Since then, it could be argued, the market has been on a downward spiral. According to NPD research, retail sales have slumped from $1.5 billion in 2001 to a measly $970 million last year. On paper it doesn’t look too clever. Retailers drop PC shelf space and publishers want more cross platform development with the key console launches (effectively maiming potential classics like Deus Ex: Invisible War and dumbing-down countless others in the process).
The world and his dog read into the decline, and cite the rising popularity of Microsoft’s joy-box, Nintendo’s Wii-waver and Sony’s Blu-Ray player as the main driving forces. That and the fact that PCs have to be upgraded with expensive hardware to make the best of killer apps like Crysis.
Fair points? Maybe, but they both miss the mark. The fact that retail box sales are in decline means very little to today’s PC gamer (or even astute games devs and publishers). Like the shifting trend in the music industry, the distribution model is evolving. You’ve only got to looks at Steam’s monthly gaming statistics and the massive worth of the MMO market (a cool $1 billion in the West alone) to see digital distribution and monthly subscriptions already overshadow retail boxed sales.
PC gaming isn’t dying – it’s merely maturing.
Gone are the days where a gaming PC cost 1,500 just for a flaky base unit. These days they are cheap, reliable and little more than elaborate Lego sets.
Valve’s invaluable hardware survey shows the typical PC gamer doesn’t spend 450 on a graphics card – in fact, a typical gamer system costs around 500 and can practically be bought off the shelf in Tesco.
Okay, you’re not going to be able to play Crysis with all the bells and whistles, but Crysis is a next-generation game. Whenever a new generation is ushered in, gamers are expected to invest, be it 400 on a PS3, 300 for an Xbox, or 200 on a new graphics card and a stick of RAM.
Beyond Crysis, the only platform you’ll see Unreal Tournament III on this side of Christmas is the PC. It’s just another in a long line of PS3 ‘killer apps’ that have gone south for the winter.
Let’s be honest: they’ve been migrating faster than a particularly eager flock of swifts, and they don’t hang around – just ask Bill Oddie. Beyond all the other cross platform titles, classics like Call of Duty 4 and The Orange Box all appear on PC as the developer intended and a good 20 quid cheaper, too.
Of course, you also don’t have to worry about all the lag and server disconnects or find yourself forced to play alongside pre-pubescent American teens shouting dick fag” at the top of their lungs at every given opportunity.