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.

6 responses to “PC Games in Trouble

  1. The PC vs. console thing swings back and forth, especially around the genesis of a new console generation. Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses (as you note). I don’t think anything suggests that either will ‘win’ any time soon.

    We may see a long-term decline in PC games, but that will be caused by a concurrent decline in PCs themselves.

  2. The decline (as charted in the post I referenced) began in 1999 and has continued ever since. The PS2 wasn’t even released in the US until late 2000. That means the decline has outlasted an entire console cycle. It cannot simply be “cyclical.”

    Really good gaming PCs have always cost a substantial amount of money, and still do. Consoles, even at their introduction, cost significantly less despite being extremely powerful nowadays. And consoles are more user-friendly. Pretty good reasons for a persistent decline…

  3. It would be interesting to note that console and PC “Package” Games are almost non-existent in Korea and other Asian countries except Japan.

  4. The Asian gaming market (ex-Japan) is driven almost entirely by “non-package” PC (online) game revenues, yes.

    Taewon, would you happen to know of any public websites or newsletters that do a good job of reporting revenues for Asian games? Or, if not, in-depth reports of popularity?

  5. James Squires

    Interesting post, but I don’t think you need to worry too much about pc gaming vanishing. Consoles are good, for specific game types (ie sports games, driving games), but have you every played a RTS on one? Even FPS aren’t much chop on consoles. Why? Nothing to do with the graphics. It is about the controls, and environment when playing.

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