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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.