PC Games in Trouble

Warning: serious stream-of-consciousness ramble ahead.

Today I tried to install Stubbs the Zombie on my PC, but the installation failed. I have no idea why. Three weeks ago, I spent two hours trying to recover from a driver update gone awry. This weekend I hope to find time (hah!) to format my desktop’s hard drive, in hopes of eliminating some serious Windows-related performance slowdown issues. Why am I writing all this? Because I think it helps explain why the AAA PC game market is shrinking, despite a recent surge in PC sales.

I’ve always loved PC games ever since I played Space Quest 1. I still think the PC is a superior gaming platform. The problem is, that’s just not enough anymore. PCs are finicky, bulky creatures. Consoles are (mostly) stable — pop in a game, and you know it’ll work. Much more importantly, consoles only cost a few hundred dollars. If you want to play the latest AAA PC games (as they were intended to be played), you need to spend at least a thousand dollars every few years in order to keep your hardware up to date. Unfortunately for the majority of Americans, that’s a serious problem. Given the reliabiliity and cost issues, as well as the fact that consoles are now amazingly powerful machines, I just don’t see great hope for the PC.

On the other hand, the rise of MMOGs does seem to help counteract PC game market shrinkage. I find it hard to imagine playing social games without a keyboard, and there aren’t (currently) enough consoles connected online to challenge PCs for MMO dominance. It’s also still much easier to facilitate user-created content on the PC than it is on a console, and I firmly believe in the revenue-generating power of user-created content. Counter-Strike isn’t the most popular online FPS of all time for nothing! (Read here about the positive effect CS had on Half-Life sales.) And Microsoft’s commitment to the viability of the PC as a gaming platform certainly helps. Maybe these factors (among others) will serve to permanently preserve the health of the PC gaming market. As an avid PC gamer, I’d like to think so. But I won’t hold my breath.

PS. This post is US-specific. I doubt that the PC gaming market in South Korea will slump anytime soon!

Update: Forgot to emphasize — I’m talking about AAA games here, not casual games.

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