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PC is not just a cash cow

PC is not just a cash cow
Here’s my problem with that. A cash cow is defined as: ‘requiring little investment capital to provide reliable positive cash flows which can be allocated to other divisions’. Too often the PC games market is perceived as a reliable old stager whose main purpose is to provide revenue for more dynamic platforms. But this is surely a self-fulfilling prophecy – the PC market is flat precisely because the funds it generates are being syphoned off elsewhere.

Let’s look at the facts. Far from suffering, companies such as DiCe and Blizzard which commit to the PC platform have reaped substantial returns with their Battlefield and World of Warcraft franchises. THQ invested five years in STALKER and has been rewarded with excellent sales, despite a release date which coincided with the PlayStation3 launch.

And this year’s most anticipated game has to be Crysis, a fully PC, fully DirectX 10 title. Like DirectX 10 RTS World in Conflict and MMOG Age of Conan, Crysis is going to set new standards which will leave the rest of the field far behind. But I’ve still got a nasty feeling that, after the initial excitement has died away, these titles will be stuck away in the PC graveyard at the back of stores.

Some 18 million consumers per quarter download NVIDIA’s 3D drivers – that’s 18 million individuals downloading a driver which allows them to run 3D content on their PCs. So why is there little impetus amongst publishers and retailers to reach out to this market with the creativity which could realise its potential? As far as I can tell, they’re content to listen to their cash cow moo.

Bleeding edge PC games and gamers drive technology, and it never takes long before today’s niche technology is tomorrow’s mainstream norm. A few years ago, owning a GPU at all was the preserve of the enthusiast. Now, with the advent of Windows Vista, the world’s default operating system requires a GPU to run properly. Without the leads created in PC technology, the current next-gen consoles as we know them would not exist.

High Dynamic Range, for example, started life as an unutilised part of Microsoft’s DirectX 9 PC programming language and appeared in PC games only when the power of graphics technology grew to make it viable. Now it’s a default standard in Xbox 360 and PS3. And it was the PC platform which first pushed high definition as the future of gaming – I, for one, prefer my PS3 in HD, thanks very much.

Of course it takes bravery to leave the beaten track, but the rewards for those who succeed in pushing the boundaries are potentially huge. It’s time more developers, publishers and retailers woke up to the fact that their ‘cash cow’ mentality towards the PC market is a load of bull.

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