Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eras And Their End

Crysis and Unreal Tournament 3 were released for the PC in November. According to NPD, here are the sales numbers:

Crysis--86,633 (18 days)
Unreal Tournament--33,995 (12 days)

How many units did the tenth rated console game sell? 376,843.

This isn't going to be one of those "PC gaming is doomed" posts. It's not. Certain kinds of PC games, though, probably are.

Crysis had tons of buzz and plenty of advertising and it couldn't even get to 100,000 units in almost three weeks. And the development costs must have been huge. Unreal Tournament is a well-established franchise, and it barely broke 30,000 copies.

There's a reason for all this.

I've written this before, but the PC market isn't one market--it's twenty, or thirty, and as more time passes, even more markets get created. The gap now between a high-end and a low-end system is staggering.

Remember when Origin would release a new PC game and we'd all upgrade our systems to be able to play it? It was worth it, because after we finished the new Wing Commander or Ultima, other developers would catch up in terms of stretching the abilities of our new hardware.

Those days are long gone.

I think more and more people have turned into me, as frightening as that is to all of us. I built a new PC when the FX-51 came out four years ago. Since then, I've upgraded the graphics card two or three times, and the power supply once. I've been threatening to build a new system for over a year, but it keeps getting put off because there's just not much that I really want to play on the PC. I can still play 95% of the games I want to just fine. Sure there are a few games I'd like to check out (The Witcher, to be sure, which I'm guessing would run like a pig), but the vast majority of the time, it just doesn't matter.

I'm someone who should be a primary demographic for PC gaming, and even I don't really care at this point. How many games really push cutting edge PC hardware now? Five a year?

And, importantly, of those five, probably none of them are PC-exclusive.

Wait, that's not quite right. There are still MMO's, like WOW, that are PC-exclusive, and plenty of people upgrade their computers to play them with more bells and whistles. Here's the deal, though--people who upgrade their computers for WOW do it so they can play WOW. They're not playing a lot of other games, because they don't have time. They're not going to play for twenty hours, be satisfied, and move on. They're not even looking for the next game. So they upgraded, but it doesn't really expand the market for other high-end games.

MMO's also have a vested interest in keeping their hardware requirements manageable for as many people as possible. If not, they might wind up like--Crysis.

There's one more problem. Of the last three retail, boxed PC games I've tried to play, I've had serious problems getting two of them installed. The most important initiative that could be undertaken for the PC market would be to get all this driver bullshit sorted out, because it's out of control. I know there's a Gaming for Windows initiative for Vista that allegedly helps this mess, but then you have to install Vista, and damn, that's a steep price to pay.

If new, top-end games don't sell, and older, established franchises don't sell, what's left? Well, lots of cool stuff. MMO's, for one. As great as WOW has been, someone's going to top it, and we'll be playing it on the PC. Then there are outrageously brilliant indie projects like Dwarf Fortress and Armageddon Empires. Then, in the "casual" space, there are about a billion puzzle-type games, and a few of those are extremely fun as well--like Fairway Solitaire, which is nothing short of gaming crack.

That's a lot of goodness for a "dead" platform.

The era of the PC-exclusive, big-budget, AAA title? Dead, unless it's an MMO, and even that might be temporary.

Is that bad? Not really, at least to me. Look at it this way: you can easily spend more than $400 on a high-end graphics card. With that same money, you could buy a Wii, a 360, or a PS3, giving you access to both a ton of games and many more exclusives. And with the 360 or the PS3, you'll be playing all your games in HD.

Oh, and you'll never have a driver conflict.

Still, though, your system will probably be able to play 90%+ of what's coming out on the PC.

Somehow that doesn't seem like a change for the worse.

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