Where is PC gaming going?

Refer to this thread (http://www.quartertothree.com/game-talk/showthread.php?t=23800) for the actual stats on last year’s game sales.

But as others have mentioned, they don’t really reflect the changes in where PC gamers are spending their time and dollars.

In the "Good old days"™ we used to buy our games, play them for 90 days, toss them aside and buy the next game.

Now, we pay company X $15 a month to keep playing the game. Last year on paper I only bought a few games but I spent more last year on PC gaming than any year ever but the stats won’t reflect that.

What would be interesting to see is how the different genres fared.

For example:
RPGs – a huge % of the RPG market has gone to MMO which means that other titles (i.e. non-WoW titles) may have seen less retail movement. How many other AAA RPG titles were released last year? How did they do?

FPSs. We used to play DOOM, then DOOM 2 and Duke Nukem and such and move to the next game. Now we play Counterstrike and Battlefield 2 for months on end. Of course, that’s not bringing retailers revenue that can be measured however.

But then there’s strategy. How did Civilization 4 do? I read somewhere that it represented 7% of Take 2’s revenue in 4th quarter. That’s pretty significant.

Obviously I care a lot about the state of how strategy games are doing at retail since we’re about to release Galactic Civilizations II (http://www.galciv2.com) and PC game shelf space has gotten a lot smaller since 2003.

But as others have said, I think the issue isn’t that PC gaming is “d0med”. I think it’s growing in terms of raw dollars being spent by people. It’s just being spent in ways not measurable. It’s like doing Nielson ratings in the age of Tivo.

What if someone like Valve were able to pump out Half Life 2 modules, or mini-expansions, or heck, call them whatever you want at a rate of say one every 3 months or so? And speaking of modules, last I heard, Bioware’s foray into this area with their NWN premium mods has been rather successful. I wish they could churn the content out a bit faster though. So far it looks like they’re capped at a rate of about one release every six months. I wish they could whip 'em out faster because I’d buy 'em.

Brad, are you interested in the impact of the “casual market” in this discussion, or are you trying to figure out what the “hardcore” are up to?

He’s trying to gauge whether or not it’s the right time to announce the 360 version of GalCiv. :)

For multiplayer-focused games, I think it would make sense for them to go to a free-download, pay-to-play model. MMOGs are basically a license to print money, so any way to capitalize on that is probably a good thing. People might not be willing to shell out full retail price plus a monthly fee, but if the game only costs $10 or $15 to “try out” for the first month (assuming the game is any good) I think a lot of people would go for it. Especially if they allow more players per server than traditional retail multiplayer games.

For single-player games like Civ and GalCiv, I think it’s less easy to see. For myself, I like having a physical CD on my shelf and a paper manual I can refer to. However, if the cost of production and distribution were taken off the download price (ie $30 instead of $50) I would be sorely tempted.

As far as metrics and sales tracking, I think something needs to be done. When people look at the numbers for PC gaming vs console, they don’t get the full picture because of things like WoW and Steam, which aren’t reported. That’s only going to get worse. Digital distribution and subscription fees are great business models, but there needs to be a new way to track them, otherwise the numbers are meaningless.

I honestly think that the main reason that revenues went down over the past 5-6 years is that certain games became TOO customizable.

Instead of the average life of a game being anywhere from 1 day - 1 month, the advent of customizations and mods have made games like Counter Strike and NWN, where once you hit a certain level of popularity, you can pretty much count on a steady level of new content from the fan base that eliminates any need to buy a new game.

I mean pretty much everyone can afford to buy a new game every month…but they simply aren’t going to if they can get a relatively different experience w/o spending any cash. Developers really shot themselves in the foot by making game moddable to attract buyers in the first place…then scratched their heads when people weren’t flocking to “Rehash of same game in different settings ™!”

Since what, early 90s? I keep hearing about how the PC is going to die, or at least its role as a gaming platform. Every new console (and home computers) is the end of the PC gaming.
Perhaps some of those people want the end of the PC as a gaming platform and are just trying to convince everybody else too.
I am not a PC fanboy (more like an Atari ST fanboy), and I am not a developer or into the industry. So as an outsider, no, the end of PC gaming far far away.
Now, if some developers want to jump ship because they keep making games that need a ton of fixes/patches and prefer not to have to deal with them (I am not talking about hardware problems), then good luck and don’t forget to close the door behind you. Good luck making Fighting game 57839 - return of X!

I think that might be part of the reason for games lasting longer, but don’t discount the possibility that there just aren’t very many new games of certain genres available often enough to get people out there to buy a game every month, regardless of whether they want to or not. Unless you are into Action or MMO, the pickings are otherwise slim for quality games of the other genres. I’m taking this from personal experience, as someone that would rather play off-line RPGs, TBS, and the rarely published Adventure game. Since last August, I’ve only been able to find four new release games worth buying (DS2, Myst V, Fable:TLC, and Civ4) and two repackaged releases (TLJ, Gothic2:Gold). That’s six months, six games, with four still on my system, but only two actively being played (Civ4 because strategy has legs and Civ4 is crazy goodness, and Gothic2:Gold because it’s just not keeping me playing long enough to get anywhere).

If there were quality games being published, I’d be buying them. Sorry, but my opinion of the PC game industry is that there is far too much focus on the Action and multiplayer side of things and not enough on the other genres or single player experience. Unfortunately, I think this makes PC gaming seem more and more like console gaming and when consoles are cheaper than upgrading to a mid-to-high end video card on a PC, console gaming is going to win out for many. If good PC games would come down the pipe that consistently differentiate themselves from their console competitors, perhaps things will change a bit.

MMOGs are not a license to print money. Dozens have been cancelled before release in the past two or three years, and of those that made it to the gate, the vast majority barely pay for themselves.

The market is still there. Everybody that didn’t burn out on EQ is still playing WoW right now, but they’ll burn out soon enough. There aren’t an infinite number of people who will play these games, krazy koreans aside, and once you burn out on a MMO you never really play another one ever again.

The market is cyclical. Right now RPGs are down, in another year or two a great one will be released, make a ton of money, and they’ll come right back. Heck, it might even be oblivion.

I don’t want micropayments. I don’t want to “rent” software. I sure hope I’m representative of the general public in this because ultimately what the people want, the people get.

NPD has already stated plans to revise reporting for PC game sales to account for online subscriptions / purchases:

NPD statement

World of WarCraft has 5 million subscribers, says Blizzard.

World of WarCraft subscriber numbers

Age 3 made the top 10 bestseller list for last year. Otherwise, biggest sellers in PC market were, mostly, games with most established reputations garnered with years of successes and critical accolades. No big surprises there.

I know I’m in the minority on this, but I’m worried about the future of PC games on a LAN. Many of the games I play now can be used on a LAN without requiring more than one copy of the game. I’ll definitely buy fewer games if that changes, unless there’s an inexpensive way to get extra licenses or something like that.

There’s a lot of forces that contribute to ( the lack of) PC sales but I definitely agree with this.

I think Valve would do really well using Steam to sell upgrades to HalfLife and such. I think Valve is well on its way to being completely independent of retail. I know I’d pay for new CS maps and such.

But obviously such sales – such expenditures by us don’t get counted in the stats.

So when they say that the PC gaming revenue went from $1.1B to $900M, that’s obviously just retail.

Specifically what I wish I could find out is how the different PC genres are.

For example we know that PC gaming at retail was $1.1 billion and now is $900M.

But how is that broken up by category:

i.e. strategy vs. FPS vs. RPG vs. adventure vs. misc.

Making up numbers for the sake of illustration picture this:

2004:
Strategy: $300M
RPG: $300M
FPS: $300M
Misc: $200M

and
2005:
Strategy: $400M
RPG: $100M
FPS: $100M
Misc: $300M

For all we know, what has happened is that specific PC game genres have moved almost exclusively to monthly revenue stream models or on-line only models. There’s no readily available information on that.

When making the case to retailers to stock a game or to a publisher to publish a game, it would be nice to be able to say “Sure, PC game revenue is down but the genre of game we’re doing has continued to grow.”

I don’t think PC gaming is dying.

The problem is similar in some ways to how some TV shows are having a hard time staying on the air because their demograhic of viewers tends to be more likely to “Tivo” it.

Or on-line, some websites have a higher concentration of Firefox users which hurts their Alexa ranking which in turn causes on-line advertisers to think those sites are less popular than they really are.

PC gaming is suffering, I think, from a lack of reliable financial data. This in turn is causing retailers and some publishers to react. Retailers are shrinking their PC game sections more dramatically than I think the numbers justify and without taking into account what is actually selling.

As was mentioned, AOE3, released late in the year, was one of the top sellers. Some PC game genres are clearly doing well.

The ones not doing so well - at retail - are, I think, the ones where the revenue model has changed to be on-line (MMOs, digital distribution, etc.).

I really agree with this statement. We’ve taken quite a beating from some fans because of the decision to not have multiplayer in Galactic Civilizations II (GalCiv is the only Windows game I’ve been involved on that isn’t multiplayer ironically).

It’s ironic that given how much information that is available on the net that it’s so difficult to find reliable figures on sales figures by game genre over time (though I suspect if one is willing to pay enough one can find out somewhere).

I don’t believe it’s been as successful as you might think. Otherwise, I would think that there would be a hell of a lot more modules available, rather than (as you note) a single release every six months. Bioware is not a small company – if it was making gangbusters money, they could open the throttle on those and crank 'em out full blast. Keep in mind that they announced the program something like a year and a half ago…and how many modules are available now?

Possibly, but AOE3 selling well doesn’t imply that some genres are doing well–it says nothing about other games in that genre.

You mean Sin Episodes? There’s your AAA shooter in episodic form, available only on Steam for like $20 a pop (each “episode” supposedly 4-6 hours of play). For all we know, it’ll sell two million units of each episode, crank out three episodes a year, and NPD will never track a dime of it.

PC gaming “dying” is kind of like Family Guy getting knocked off the air. An antiquated system of measuring popularity told Fox it wasn’t doing so well, so it got yanked. Which seemed odd, because we all knew lots of people who watched it, right? Well then the DVD comes out (with a more reliable method of tracking sales) and sells through the roof. So Fox realizes the show is actually quite popular and brings it back. Of course, they don’t actually learn the lesson about relying on a useless popularity ratings system, but we got our Family Guy back.

PC Gaming, similarly, looks like it’s falling compared to consoles. But console games, by and large, are sold entirely at retail (and selling box units online that get shipped to your house). There’s no pay to download games system (there are a bunch for the PC), nobody sells for-pay expansion packs you download online (Everquest II, Battlefield 2, etc), and there’s like ONE major MMO with a recurring fee. Tracking retail sales is a reasonable, though not perfectly accurate, way of measuring console games. But doing so with PC games probably misses a THIRD of the money spent on them.

I hope you’re right Jason, and the reason for the huge decline is NPDs crappy measurement. Because I’m on the eve of starting my new games company and shit like this makes me very nervous.

I do believe however that the download market is just going to get bigger and bigger, and WoW has to be eating a huge portion of the pie.