Thursday 23rd October 2014,
Darkstation

Is PC Gaming Dead? Part 1

Jonathan Miley January 24, 2012 Features, PC 12 Comments

These days, it’s common to hear that PC gaming is dying, and depending on who is saying it, it may seem completely true. There’s only one problem with thinking this: it’s not true. The misconception that PC gaming is dying is an easy assumption to make though considering that console game sales beat their PC brethren each month.  Also, given the limelight piracy has been thrust into with SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect IP Act) you’d think that everyone and their next door neighbor pirates everything and no games actually sell. Then throw in tablet computers and sure, PCs seem like they’re on the way out.

Battlefield 3 Screnshot - PC

PC gaming isn’t dying; just this guy.

But PC gaming isn’t dying, it’s changing.  And there are a ton of questions concerning how. So, coming up,  I’ll be writing several articles about the state of PC gaming to shed some light and commentary on the subject. Hopefully, this will be educational and may even convince some of you to build a PC; to see firsthand why they’re pretty awesome.

I’m going to start things off by tackle something we’ve all heard all little about:

The Problem of Piracy:

It’s no secret that piracy is a big problem. If you need any convincing, just check this out. Piracy is not just a problem for the gaming industry but for every form of media. While is hard if not impossible to find out the true impact piracy has on the economy, one thing is certain: it’s not good.

Wrong Kind of Piracy

This is the best kind of pirate, the only good kind in fact.

Not long before Crysis: Warhead, the expansion to the original Crysis, was released, Cevat Yerli, president of Crytek, said he believes that piracy is the “core” problem with the PC gaming industry. “PC gamers that pirate games inherently destroy the platform. Similar games on consoles sell factors of 4-5 more.” He continued, “[A]ll new franchises we develop in the future will be created with a cross platform strategy in mind… We’re going to support PC, but not exclusive anymore.”

That was 2008 and piracy is still la huge problem. CD Projekt Red estimates that The Witcher 2, released April 2011, is pirated four to five times for every copy sold. That’s simply nuts. Because of this, almost all developers are making cross platform games now (we’ll talk more about that at a later time). The problem is that console versions do not stop people from pirating the PC version. It still happens. Thus, each developer is having to tackle this problem. How they do this is different across the board.

Ubisoft has led news stories with their intense DRM that requires you to stay online the entire time that you play even in an offline game. Obviously there has been a major uproar over this policy, leading Ubisoft to remove the requirement from their god-game From Dust. Likewise, Bioware featured a similar DRM in the PC version of Mass Effect but quickly removed it.

This form of copy control obviously doesn’t work. Another option is for developers to do nothing. In a podcast with DarkZero, Team Meat, makers of Super Meat Boy, discussed their feelings about piracy and their plans to deal with it:

If there are, let’s say 200,000 copies of SMB that are getting passed around for free, that’s 200,000 people who are playing the game. If they like this game there’s a really high probability of their friends coming around and seeing it or them posting about it on their blogs. And it’s not cool to go round and say I really like this game that I stole, so they’re not going to say that. So it’s going to come around to sales.

Super Meat Boy supports your decision to buy his game.

Now, it’s refreshing to see a viewpoint like this and it makes you wonder if pirated games actually lead to sales. I don’t believe they do. I personally know too many people that openly talk about piracy. To them it is cool. They’re proud of it, sticking it to the “man” because of over-priced games and the aforementioned DRM schemes. But there are two serious problems with this idea of over-priced games though.

First, the price of video games has barely gone up in 20 years! In 1990, the price of a NES game was $50. According to inflation, video games should now retail for around $80. But they don’t, they’re $60. And that only changed with this most recent generation of consoles. This only pertains to console games. PC games have withstood this increase even longer than console games did. It’s only been in that past year that most AAA PC titles have shipped for $60.

Okay, so video games have resisted inflation to a pretty insane degree, now let’s look at something on the other side of the inflation fence: film. In 1990, a movie ticket cost about $4. According to inflation, tickets should now cost about $6.50. Instead, tickets now cost $10 (unless you want 3D and then you’re looking at about $15). This is a marked increased. Comparatively, if games had risen in price at the same ratio as a movie did, games would cost $125 a piece, and that’s without night vision goggles.

All this could be yours for only $130! Night vision goggles, art book and Call of Duty Classic sold separately.

The second problem with piracy-rationale is that video games do not exhibit the same type of supply and demand that other consumables do. Games aren’t like gasoline. Yes, games do lose value over time, but developers do their best to keep value up with DLC and online multiplayer. I mean, Modern Warfare 2 still retails for $40. So, let’s get one thing straight, no one is ever going to convince game developers to lower the price of a game by pirating it.

So what’s the answer then? Well, it’s two-fold. The first is taken up by those that make our beloved video games. Since overbearing DRM and doing nothing aren’t the answer, developers are flocking to two alternatives: free-to-play with micro-transactions and multiplatform releases. With F2P, it’s simple: there is nothing to steal if the content is free. You can’t steal what’s free. Multiplatform releases, though, are what we’re seeing more prominently. Recently, John Carmack said in an interview:

We don’t see the PC as the leading platform for games. That statement will enrage some people, but it’s hard to characterize it otherwise; both console versions will have larger audiences than the PC version. A high end PC is nearly ten times as powerful as a console, and we could unquestionably provide a better experience if we chose that as our design point and we were able to expend the same amount of resources on it.

Nowadays most of the quality of a game comes from the development effort put into it, not the technology it runs on. A game built with a tenth the resources on a platform ten times as powerful would be an inferior product in almost all cases.

 It may suck to say it but given how high profile industry vets feel, console sales seem to be what is keeping formerly PC-exclusive developers in business.

Rage against the machine, sure. Don’t try to destroy it all together.

The second part of the solution lies with you. Don’t pirate. Let me say right now that Darkstation.com does not promote piracy in any shape, form or fashion. Please buy these wonderful games that developers spend so much time on. Like I said, if you pirate, you’re not going to convince anyone to lower the price of a game because you pirate. So if you’re tired of the PC playing second fiddle, then buy your next game.

And preferably all the ones after that too.

Well, that does it for Part 1 of “Is PC Gaming Dead?” What do you think, do you agree or *gasp* disagree with me? Please leave comments below and come back for Part 2: The Generational Gap.

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About The Author

Hey there, I'm Jonathan, host of the DarkCast and Feature Editor here on Darkstation. You may be thinking. "How is this guy talking to me? How does he know I'm reading this?" Magic of the internet, my friend...

  • Adam Condra

         Your points about resisting inflation are cogent, but I still think games need to be released lower than $60, especially in the digital market. For example, I’m still furious at Ubisoft for sending Rayman Origins out to die when it did, but even if they had waited after the AAA release season, it still wouldn’t have sold well. $60 is simply too much for a 2-D platformer, as wonderful as that game is. It’s too much for a lot of games, and if publishers are upset because they feel undercut by the used market, piracy, or what have you, they need to be introspective and ask if they’ve made a product that’s worth that amount of money.

         There are a lot of ways to address that, through DLC, pre-order incentives, and early-adopter content, but changing the price to lower the barrier of entry is going to be more effective than anything. It worked for the 2K Football label before EA snatched up NFL exclusivity, and Gabe Newell has all but said “we sell more games when we release them at lower prices.”

         I know this reads a bit naive, because console manufacturers are the ones who impress that MSRP on publishers, and opening up the market to adaptive pricing will make publishers just as likely to price something above 60 and say “it’s worth it,” but it’s not an impossible feat to shy away from a $60 price point and still come out on top. By this point, we’ve all been conditioned to wait a few extra months for better prices to come around. If pubs tried to beat that to the punch there’s no reason their initial sales wouldn’t spike; they just need to find that happy medium.

         As this relates to PC piracy, I think convenience might have just as much to do with pirating games as price. Digital copies, Steam often excepting, cost just as much as physical copies, despite the lack of manufacturing costs. Then you add up all these attempts to regulate gameplay through DRM and it amounts to paying customers having a more bothersome experience than the pirates. If publishers are piling regulation on top of their game experience, then they’ve already lost their argument against piracy.

         All this said, I REALLY want a PC, and I hope more pubs find better solutions for making their PC efforts successful.

    • http://twitter.com/jonathan_miley Jonathan Miley

      I agree with you to an extent. I think that ease of access can eventually trump piracy. It’s so easy, for example, to purchase something on Steam for a few bucks and be playing it not long after. If devs and pubs would make an effort to make game more easily accessible, I think it would curb a lot of piracy, but instead we have companies like Ubisoft that in an effort to secure their title, they make it less accessible.

      I the case of Rayman though, I disagree. I think that game is worth $60. There this idea that 2D is old and 2D is easy and thus not worth what a 3D game is worth. But I think that Rayman Origins is THE best looking game that came out last year and I have really enjoyed it thus far.

      • Adam Condra

        Personally, I agree (full disclosure, I bought it in an Amazon sale for $40). It looks great, and I don’t feel like any of those pennies weren’t redeemed, but I don’t think it was wise of Ubisoft to put out a $60 2D platformer in an age where most people, should they not take the time to discern the difference, can access dozens of other 2D platformers at a much lower cost. Whether it’s flash games or iOS/Droid, Ubisoft has no “at a glance” advantage over anything that’s less expensive.

        • http://twitter.com/jonathan_miley Jonathan Miley

          I actually got it at that price but only because I literally had no money when it was released. That’s what college does to you.
          What I think Ubisoft should have done is ship new copies with a downloadable version of Rayman 2. And shipped it right now, when NOTHING else is being released.

          • Adam Condra

            I’m curious to see how the Vita and 3DS versions of the game do. Seeing as the game sold 50k in its first two weeks, I don’t think it’s imprudent to say it’ll do better on those systems.

          • http://twitter.com/jonathan_miley Jonathan Miley

            R:O has actually sold almost a million worldwide. If they drop the price for its handheld debut, I could see it selling really well. It actually feels very handheld friendly given the quickness of each level.

          • Adam Condra

            That is welcome news. Thank goodness for Europe.

  • Anonymous

    I think one mentality people use to pirate games is similar to pirating films. DVDs and Blu-Rays these days come with a lot of packaged crap, forcing you to skip through a series of ads and trailers before getting to the main menu. FUNimation discs are notorious for including trailers that cannot be skipped at all. When I purchased Scott Pilgrim on Blu-Ray, after wading through all the advertisements and FBI warnings, a good portion of the DVD menu was taken up by a scrolling advertisement. I understand the attraction to pirating films, as they are stripped of this pointless content.

    Video games on PC are not all that different, considering the DRM schemes one must go through in order to play the damn game. For example, a Reddit user posted screens that detailed the long process of starting up Batman: Arkham City for the first time: http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/mx1ya/they_never_learn_do_they/ All that seems pretty ridiculous. DRM schemes that require online activation also alienate those who have poor/unreliable/no Internet access. Ubisoft showed us that constant online DRM negatively impacts gameplay. 

    And I agree with Adam, cost is an important factor. You can charge $40 for the latest Call of Duty and people will still come out in droves to buy it (heck, those who might be on the fence about the series may buy into it sooner if the games were cheaper). And the fact that digital copies aren’t cheaper than retail is, as Adam said, rage-inducing.

    • http://twitter.com/jonathan_miley Jonathan Miley

      Yeah, it is brain-scratchingly dumb that digital games are not cheaper than their physical counterparts. I mean, kindle books are cheaper than physical books in many cases, why not games? It only makes sense.

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