Microsoft, Nvidia and Intel are reportedly ganging together to form an alliance that will save PC gaming. But does PC gaming actually need saving?
“No,” says Ross Atherton, the editor of PC Gamer magazine. “There's still pots of cash in PC gaming - just ask Blizzard, Sports Interactive, NCsoft, Valve, THQ, Popcap, Gamersgate etc. Nvidia aren't doing too badly either, according to their latest financials.”
Falling sales, better consoles
Critics of PC gaming point to falling copy sales and the increasing popularity of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Both are cheap in comparison to a high-end gaming rig.
But while sales of AAA PC games aren’t matching the likes of Gears of War or Halo 3, the very landscape of PC gaming has evolved. So much so, you could argue that the PC is where all the innovation is; that PC gaming is leading the way…
“The PC as a platform is evolving as the internet does,” suggests Alec Meer, editor of rockpapershotgun.com. “Indie and self-published development is on the rise, fully able to explore bolder ideas and entertain niche audiences now that online distribution frees it from the traditional costs and red tape of retail publishing.”
“It's true that retail sales of boxed copies have fallen,” agrees PC Gamer’s Ross Atherton. “But that's due to gamers pursuing other modes of gaming and purchasing, which many sales figures don't take into account, and which don't show up on most analysts' radars.”
The PC endlessly innovates
Not only has the PC pioneered online games distribution and massively multiplayer gaming, but the PC offers a wider variety of games than its console cousins currently do.
“Look at the amount of choice we've got,” says Alec Meer, “from mods to webgames to free MMOs to services like Steam - the iTunes of gaming, able to deliver a vast back catalogue of games straight to our hard drives.”
True. But console gaming is cheap, easily accessible, and you don’t have to turn down the game detail because your graphics card can’t handle the texturing. Yet console gaming is also tirelessly predictable - FPS titles, driving games, beat-‘em ups and sports sims abound.
Where’s the innovation? It’s on the PC. Look no further than World of Warcraft, Second Life, EVE Online, Will Wright’s Spore…
“The PS3's most innovative and exciting game of 2008, Little Big Planet, wouldn't exist without lessons learned from PC gaming's DIY user-led core,” suggests Dan Dawkins, editor of PSM3 magazine.
“If PC games can continue to push the boundaries, especially with the less mass-market fare that console publishers tend to avoid, the drip through effect is good news for all gamers. The onus is on PC gaming to innovate further.”
Does PC gaming really need saving?
So what then makes Microsoft, Nvidia and Intel think that PC gaming needs to be saved?
“The sad fact is that these three would love to be seen as the guardians of all things PC,” says Richard Cobbett of PC Plus magazine. “But they're not. Their existence is built on expensive kit that only a tiny subset of the gaming world cares about, never mind goes out to buy.
”The only thing this kind of alliance is likely to do is get the key players' names slapped onto a few more high profile titles, letting them feel like they're running the party, not simply loud guests.
Microsoft gets to pretend it owns the PC platform. Nvidia can continue claiming it's the “Way It's Meant To Be Played”. And Intel? It gets some more time to sit back and write its autobiography: "I Remember AMD".