The platform once considered dead by most media accounts is being revitalized in ways that many pundits wouldn’t have seen coming. There’s a renewed interest in enthusiast computing, and it’s all thanks to PC gaming … again.
The PC’s emergence as a gaming platform came via the massive success of DOS and Windows during the late 1980s and ’90s. No console at the time came close to the PC’s ability to produce amazing visuals—games like Warcraft, Unreal Tournament, The Elder Scrolls, and Doom were light-years ahead. The PC became the platform of gaming innovation, birthing countless genres that continue to this day, such as first-person shooters, real-time strategy, simulation, and many others.
Of course, PC gaming eventually fell on hard times when consoles stole significant market share for a number of years. The Playstation, Xbox, Playstation 2, and Xbox 360 had a detrimental effect on the PC as a gaming platform. Even tried-and-true PC genres like shooters finally fell victim to the consoles, thanks to franchises like Halo and Call of Duty.
PC gaming never died, but even five years ago it was in pretty rough shape. Most PC game releases were ports of console games, often released long after the console debut. Integrated graphics stagnated as PCs became commodity items, so the installed base of gaming-capable machines shrank.
Developers often considered PC gaming and piracy one in the same, thereby shackling games released for the PC with restrictive and overbearing Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies to control the use of their content (Spore, from Electronic Arts Inc., is a classic example). Fortunately, better-quality visuals and a few key franchises like World of Warcraft, Civilization, SimCity 4, and Battlefield kept the true enthusiast market alive.
Today, PC gaming is bigger than ever. Valve Corp.’s Steam gaming service has revolutionized distribution and management of PC games, thanks in part to crazy sales, but mostly by proving that PC gamers will accept DRM when it improves the gaming experience rather than simply making it frustrating.
Say what you will about Windows Vista, but Microsoft’s dogged OS pushed chip makers to finally do something about integrated graphics. Modern games once again are playable on budget PCs, and while the experience may not be great, “playable” creates customers.
Indie game makers have also helped the revival, bringing innovation to PC platforms as many gamers tire of age-old franchises and console genres. All platforms will have their exclusives, but if a game runs on both a console and a PC, odds are it’s better on a PC.
As PC gaming has evolved, so too have the gamers. Minecraft, a so-called open sandbox game in which players use tools to modify their world, has become the best-selling PC game of all time and a sensation among youngsters. And therein lies a problem. The enthusiast segment of the PC industry has always served the needs of PC gamers, and I’m not sure it entirely understands the opportunities young gamers create.
A lot of boutique system builders market crazy-looking peripherals and far-out case designs with fancy, flashing lights. Sure, some gamers like that, but there’s a huge swath of players young and old who don’t find such designs attractive. Further, PCs “designed” for gamers almost always have souped-up graphics cards, top-notch processors, extravagant cooling, and hefty price tags to boot. Gamers who seek to experience every pixel from Titanfall and Watch Dogs may want that, but the horde of Minecrafters could care less. Where’s the gaming PC designed for them?
System builders would be smart to disassociate PC enthusiasts from PC gamers, as increasingly they represent different users. Some overlap will always exist, but there’s a growing audience of gamers who aren’t enthusiastic about the hardware, but still want a rig that is customized for the types of games they play.
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