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PC gaming and the mainstream

Has PC gaming failed to keep up with the mainstream? We take a look at where the PC is and where it may need to go.
By: Nathan Davison | Editorials in Gaming | Posted: Apr 16, 2007 4:00 am

Since its inception decades ago, the video gaming industry has become a force to be reckoned with that is growing stronger and bigger every day. It has developed from its humble beginnings to a legitimate multi billion dollar world wide industry, forcing itself into the company of entertainment mediums such as film and television for mainstream appeal and success despite the reluctance from some corners of the private sector, media and government. Hell, we've reached the stage now where
some B-/C+ grade movies are starting to base themselves on videogames on a semi regular basis and not just the other way around. However, if you scratch beneath the surface of this industry and its success at least in its more recent years, two distinct stories can be and are being told - the story of the PC gaming industry, and the story of the console gaming industry. Collectively, they tell a story of constant evolution and adapting, but individually, they tell it in two very different ways.

The PC gamer and the console gamer are much alike - they both enjoy the same basic activity and in a lot of instances they even like the same games due to multi platform releases. However, each respective industry is in a different place in the gaming world as they both try and adapt to the changing environment around them, and to each other. On one hand, the PC gaming industry is seemingly faced with more obstacles and challenges than ever thanks in part to standards set by its console
cousin, while the console gaming industry is seemingly on the offensive, engulfing any and every feature either new or made popular by PC gaming to further its cause. It is arguable that the two are in somewhat of a fight to the death as they both grasp for as much of an audience as they can, although it is also clear that neither are going anywhere any time soon. In reality, they will coexist and continue to gradually evolve on their way to becoming the ultimate gaming and multimedia solution for enthusiast
and casual gamers alike, although one definitely has more to go and more to do to achieve this than the other, and that's the PC.

Lets face it, the PC as a gaming platform has its problems when it comes to mainstream sustainability. PC hardware can be expensive and confusing to keep on top of. Piracy is a far bigger issue for PC game companies than it is for console game companies due in part to the fact the PC audience is typically more technology savvy, not to mention most methods of creation and channels of distribution for piracy are only accessible on a PC. Crashes and interruptions when gaming on a PC are generally more likely than on a console, and finally, the typical environment you find surrounding a household PC tends to be less relaxing and comfortable than the environment you'd typically find a household gaming console. However, the PC gaming platform has its advantages too, and perhaps the greatest advantage besides the potential for better graphics, better execution of some genres, better online support and better patch/add on support is the fact the PC platform itself is easily the most
flexible gaming platform in existence. The problem is, what good is flexibility if it goes unused? The PC has been left in the console's dust when it comes to catering for the casual and mainstream gamer, and for it to survive against the gaming consoles of today and the future, it may need to start utilizing its natural flexibility for the sake of attracting back some of the mainstream it has let slip past.

"Wait, we should try to attract more n00bs?"

PC gaming has lasted quite a while so far being, at times, about as user friendly as a MiG-15 pilot's manual translated into Klingon, but to think it can continue surviving like this in today's gaming world is foolish. Gone are the days where the PC was the only platform a gamer could experience quality first person shooter and real time strategy action - both of these once PC only genres have made their way onto the consoles of today which have grown in hardware power considerably in recent
years and, as such, gamers who enjoy these genres no longer have to weather the issues that can often be associated with firing up a PC game. Although it is arguable the flexible mouse and keyboard setup will always suit genres like FPS and RTS better than any control pad, that is not a view shared as passionately by casual gamers as it is by most enthusiast PC gamers, and it doesn't take a marketing genius to know which out numbers the other. At the present time, MMORPG's and other online only games
have taken over the "PC exclusive genre" crown, but this won't last forever, that is for sure, particularly now that consoles are starting to focus on once PC only peripherals. PC gaming needs to be proactive in making sure genre exclusivity isn't the platform's major draw card, as it will always only be a temporary one.

If you need further proof that increasing PC gaming's mainstream appeal will benefit all including the hardcore/enthusiast demographic, look no further than the biggest gaming related Internet event in recent times; the release of the GTA IV trailer. GTA IV will be released on the PS3 and Xbox 360 only, and while this is hardly surprising given that almost every GTA before it has seen delayed release on the PC, wouldn't it be nice for a company like Rockstar to see the PC
platform as an equal to the next gen consoles? For games like Gears of War and Halo 2 to be released on the PC closer to the original console release date rather than the date of their console successors? to see some other companies than just EASports focus on the PC sports gaming market with quality exceeding blatant ports? to see more major titles specifically optimized for the PC? Stuff like this will only happen when the PC can prove it can sell next generation games as well as
any console, and this will always be a struggle if the mainstream gamer doesn't feel that PC gaming's strengths outweighs its weaknesses, as there simply aren't enough raw numbers and diversity amongst the current user base that go to their PC before anything else for their gaming fix. Perhaps the PC can continue to exist for a long time as a genre specialist platform - after all, it has arguably always been this way to a degree - but with revenues on the console growing rapidly in comparison to revenues
on the PC outside of MMO's, sooner or later you've got to think even the once untouchable PC friendly genres like the first person shooter will start to see less and less attention on its original platform if the consoles continue their growth into this and other PC original genres. It's all about diversifying and expanding what attracts people to the PC for gaming beyond its current state which in turn will attract more diversity and quality in PC games.

It's not like the PC doesn't already have a mainstream presence - after all, there are more household PC's in the world than any of the consoles - but in most cases people are not looking at their PC as a primary gaming device. In some situations this will be unavoidable, and it's simply not realistic to think the PC can win everybody over, but in other situations it is avoidable and addressable hassles associated with PC gaming that are turning some gamers off. It's all fine and well
for a PC gamer to sit back and say "console gamers aren't serious gamers, otherwise they'd already be on the PC", but the reality is a growing number of console gamers are becoming far more serious about their gaming, spending big bucks in getting all the latest hardware from home theatre grade speakers and HDTV's to the consoles and games themselves, not to mention other accessories like online subscription services and HD-DVD drives. The console world itself has gradually become
much more sophisticated and "hardcore" while still maintaining a casual, "pick up and play" persona for the occasional gamer. In fact, the consoles have been doing more or less exactly what they needed to do to take the gaming world over and it's about time the PC at least tried to do the same by proactively working on its weaknesses.

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