In recent years the media has managed to push the notion onto consumers and society that using the PC for video games is a bad idea. Home consoles are killing it, we all want to use controllers that fit snugly into our hands and developers are creating their titles purely for other systems. Yet in February, PC’s had 6.4 percent more market share than the PlayStation 3 and one per cent more than the Xbox 360. Football Manager, The Sims and Real Time Strategy titles such as Dawn of War are continuing to fly in at the top of the charts and offer experiences that haven’t yet been matched by the boxes sitting in front of our TV’s.
Still, I can’t help but feel that when I walk into HMV or Gamestation the PC market has some kind of dark cloud. It’s hovering above it with a low rumble, the sound of impending doom echoing from the shelves below it. Critics are running around with arms flailing and screaming from the top of their lungs “We’re only getting shoddy console ports!” or “Publishers are leaving the format every year!” Now look at the figures. World of Warcraft on its own is bringing in millions and millions into the gaming industry. Steam has become the gaming equivalent of iTunes, converting new consumers ever day to its “download immediately and start playing” ethos.
Putting massively multiplayer online games aside though, the PC offers a huge choice of games that you may not even realise. Whether it’s just Farm Town on Facebook, or the flash games you have a quick thrash around whilst trying to escape work, most of us play PC games in some form. You can still buy the usual triple A titles, but old classics and promotional lines such as Xplosiv and SoldOut are offering great bargain deals. Far Cry for £1.90?! Virtua Cop for £2.83?! This isn’t just Amazon making typos; you can pick these games up in almost any shop for under a fiver. Even iPhone games aren’t going as cheap as that in the recession.
So it’s surprising more people aren’t waving the banner and standing up for the old Personal Computer. It’s where the majority of gaming started and in principle will never be discontinued like the home consoles, evolving and updating instead as technology improves. The high street giants may want to give more shelf space to the more commercially ‘hip’ games, but has that ever really mattered to a hobby where recognition has been absent? It’s true that there are still a few hiccups in the world of PC gaming, but if addressed they could really bring it back into the limelight.
If you’re going to port games across to PC and Mac, make sure it’s done with some independent development time rather than a mere afterthought for the packaging. The number of times I’ve been asked to press a button in a PC tutorial that isn’t on my keyboard is astounding. ‘R2’ is for the Playstation, not the PC remember?! Instead I have to spend half an hour reconfiguring the buttons from a controller diagram across to my traditional mouse and keyboard. Frame rate issues, numerous glitches and downgraded graphics are also common complaints. Rather than worrying about the number of patches I’ll need to fix the game before I even start, why not just make it fit for release in the first place?
As cool as it is to have your PC as a constantly upgrading, evolving man toy, it’s annoying when you discover that a game can’t actually run on your system. Being able to run Crysis on the specifications it was originally intended for is almost impossible, because no-one has a processor and graphics card high enough to use it. It’s even worse for Apple Mac users, who have a restricted library of games that I can almost count on two hands. Either the games need to run low enough so that everyone can play them, or the industry needs to start making PC’s with the minimum hardware needed to play a decent game. All you need is a sticker slapped on the front of a PC box stating “this is a certified PC that can play all new games” or one saying that “this is not for gaming, but your average use computer.” I also want to be able to play a game exactly as the developer intended. Knowing that I’ll never play Crysis on the highest settings somehow makes me feel like I’m doing a disservice to the creator’s vision.
Validating games online and DRM protection is such a pain. I can understand that piracy is a big deal for PC developers, but only being able to install a game on one system is completely unfair. If I buy a new PC, it means I need to phone some call centre on the other side of the globe to allow me to keep playing it. It’s almost impossible to rent PC games now, or even lend them to friends to have a quick try. Steam seems to be getting around this problem, but the rest of the industry is still punishing their loyal consumer base. Imagine if you could only play your DVD’s on one TV, or if your CD’s only played 5 times. No-one would bother with them.
The fact that video game enthusiasts still tolerate this is a testament to their love of the platform. The doom and gloom of PC gaming just feels overhyped to me. True, the casual family may only be interested in the Nintendo Wii, but will CounterStrike, Spore and Maplestory players be moving anytime soon? Not a chance in your life. Now pass me that new graphics card and a Philips screwdriver.