David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-02-12 13:21:27
PC - Rank B
[Updated May 6, 2009; The opening phrase of significant updates are denoted in blue font.]
Some pundits have declared the demise of PC gaming. Times are, in fact, tough for the platform. Developers are gravitating toward designing for consoles as the lead platform and porting them to the PC, instead of the other way around. PC sales continue to diminish - 2007's marquee exclusive release, Crysis, failed to sell even 100,000 copies. (A huge number of people chose to acquire pirated copies via BitTorrent.)
A major issue is that despite continually falling hardware costs, PC gaming is expensive. My current rig, which I pieced together for $1200 about two years ago, is a costly GPU away from meeting the recommended specs for Crysis. It's rough when your fiscal sense advises you that you could pick up an Xbox 360 for the same price as that video card. PC aficionados will be quick to counter that you'll also want a costly big screen television for that console. True, but it is also a television, for watching broadcasted shows and DVDs as well. Sitting ergonomically at a comfortable distance from a big screen always trumps eyeballing a monitor from a few feet. 1080p on a big screen at the proper viewing distance and a steady framerate makes for a far better experience than a super-high rez output that your computer stutters and chokes on. Or if it comes down to it, you can simply plug a console into your computer monitor.
Then there's the patching, tweaking, and troubleshooting required to get the most out of PC gaming. You can either throw money (upgrading to overpriced hardware that simply overpowers the issue) or time (scouring over forums and fiddling with system and game settings until you know what you're doing) at the problem. Neither is a particularly satisfying solution compared to simply popping a disc into a console and gaming straightaway.
Nevertheless, PC gaming provides exclusive experiences unavailable on any game console. Eleven million World of Warcraft players are a testament to that. Developers keep trying to force RTS games like Command and Conquer onto the Xbox 360, but the PC's mouse and keyboard are simply necessary to properly interface these games. PC gaming will survive and thrive. Developers just need to maneuver away from catering to the supercilious elitist crowd that looks down on anything less than a $5,000 rig with multiple GPUs and a PhysX card. A major reason World of Warcraft has achieved its unparalleled success is how well it scales down to underpowered computers. Instead of requiring additional hardware, programmers need to organically task more duties to the multi-cores that are becoming increasingly more commonplace.
Steam has emerged as the pioneering digital distribution platform. An increasing number of games are purchasable through this service, from marquee mainstream blockbusters to quirky indie titles. Not only does Steam save you a trip to the store, it also manages and auto-updates your library of games. We need more of this kind of seamless experience that can streamline the PC gaming experience. The result is the unification and fostering of the hardcore and casual markets, and that's good for everyone.
In any case, the PC is home to many quality games that are either exclusive to the format, or significantly superior to their console counterparts because of the interface. PC gaming will never die; we just need to be smart about how we approach it. I don't think it's worth assembling true "gaming rigs". If you're hardcore, you can shop around for the dirt cheapest prices and assemble your own rig, but this requires significant know-how and patience. Alternatively, just purchase whichever system is powerful enough to fulfill your everyday computing needs, and get only games that run smoothly on them. The sensible thing to do would be to wait a few years until your next computer to play bleeding edge games. In the meantime, the explosion of the casual market provides plenty of entertaining distractions.