC gaming has lost one of its big advantages over the competition. One wonders what would happen if they introduced keyboard and mouse support to the PS3 and Xbox360.

All the points I have mentioned above interrelate to some degree. In fact I would go so far as to say they interweave to create a tapestry enveloping and slowly smothering PC gaming to death. Some cling to the hope that digital distribution will somehow save PC gaming industry (which I might add pioneered the kinds of games we enjoy today). Frankly though, I don’t see it. As long as the trend of “pay more, get less” continues it will just be one nail in the coffin after another.