Death of PC gaming

A lot have been written about the pending demise of the PC as a gaming platform. Publishers and designers have blamed piracy as the reason why the once leading platform is faltering so badly…or so they would like us to think. Maybe it is them that are killing the PC platform?

I just finished playing Bioshock 2. It is my first blockbuster game in almost a year. I skipped Modern Warfare 2 for reasons that I will explain later.  I bought Bioshock 2 on launch day here in South Africa, which was a week later than the release in Europe, which in turn was a couple of days after the release in the States. This to me is the first problem, not only with PC gaming, but all gaming, why is there a lag? This is still fairly close, sometimes we as PC gamers have to wait 3 months and longer for our version…but it does not end there either. Here in South Africa we sometimes have to wait longer periods for games to reach our shores.

So after I have installed the game, which took 45 minutes, I am ready to go, oops, maybe not, I must first log into Games for Windows Live. Ok, no problem, I have an account so I insert the details and now I can game? Still no. I must first download my gamertag and profile. Right, that is done, nope, sorry, must first update the game, otherwise I will be logged out of the network, which means my achievements will not register on my gamerscore, sigh.

So after all that is done, my dearest arrive, and my gaming time is depleted, so no gaming the first night.

When I eventually start playing two nights later, the lack of wide screen support for the game is so obvious; it is killed the immersion. Why are games shipping today without widescreen support? Considering that most gaming LCD’s sold is widescreen? Is piracy for this to blame as well?

After two gaming sessions, I log in be greeted with a message informing me that there is an update available for Bioshock 2, happily I accept, because it is a small update to fix the widescreen issue. One would assume that the update will run in the background and next time I start the game it would have seamless updated. You would be wrong, you see, if you want to play, you must be logged out of Games for Windows Live. While you are logged out, the patch does not download. If you would like to get the patch, you cannot play. So instead of playing Bioshock, I was playing Freecell, because Bioshock 2 was stuck in the menu, with a progress bar. The update took almost 2 hours in the end. While this was happing, my Pentium Dual Core was utilised to 100% utilisation for the duration of the time, making even Freecell slow. To rub salt into my wounds, you must exit the game to run the update! Is piracy for this to blame as well?

I skipped Modern Warfare 2, simply because at launch it was the most expensive PC game I would have own at R499. Considering that all other new titles in South Africa is R349 to R399.  I for the life of me could not justify paying that price for a 6 to 7 hour gaming experience, one that you will probably only play once. I generally do not play the online portion of the game. Why such a high price:  one of the biggest anticipated games of the year, and it is great, so we will charge for it. In the end, they lost my sale. I will buy the game eventually, once the inevitable Game of Year addition or the budget title is released a year from now.

To me, sitting here, there is a lot more wrong with PC gaming than simply piracy. The biggest problem is that the development tools on PC are simply not there. You can blame Microsoft for this, as well as AMD, Intel, Nvidia and ATI. These companies will tell you quickly that they are doing many things to promote PC gaming, on the face of it you have to agree with them, they all have a stake in this platform. The problem is, that stake has nothing to do with promoting gaming, it has all to do with selling and justifying their most expensive parts to gamers…

In the end, piracy has had it easy on PC, partly because the publishers have given them the opportunity. They release games weeks apart in different territories, they charge high prices and they don’t drop those prices after a couple of weeks. They don’t release demos anymore and they ship far inferior products to PC’s as of late.

They are not the only ones to blame. The big players are not doing enough to drive cost and risk of development down for PC game makers. We have nVidia investing in some games so that developers optimise for their cards, locking out others. ATI does the same but to a lesser extent. Why are these companies not making code available to all game designers to make life easier for all? Why is Microsoft not doing more to help? We have the dismal Games for Windows Live, which by the way, is still as stupid as it was when launched. Why is there not a massive depository of code available to designers and engine builders to access? If you have to compare to the consoles, which everyone likes to do so much, they have development platforms, debugging tools, compilers and system specific optimisations, readymade code for network, outputting to screen, scaling to resolutions…which it seems is a far cry from what PC game designers is faced with…they mostly have to build these things from scratch.

There is far more wrong with PC gaming than simply piracy…and piracy is not all to blame for the dismal state of PC gaming…

That brings me to Bioshock 2. It has restored some faith in PC gaming and multiple platform gaming. The game is awesome. It still feels as fresh as the original. It is truly a unique experience once again. Maybe because they change enough to make it fresh or the mere fact that there were not 20 clones since the originals release. If all multiple platform games are this well polished for every platform it would already go a long way.

What is clear though is this: The PC no longer set the pace. The hardware is now far superior to the current generation consoles, but it is no longer driving games. Crysis is still as good as it gets, and that is already 2 years old. The market has gotten to small and too risky to push the envelope and that might just be a good thing. My three year old graphics card can still game, which means that there are potentially a bigger market for games on the PC than ever before. Now if only publishers and platform contributors get their acts together and stop killing PC gaming under the propaganda of Piracy…


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