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What is the future of PC gaming?


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I've been thinking. Bad habit, I know...


The PC, as a gaming platform, is superior to consoles. It is more powerful and more customizable, it offers unparalleled support for third party controllers as well as support for independent developers. It is cheaper to develop for, and its native keyboard and mouse interface is significantly more precise than a dual analog stick controller. But all of this comes at a cost - a good gaming PC is a lot more expensive than a console, and it also requires time to set up as well as some technical skill on part of the user. Consoles, in the meanwhile, are cheap, easy to use, require almost no effort to set up, and offer a platform that is at once uniform for everybody and also gives large publishers near total control over content.


In the long term, if you want to make a lot of money, cheap usually wins out over good. But, given that PCs cannot compete on price, they need to offer a superior gaming experience over consoles in order to justify their price (and effort) premium. They certainly have the power to do this, but are game developers and publishers willing to take advantage of that power in order to justify the PC's increased cost?


More and more AAA titles for the PC are simply console ports that don't offer anything over their console versions - in fact, many offer less. There are a few PC-specific things that are key to the gaming experience on the PC that don't really exist on console - things like FOV sliders in 1st and 3d person games, re-bindable controls, support for high frame rates, and customizable graphics settings - and which are commonly not addressed in a typical console port. Then, PC-exclusive AAA titles are more commonly bound up with draconian DRM - as we've seen in Diablo 3 and now Sim City, just to name a few standout examples.


All of this creates frustration for the gamer, and hurts the gaming experience. Still, I think this is not even the worst of it.


Games are becoming more and more dumbed-down. This is not a sinister conspiracy, it's simply the side-effect of games that are made with consoles in mind. The typical console controller has less buttons and generally less precision than a keyboard and mouse setup, and a game that is made with that controller in mind has to have by necessity a simpler interface, and more importantly, simpler mechanics. The FPS genre is a great example. In the past, we've had games with complex mechanics, like the movement in the Quake or Unreal games, which are only possible on keyboard and mouse. But now, with developers like Bungie flat-out stating that most players are preferring to play shooters on a console, such mechanics are largely going to be a thing of the past. Now, I'm not enough of a gamer to list off every single example of mechanics being simplified for consoles, but if even I have noticed it, then it has to be a pretty significant issue. Entire genres of gaming are now at risk - things like traditional RTS or complex simulation games like the combat flight sims of yore.


In essence, this leads me to believe that in order for the PC to survive and indeed thrive as a gaming platform, it needs developers to take advantage of PC-specific strengths, which is unlikely with games that are made with cross-platform compatibility in mind.


Unfortunately, this is not the last of it. Given how far tablets and smartphones have come, I simply don't see the need for a casual user to even own a PC. There really is no reason why you can't do social networking from a tablet just as easily, and a tablet is a lot cheaper, easier to use, and one heck of a lot more convenient than a PC. This, together with the price factor, is why I believe the PC is likely to become a much more niche thing in the future.


Being a niche thing is fine, but being a expensive, high-performance niche is very dangerous. In order to take advantage of the power, you need large developers with extensive budgets making AAA titles. In order for those titles to justify their development cost, there needs to be a more extensive market. A high-performance, expensive platform does not lend itself well to supporting an extensive market, and this is why I'm worried.


Some part of my pessimism is selfish - I'm an FPS player, and I like strategy games as well, both turn-based and real-time. I also have a lot of nostalgia for the old-school space sims and combat flight sims. All of these are genres that are either inferior or straight-up impossible to do on console. Now, there are still games that I enjoy on console - like fighting games, which is probably where I'll migrate to eventually - but I don't want to see the games I enjoy most disappear, or become dumbed-down to the point where I no longer enjoy them, which has already happened with modern FPS.


Thoughts? Am I totally off-base here? What is the way for PC to justify its increased cost and survive as a gaming platform in the future? Will all of this be fixed simply and elegantly with a console that offers native keyboard and mouse support and allows me to play the kinds of games I want to play? Is independent development going to carry the PC, inferior budgets and all, or will somebody make a console that's indie-friendly, thus removing even this market from PC exclusivity? And am I alone in thinking that things like DRM and Microtransactions irritate the hardcore gamer to the point where they consider not buying the games they would otherwise buy in the first place?

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The fact that both the PS4 and the upcoming XBox are going to be x86 based platforms can mean nothing but good things for the future of PC gaming.


Currently the PC now accounts for only about 5-15% of the sales of AAA titles, thus leading to the current situation where developers targeted the XBox 360 as the lead platform and then ported from there. The focus on the last generation console hardware was clearly dragging down a lot of the games ported over to PC. Now that porting will be an order of magnitude simpler, I think (hope) we are going to see more and more games where the PC is the lead platform and the next gen consoles are the ports.


Having just put together a monster PC, I have high hopes for the future of the PC as a gaming platform. Crysis 3 is absolutely stunning when maxed out at 60fps and quite fun to play to boot. I dl'ed SimCity last night and from the few hours I was able to play I can already tell that its going to be a ton of fun as well.


The kind of graphics and smooth-as-butter gameplay you can get on a PC is an incredible upgrade over the current generation of consoles. It's a shame it doesn't show up better in the (compressed) YouTube video comparisons, because the difference really is night and day.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Potentially one of the good things to come out of the next console generation - is the switch back to x86 based hardware.  Should make developing for the consoles be much more in line with how developing for the PC currently is.  Should lead to better "ports" if nothing else.

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