We’ve heard time and time again over the past five or six years “PC gaming is dead.” Sure, any gamer can tell the industry is heading towards new horizons; new ideas and innovations like motion controls, super-powered handhelds, digital distribution, and free-to-play games seem to be ushering in a new era of gaming.
Where does the PC stand in all of this? Once thought to be the unmatched king of graphics, speed and multiplayer, the PC is seeing perhaps the biggest changes to its formula in order to meet the industry’s demands. But is the platform truly dead?
Let’s take a step back in time. It’s the early ’90s, in a school library. Huddled around their computer screens, a small group of students tap feverishly at their keyboards, and pass floppy discs back and forth. The computers are hooked up to a local area network; the students taunt each other, and whisper quiet plans. A moment later, the speakers from one computer echo with the scratchy, fuzzy WAV-sound of a space marine meeting his doom, and an uproar of laughter and groans is heard from the students.
This was the golden age of PC gaming. Back then, PC gaming was about technical know-how, and high-end PC hardware, trading shareware copies of DOOM and marveling at Quake’s graphics. It was about a group of friends coming together to have a friendly round of deathmatch.
Admittedly, many gamers like myself are too young to have been much of a part of that. Still, we owe a lot to PC gaming. Things like Xbox Live, The Playstation Network, Halo” and Gears of War would never have existed if not for the PC. Where gamers used to string their PCs up in order to play a few rounds of Starcraft, now we can simply log in to online services like Xbox Live, Steam and Battle.net; where the PC was once the pinnacle of graphics power, we now have home consoles and even portable devices that rival even the best of PC games.
With so many of these features now streamlined and available to gamers, one might be left wondering if paying for an expensive gaming PC is worth it, if PC gaming is a “dead” platform. Why should gamers stick with the PC?
For starters, no matter what console developers want you to believe in, the PC is still the reigning champion of the graphics war. Games developed and optimized for the PC are arguably leaps and bounds ahead of the consoles in terms of graphical capabilities, though it wouldn’t be surprising for someone not to notice. The problem is that most developers these days want to reach the more widespread and diverse audience of console gamers, and therefore make games that can easily run within the static hardware of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Still, that doesn’t mean they’re all created equal. PC versions most often boast the highest graphics resolutions, as well as DX11 support for high-powered particle and lighting effects, and smoother polygons and shadows. As newer and stronger graphics engines are released, the PC is where you’ll be able to get to see them in action first — and at high quality — while console gamers will have to wait for more powerful machines.
The beauty of PC gaming is that it also gives casual gamers a platform as well. For those who aren’t as worried about super-charged graphics, kill-death ratios or low ping numbers, the PC has a bevy of free-to-play games thanks to unrivaled connection to the world’s largest network: the Internet. Social networking sites like Facebook have become Meccas of free, online casual games, with everything from Farmville to Mario available to play.
But the free doesn’t stop there. A growing trend on the PC is that of full-version, free-to-play games. Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, Massive Multiplayer Online games like Perfect World, Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online, and upcoming games like Tribes: Ascend, all offer fully featured hardcore games entirely for free.
By utilizing “micro-transaction” marketplaces, players can buy new skins, accessories, and in some cases even new maps or weapons for low prices — vastly cheaper than the price of a retail game. While the free-to-play model is still developing, more and more free-to-play games are coming out that are not only easy to start playing, but also just as good as any $60 game you’ll find at your local store.
This business model will one day find its way onto consoles. But some genres like MOBAs, MMORPGs, RTS games, and even fast, twitch-based FPSs like Quake will always be unique to the PC. And through services like Steam, GOG.com, and EA’s Origin, PC gamers can buy and download their games quickly and easily. Sure, Sony has the Playstation Network and Microsoft Xbox Live, but these can’t offer the fast downloads or easy access to a large library of retail games that PC services can. Until they do, the consoles will be another step behind the PC.
Tablets might be simple and easy to use, consoles might offer a streamlined approach to gaming, and handhelds might give you portability and convenience a laptop could never match, but the PC is still a viable platform for gaming. Consoles have their place, and it’s one all gamers welcome, but as technology continues to accelerate forward, the PC will be where the innovation, evolution and execution of ideas takes place — as it always has been.
Just look at what the PC has to offer: the best graphics, the fastest speeds, a growing trend of promising free-to-play games, and thanks to upgradable hardware, full control over your games and entertainment. Plus, Internet browsers come standard on every PC, something no game console currently on the market can say.
Some games may work better on consoles, and some better on PC, but at the end of the day, it comes down to what you want out of your video game experience. And what you want today might be different tomorrow.
As for myself, the power and freedom of PC gaming is exactly what I want. From where I’m standing, not only is the PC alive and well, there’s never been a better time to be a PC gamer.
Are you a PC gamer, or do you think the platform is dead or dying? Sound off in the comments!
This piece was written by Brendan and originally ran in Oregon State University’s newspaper The Daily Barometer.