PC games on the margins

Every year I read the annual “PC Gaming can’t die-we’d lose our reviewer jobs! (grin)” cavalcade after whatever new bells and whistles are announced by the console makers. I never really gave it a second thought. I mean, there are always a number of good and a number of bad PC games put out each year. I didn’t really notice any change from year to year.

But the other day I went into my local EB for the first time in a long time, and what a difference! The console games, which used to occupy about a quarter wall, now took up 3/4 of the store. The PC games were assigned to about 3/4 of one wall and a couple bargain stands.

Is this the wave of the future? PC games marginalized in the stores? Or has the future already arrived? The pipeline section in CGW appears as big as ever, with some promising titles in the works, so I suppose I’m just a little confused as to the status of the whole tastes great/less filling PC vs. Console thing.

My local EB has moved all the PC games to the far corner of the store – a place once reserved for the shunned Mac games. Now, as in your store, about 75% is for console hardware and software.

The times they are a-changin’.

So many upcoming PC games are European made it seems. I’m just not sure that much of this stuff is doing any business. When you consider that so many PC stalwarts have console projects in the works now, there just isn’t the interest in PC games like there was even two years ago. The PC market isn’t likely to be carried by a pile of Euro releases most people never heard of.

It’s kind of funny. Folks used to say the console market will always be the most hit driven and you’d see lots more variety on the PC. That’s definitely not true IMO anymore. The PC market is so hit driven now that there is a huge gap between the haves and have nots. A few monster releases and not a whole lot else unless you’re willing to really dig around for info.

There will always be a breakout hit or two on the PC, but the days of seeing a lot of big name developers taking chances on new concepts and ideas is probably over for now on the PC. I really don’t think technology can save it this time. No one’s in any hurry to get to 64-bit architecture, video cards are so far ahead of developer’s time/capabilities that only an occasional game will ever really take advantage of them and many people are simply tired of upgrading, especially since Microsoft is willing to provide many similar games on their console.

The PC is haven to RTS games, the occasional big PC RPG and properly playable FPS games and not much else at the moment, despite the hope folks have for this recent rash of space sims coming soon.


Ah, the death of pc gaming, a favorite subject of mine. (for those stalking me, this post is made up of points said at gone gold a while back. But they still fit.)

When it comes up, people jump up and say that pc gaming will never die. However, like Jack said, taking up the “place once reserved for the shunned Mac games” is never a good sign. I’ve been going to EB all the way back to the early 80s when it was called Games and Gadgets. I’ve seen platform after platform go to the back corner only to die shortly after. C064, then the Amiga/ST, Then the 3do, then the mac and now the pc is on the edge. Why? Well…

The base of average gamers have shrunk (mostly going to console systems) where as hardcore and casual gamers have grown slightly. The end result is that industry wide, pc game sales have been flat for 3 years and show no signs of improving. As to why average gamers aren’t attracted to pcs is unknown. Some have speculated that pc complexity or gaming quality is a factor. My personal feeling is that consoles are swept up in the home theater wave of popularity. It use to be cool to have the newest computer. Now its cooler to have a huge ass TV and some speakers. I feel that Sonys agressive pairing of the PS2 with DVD and that whole movement one reason why its on top. Yeah I know the xbox has a remote add on for DVDs but it isn’t pushed.

Nation wide the cost of retail space has gone up about 25% in 3 years. Add in the jump in shipping cost, cost of living for employees, etc etc… retailers are taking a hard look at what they are selling and how they are selling it. Basically they are stocking a lot less and charging more to vendors. Especially to makers of items that show no growth. Retail companies are charging publishers for the right to sell games in their store. Since pc games are generating less traffic than, say, DVDs, publishers are charged more. Stores now a days look to foot traffic for a large part of their business. So they try to select their merchandise that will draw the most people and more specifically, people who will buy many things. Look at two identical sections; one DVD, and one pc games. For the sake of argument, they are generating the exact same amount of register profit for the store. The problem is the PC section is dragging less people in the store and these people are just picking up their pc game and leaving. Where as the DVD section is generation 3 or 4 times the traffic and these people are more likely to pick up several other products before checking out. So both sections are equal, but in fact, aren’t. So then the store turns to the pc game publishers and tells them they need to make up the difference or they will not carry their product.

Faced with skyrocketing development cost, and signifant increase in publishing cost in a field that isn’t growing, publishers are deciding to fund less pc game development. Also, this is killing many smaller publishers who now simply can no longer get their product in front of the consumer.

Faced with no publishing interest, developers are switching projects to consoles in order to earn a living. Even if the game could do well on a pc and publishers might be interested, developers just aren’t interested in taking a chance.

Now what could be done? I feel that is this whole media pc could get its act together, offering PVR, internet, and gaming for around $500-$1000, we could see some life and growth come back to the market.

That is my current thought on this. I think within 3-5 years if things don’t change, we will see a few ports and some shareware level quality games sold on the internet and that it.

Maybe EB is just trying to move more into being a console store. Out by me, the EB is like the others described in this thread (1.5 walls of computer games, the rest console, and all the floor stands console)…but CompUSA, Fry’s, PlanetX, and Best Buy still have very large computer game sections, most of them more computer games than console games (PlanetX is about 50/50 last time I went there).

hehe, they have always been good points, so its always a good thing when you have to type it up all over the place. Do what I do, stick it in a text file or a clipboard and be ready to regurgitate it on cue. I’m sure the stalkers won’t mind. :D :D :D

Aw, jeez. I’m already using one nickname. I need another?

Jack, I mean Jack. grrr… Sorry.

Most console games are also cheaper to develop than most PC games, sell more units and have a higher profit margin. That makes it very attractive to concentrate on console offerings.

Whoa!!! look what the cat dragged in. Where’ve you been me lady? :D

My sister the accountant (favorite PC game=Scrabble) said it really well last year. she didn’t want to get a new PC because she and her friends were waiting for the next big thing. Every few years over the past decade PCs have come out with some radical new improvement that made them really appealing to people. Windows made them semi-accessible, Win95 made them very accessible, CD-ROM made them practical and opened up vast new areas of entertainment, CD-R added utility and graphics advances popped everyone’s eyeballs.

But what have the past few years added that end consumers can really appreciate? It’s neat to be able to watch a DVD on my computer, but that’s what I’ve got the TV and speakers for. Computers are faster and have more RAM, but that doesn’t mean anything, since computer programs immediately follow the advance in speed and memory so that computers never really FEEL faster.

Maybe computers are in a rut. maybe they need a better publicist. But thinking about my Xbox I see consoles everywhere-on TV, in magazines, at the theater during the trailers. They show hot games and people having fun. I see a computer ad, what di I see? The Dell interns at work, telling me I’ll get a great PC, but not telling me anything that really makes it sound great.

Now, if computers could, for the average Joe (sic), provide some over-the-top performance superiority, like photo-realistic graphice and all the power to push them for $1500 or less (big monitor included) then they would kick ass again, I reckon.

I remember I think Johhny Wilson writing about 8 years ago that the PC-console thing was cyclical, and that it depended on who had the technological high ground. Consoles would sieze it for a time, then lose it, since PCs evolve every few months versus every few years for a console system. I think right now there just probably hasn’t been a compelling reason for anyone to buy a PC over a console for the past few years, unless it was for a niche game.

It’s the PC versus three successful consoles. It’s not fair to say “PCs are 1/4 versus 3/4 consoles.” It’s “PC 1/4, Gamecube 1/4, Xbox 1/4, PS/2 1/4).”

Also, at our local EB, the PC stuff is in back, but now the new releases are at the very front of the store, replacing the console games. It depends on what’s selling; big PC games right now (SimCity 4, Road to Rome, Generals, Unreal II, Sims stuff) versus a fairly blah console market.

More bad news for PC games today. Raven’s next project is a console RPG based on X-Men.

Like I said above, more and more PC stalwarts are leaving/cutting back. Things aren’t going to improve any time soon.


PC gaming and console gaming have now coexisted, in various states of flux, for over 20 years. In fact, about a quarter century. Given this, why should we suppose that PC gaming is any more likely to die now than it has in the past (i.e., when the Atari 2600 was at the height of its popularity, or when the NES ruled the roost in the late 80s)?

Not trying to be argumentative, just wondering. Perhaps increasing costs of game production are making it harder for smaller companies to stay afloat, etc., and much bigger sales figures are needed…?

I suspect that part of the problem is the shitty economy. Fewer people have the cash around to blow on a decent gaming PC, where it only costs $200 to get a console. I suspect a lot of people are “making do” with 2-3 year old PC systems that they can’t afford to upgrade to handle recent games.

I don’t think PC gaming is going to disappear. I remember quite well the cries of “IMMINENT DEATH OF PC GAMING PREDICTED!!!1” announcements that followed the release of the PSX and N64. PC gaming survived those consoles, and will survive the current crop as well.

I think it’s simply a matter of one company (Microsoft) realizing that with complete control of the platform including a cut of all software created for it, they’ll make a lot MORE money than they’re currently making by owning only the thing that allows you to run software and trying to make software that everyone may or may not want to run on there. Hope that makes sense…I know it’s an ugly sentence. :)

If we really are on a road to convergence (a single do-it-all box), which I’m still not sure we are, then Microsoft wants to be there and needs the PC gamers to help them get there. By releasing Xbox, they sent a strong message to PC game makers because their system is so close to a PC. They’re hedging their bets a little by keeping some top name development of their own on the PC, but for the most part, that’s all gravy now anyway. Xbox is where it’s at for them and if throwing away billions on it isn’t evidence enough, the fact that they seem willing to throw away billions more on it over the next few years should certainly uncloud the mystery.

If PC games go away, who loses? Only the companies that make PC games. There’s no entity behind the PC (other than Intel, who make chips for Microsoft’s Xbox) to support it as a gaming platform because you don’t get rich from all the software. Since people are showing they don’t want to buy the software as much anymore and are pushing more dollars into the growing console market, the draw of the PC is disappearing quickly.

It won’t go away. There will always be PC games because any Joe Shmoe can make and market one. But the real money is in consoles and meeting with the approval of all those millions of people that are looking for the next big mainstream entertainment to be a part of.


I’ll have to disagree on the cheaper development and higher profit margin. Agree on the higher average game sales. PC game publishers don’t have to cough up a royalty to Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft on every copy sold. Price promotions and price cuts are more common and quicker on PC titles as well.

As far as cost of development, that might have been true at the end of the 16-bit era, and at the end of the PSX/N64 era, but production costs on your average PS2 game far outstrip most PC games developed today. Of course some of that is skewed by the exodus of PC development to cheaper locales. It is hard data to track, but I have a sneaking suspicion the average development budget of a PC game has been creeping downwards for at least the past year or so.

And then we have the GBA, where shovelware and buck-and-a-quarter budgets have all but killed the third party market. Not that I’m bitter or anything. You can develop a GBA title cheap, but you won’t sell any, and the margins suck.

It will definitely be an interesting next couple of years. Any independent game developer in the US that wants to survive is going to have to be involved in consoles and be lean, mean and learn how to leverage middleware and outside bits and pieces to reduce resource requirements as much as possible.

In the long run, I think this will help things like say, hard-core flight sims, when a small team can work with a basic 3D framework, have things like some of the physics gruntwork taken care of, have a method for generating terrain, etc. etc.

Or we could all just switch to using Gary Kitchen’s GameMaker. In many cases it would be an improvement.

FutureMark reveals the shocking truth about gaming PC’s:

Top ten Videocards in Surveyed PC’s:

Graphics Chipset

  1. Nvidia Geforce 2 MX/MX 400 = 144,906
  2. Nvidia TNT2 M64 = 83,682
  3. Generic VGA = 46,872
  4. Nvidia Geforce 4 Ti 4200 = 44,438
  5. Nvidia 3 Ti200 = 42,193
  6. Nvidia Geforce 2 MX 100/200 = 36,734
  7. Nvidia Geforce 2 GTS/Pro/Ti = 33,087
  8. Nvidia Riva TNT 2/Pro = 22,045
  9. ATI Raedon 8500 = 20,077
  10. Nvidia Geforce Ti 4600 = 19,759

Those numbers tell the whole picture. If I’m a PC game developer, I’m looking at allmost 84,000 potential customers that are still playing with the TNT 2 card. And it’s 4 year old technology!!

The hardcore crowd allways bitch and moan that most games don’t stress their monster rigs, but can you really blame developers? It would be financial suicide for a game company if they released a game that could only be played on a P4 2.0 ghz and a Geforce 4 4600/Raedon 9700 pro.

Jesus… No wonder Counter strike does so well.

Holy crap! Forget the TNT2 – “Generic VGA” means those people aren’t even running with Direct3D acceleration! And that’s #3.

If we’re talking about “cutting edge” games on the PC then I agree totally.

But the fact is that the vast majority of the PC market is going to be playing Yahoo Scrabble, and EB has no way to make money off the thousands of people playing “Yahoo Backgammon” at any given second.

It makes sense for EB to marginalize the PC titles. There’s little or no way to effectively sell used PC games, and they’re tough to shelve and return compared to the (durable and uniform) packaging of the console industry.

Also, aren’t tech savvy PC users going to buy their games using the net?

I think the PC is going to migrate quickly towards more pure net delivery and play. Cutting out the middleman who didn’t want to be there in the first place.