PC Gaming Not Dead Yet

Doug Lombardi and Jason Holtman from Valve explain why PC gaming isn’t just going to “die” and discuss the future of steam. The folks over at www.gamasutra.com have a very interesting interview with Doug Lombardi, Valve’s marketing VP, and Jason Holtman, Valve’s business development director. You can check out the entire thing by clicking here. Below is just a quick summary of its contents.

Due to some recent reports about the grim situation of PC gaming, a lot of people have come to think the platform is dying. The most recent NPD report in 2007 showed game sales very far behind console game sales. The good people over at Valve however, paint a different picture. Doug blames the fact that the NPD focuses mainly on retail sales, and not on any kind of sales made through “digital distribution” systems like Steam.

"That totally ignores the money changing hands, and properties like World of Warcraft with their monthly subscriptions. That totally ignores Steam sales, and any other MMOs and online distribution systems and a host of others... it also ignores things like PopCap games. Peggle's not in that number. If you took Steam, Peggle, PopCap, WoW and mixed it with NPD numbers, the world looks a lot different. All of a sudden, it looks like PC's probably the biggest one, and year over year, the fastest-growing." --Doug Lombardi

It just goes to show that times are changing, and so are the needs of the customer. To be honest, I’m not in the least bit surprised that many are abandoning buying games from retail stores. It is so much more convenient to just login to something like Steam, pay for the game and then immediately download it without having to go anywhere. Most of the time, you can even find the game for cheaper! Also, things like Steam open the door for independent developers to release their games without that large cost of physically producing the product. In fact, Steam makes it quite easy for independent developers to sell their game. With such an opportunity like that, I think the PC market can expect to see a flock of independent developers releasing their games over the Steam service, or something similar. This means a larger variety of games for consumers to feast upon!

“Our gamers can find cool games they wouldn't find elsewhere at prices retail can't sustain. There are a bunch of titles now at a place in their lifecycle where retail doesn't make sense, but they're good.” --Doug Lombardi

However, we cannot ignore the fact that Xbox Live is also doing something similar, with allowing independent developers to release stuff over their service. There is a huge difference between that and what is happening on Steam though. While Xbox Live does allow independents to release their stuff, there is something that Xbox Live doesn’t provide. That my friends are free development tools, called Steamworks, that provide many useful tools to developers that would normally cost tons of time to create themselves, or tons of money to use existing packages.

“Steamworks gives developers access to real-time stats, auto-updating and matchmaking utilities, in addition to a range of recently implemented social networking services, and other Steam tools -- and Lombardi and Holtman feel that making Steamworks available will be a key solution to addressing some of the PC market's current woes -- eliminating the dreaded patch-hunt for consumers, and giving developers access to snapshots of participating users' configurations.” --Leigh Alexander: Gamasutra.com

Overall, it looks like the PC market has a lot to look forward to. Many things in the market are changing and a lot of them favor the PC. There are new business models that focus on releasing the game for “free to play” and only make money through advertisements or “micro transactions” which are basically paying small amounts of money to unlock certain items or features within the game. EA will be doing something similar with their game Battlefield Heroes . Also, the ever changing price of hardware costs, as well as hardware advancement is an issue. This year we saw consoles rise to staggering prices, with the exception of the Wii, than we have ever seen with previous console releases. Something that didn’t used to be a factor in buying a console, is now making some think.There is also the fact that PC hardware is always a step ahead of the stuff you can get in a console. PC supports higher resolutions, and the technology is advancing constantly. PC gamers should expect to see their future games including not only great visuals, but amazing interaction within the game as many developers focus on implementing advanced physics into the gameplay. With things like Nvidia’s SLI being able to support dedicated physics calculations in the future, we can expect the physics within these games to be very detailed and more prevalent.

Whatever you do, don’t count PC out of the game yet. Only time will tell, as the market rapidly changes and the needs/wants of the consumer change as well. One thing is for sure, and that’s the fact that neither one of these platforms is going to be “dead” anytime soon. It is a thriving market for all gaming platforms right now, and I think that trend will only continue into the future.

- Jordan Hoven (Lazer32)

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