Aside from the ever-infuriating “Are games art? non-question — usually posed by earnest, educated gamers deathly afraid that they are wasting their divinely inspired talents on something as trivial as having fun blowing stuff up or roleplaying a fetching Dwarf — no topic refuses to die like the debate surrounding the health of PC gaming. Just as the ink begins to dry on a premature post-mortem for the PC as a gaming platform, a deathbed reprieve arrives in time to declare the venerable old PC viable once again. World of Warcraft to the rescue! Steam saves the day! PopCap, Peggle, and Facebook social games for everybody!
In the face of such chest-beating bravado as Cliffy B’s probably accurate prediction-slash-fantasy that Gears of War 3 will sell upwards of 10 million copies, plus the fact that retailers such as GameStop now relegate boxed PC titles to a little dusty shelf under the remaindered Pokemon plush toys, it’s hard not toss the loving cup to the consoles and declare the PC a valiant also-ran. But what about digital distribution? Steam doesn’t release sales figures, but some industry analysts suggest that over half of all PC games are sold through Valve’s service, and since virtually every life form on the planet has a Facebook page, it’s probably true that “PC gaming”–very loosely defined–dwarfs console games.
We all know the parameters of the debate: closed systems (consoles) versus open systems (PC) and their upgrade paths and superior graphics processing power; the huge install base for PCs, countered by the wide availability of console games at big box retailers; and the family-friendly “gather around the big-screen” image balanced against the techno-nerd, got-to-load-the-latest-drivers, DIY vibe still associated with PC gaming.
So, who is winning?
A HELPFUL INFOGRAPHIC TO THE RESCUE
The folks at Column5 and Ignite Game Technologies, makers of online auto racing game Simraceway have put together a helpful infographic on the rise of non-console gaming. This retro infographic explores how the PC managed to regain its place in the gaming world.
It’s an interesting graphic, to be sure, but even the most ardent PC champion has to question, if not the validity of the facts, some of the comparisons. For example, matched against NCAA Football on consoles, Starcraft 2 is a clear sales winner. Take that, inferior console! But is it valid to compare one of industry-leader Blizzard’s most anticipated flagship titles to a somewhat-nichy sports game? Starcraft 3 sales would be decimated by day-one Gears of War sales (or Halo 3 sales, or Madden 12 sales, etc) [Editor's Note: Week-one sales for Gears of War 3 eclipsed 3million]
While it’s true that upgradeable graphics processors on the PC can out-gun the fixed GPUs of the current gen consoles, how many “PC gamers” — you know, the ones who get their game on with Plants vs Zombies, not just the fans of Bulletstorm – have high-end cards? Almost 10 per cent of Americans have no internet access or still use dialup modems. Like the vast majority of “bought it at the Best Buy” PC gamers, they’re probably not rocking the latest Radeon or GeForce GPUs.
Ignoring the cliché image of a typical gamer being an overweight male with Cheetos clinging to his beard, the most confusing statistic is that 72% of all households play computer or videogames. So now, all gamers are one, big, happy statistic?
NO END TO THE DEBATE, BUT WE ALL WIN
You get the idea. The infographic might be flawed, and possibly a product of wishful promotional thinking by a PC developer, but studies do suggest that since 2008, PC gaming is on the rise, and not entirely a by-product of Farmville. A large number of big-budget games appear simultaneously on consoles and PC, and there is still an endless amount of inventiveness and creativity in the PC game industry.
To me, the most encouraging statistic is the incredible continued rise of gaming in the entertainment sector, because it signals the potential for increased legitimacy, artistry, depth, and recognition for the hobby that we all enjoy. There’s no doubt that, if you are a developer, the console vs PC debate is a matter of some significance, but for the rest of us, the continued good health of the PC is just more good news.