I do a lot of discussing of gaming in my house. One of my housemates is really interested in the phsychology of games & the videogame industry. We end up doing a lot of chatting about where things are, market trends, and it has become more & more obvious that PC gaming is doomed.
Before you jump to flame me (although that is the idea ), keep reading. The PC is a marginal platform. 80% of full-priced game sales are for Playstation 2, the remaining 20% are shared between PC, PS1, Gamecube, XBox, nGage, and Game Boy Advance. It's not 19% to the PC & 1% for the rest, it's about 5-6% for the PC.
Now take that small market, and consider the effect of piracy. All platforms suffer from piracy, but only the PC can do it with no extra kit, mods, etc. any moron with a net connection can pirate games, and start churning out copies for all his mates.
So we have a platform with hig piracy, and relatively low sales. If we take the full impact of competitive pricing and piracy into account, the per-unit sales of every PC title mean it has smaller share than any of the consoles.
Yes, everyone & his dog has a PC, it can do pretty graphics, but the number of people buying the games is low.
Time for some fuzzy maths. Take a dev team of 20 people, paid an average of £30k per annum, working on a 1-year project. Factor in development costs, equipment, research, productions etc, and you're looking at about £1.5m for a game. At a per-unit profit of £5 a game after retail, wholesaler & publisher costs, it takes 0.3 million copies sold to break even on a title, assuming there are 0 costs on tech support, no servers to run, and no patches are released. Don't get me wrong, EVERY platform has this. However, console gamers pay for their games - releasing a game on console rather than PC is a good way to make more money, which is all these companies care about in the end.
The solution, as far as these companies are concerned, is to release a game for one platform, then release it on others afterwards to get a few more pennies. The more important platform comes first. Grand Theft Auto 3/Vice City came on PS2, then ported to PC & XBox. Deus Ex 2 done on XBox, then ported to PC. Halo done one XBox, then ported to PC. All ports, and not particularly good ones at that. As publishers realise people are more interested in half-arsed sequels and ports, the desire to create fresh new games on PC dwindles.
It's not gone entirely, don't get me wrong. a few worthy PC titles a year are getting made and released, but against the tide of ports & ****e, they end up not actually selling as many copies as the companies' shareholders would like.
PC gamers' strong belief in their god-given right to free content (e.g. a master server, for free, forever) doesn't help.
What's the answer to all of this?
I'm a firm believer that ever platform should explit its streangths. XBox should have XBox-specific games to take advantage of its raw power, great sound, hard disk & online play. Gamecube should explit its GBA connectivity and powerful pixel shaders, and the best controller of the lot - and the fact that it's dirt cheap. The PS2 should exploit its... erm... nice blue packaging.
So what does the PC has as an advantage? It costs ten times more than a gamecube to get a PC which can do gamecube-grade graphics. it's harder to set up, it takes more room. What is great about the PC?
It's uniquely positionned to allow for consumer-generated content. Mods, maps, extra levels, the community out there giving you more is what makes the PC special. The convergance in technologies allowing you to chat with friends online, then hop into a game with them, to pick from any choice of mods & maps, find a server to your tastes & join. There's the advantage of PC games. Is the current publishing model taking advantage of this? Not really.
How can PC gaming be saved, have premium PC games in the hands of players & a meal on the tables on the developers? Imagine for a moment that instead of buying a box in the shops, you buy it online. You'll need a 150Mb patch by the time you get the game home anyway, so why not just download the thing? That would skip the retailers & wholesalers. The publishers could charge £10 a game & make a greater profit per sale. Now, consider for a moment - who needs publishers anymore? What if the developers had a mechanism where they could just publish online? Charge £7.50 a game, making 50% more than they used to? Makes you think
Of course, if you're publishing online, you're not constrained by boxed-product thinking anymore. You could take a game like, for the sake of argument, Baldur's Gate 2, and make the first chapter of the game (i.e. the prologue) free. People download it, then go "Hey, I liked that, I want more!", and buy the full (moddable) client and the next chapter of the game for a couple of pounds. They keep playing, buying more chapters as they want them. With no boxes or release dates to work to, they can keep releasing the content as long as people want to keep playing. You could set a release every fortnight of a new chapter, allowing people to pre-order the chapter, pre-downloading it in advance, so that at "release date", the net explodes with activity as everyone jumps on their newest chapter. You could offer different payment models for an FPS - charge a tenner for the single player, a tenner for 3 months of access to the multiplayer, or thirty quid for lifetime access to the whole thing. You want less, you pay less. Overall, everybody wins.
PC gamers are a clever sort, so you can imaginge how happy they'd be at any system designed to lower the price of gaming & keep PC gaming alive as a platform. Far Cry & Battlefield Vietnam aren't gonna sustain the entire PC gaming market forever.
OK, I'm done. I expect some high-quality rebuttals by the time I'm done getting this BEERnix install working