Here Come The Heroes

By Alec Meer on February 12th, 2008 at 5:33 pm.

They're coming to get yoooooooou...

PC games: still not dead since 1997. Still, sales are down 6% year on year according to increasingly ubiquitous market researchers NPD. How can the decline, this unspecific apocalypse we’ve been told to fear for so long now, be halted? Inventive, diverse games? Greater support for indie development?

Nah, that’d be far too sensible. Instead, how about a humongous and slightly sinister alliance between the industry’s biggest monopoly-men? Dean Takahashi reveals that Intel, AMD, NVIDIA and Microsoft (amongst others) are forming a fellowship aimed at saving PC gaming.

Very few details so far, but my cynic-o-eye catches this:

The industry consortium will focus on fixing problems that make the PC a harder platform for learning to play games than the consoles.

Interestingly, that line is changed to “The industry consortium will focus on fixing problems that make the PC a less desirable platform than consoles for playing games” in this version of the same article published elsewhere on the Mercury News site. I’m guessing the latter is closer to the Alliance’s intent, concerning more the issues of system requirements and installation rather than having to look up what the hotkey for Spawn Goblin is.

My mind strays in fear to Games For WIndows, Microsoft’s ongoing and largely flaccid stab at making PC games a little more standardised, which in turn opened the door to the almost unbelievably cretinous Games For Windows Live multiplayer system. If you can manage to stomach its hateful subscription fee, excessive nagging and technical problems, it’s not impossible to glimpse a spark of pseudo-altruism behind it – a desire to making joining and playing an online game easier and more reliable. Which could be useful in some cases.

The question is whether we trust these guys specifically to be the ones to deliver it. Clearly there’s a lot of self-interest at stake on their monolithic part, but moreover track records are wobbly – MS with Vista/DX10 as well as Live, the hardware guys with all manner of ridiculously niche high-end tech, deliberately obfuscated product line naming conventions and shoehorning their logos into game load screens, which achieves nothing more than making players wait even longer to get into the bloody game.

In other words, I’d almost rather see a PC Gaming Alliance consist of -ack- EA, Activision and Ubisoft – than these guys. Firms that actually make PC games.

The counter-argument to the Alliance’s endeavours are the forms of revenue the NPD reports and the like don’t yet report on, and as a result don’t paint an accurate picture of the PC gaming industry: MMO subs, online delivery systems and micro-transactions are very lucrative new-age cash cows in their own right. If the Alliance is focused on putting PC games on a more similar shelf to console games, it’s possible they’re too hung up on making Need For Speed games install a bit a more easily. Surely what’s key is to focus on and take advantage of the ways in which in which the PC is excitingly different to consoles, not homogeneity across all platforms.

On the other hand, when you’ve got arch-rivals such as Intel and AMD, or NVIDIA and, erm, AMD, actually working together to further The Cause, perhaps it could be good for us after all. The hardware arms race of the last couple of decades may have brought us cheaper processors, but it doesn’t seem to have to altered the perpetual perception that PC gaming is failing – so perhaps these firms holding hands for a change is good news.

For the record – the death of PC gaming really isn’t a prophecy we subscribe to here. It’s just changing and diversifying, and very much for the better. We probably couldn’t, for instance, have gotten RPS off the ground six or seven years ago, back when the indie scene, the mod scene, the Steam scene et al weren’t quite as beefy as they are now.

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41 Comments »

  1. Solario says:

    Maybe if they spent more money on actually fixing their products and avoiding countless hardware and software errors and defects, people wouldn’t be more interested in Console games where the likeliness of such faults occure with far less frequency?

    Or maybe I’m just bitter that my Nvidia graphic card still doesn’t work at all, after they somehow managed to destroy it completely, roughly a year ago, thanks to their new patches.

  2. Taxman says:

    Well what they could do is start by setting minimum performance levels for a GPU (this controversial aspect was dropped from DX10 I believe), the GPU makers wouldn’t like that though as it restricts their market options but maybe they realize it is hurting them in the long run churning out crappy DX9/10 GPU’s which can barely play anything.

    Also get developers to optimize more for the low end of the market with the boom in laptops and shift away from the desktop, granted the sliding scale approach is taken with PC games but too often I see people set the settings in games beyond what it is capable off and then moan, so less emphasis of the high end & catering to GPU geeks (again NV, AMD might not like that, less reason to sell uber GPU’s).

  3. Acosta says:

    If these are our heroes, PC gaming is doomed for real.

  4. Chris Evans says:

    Funnily enough last night I wrote (or re-wrote) an article that talks about how Steam is going to be the saviour of PC gaming! Link.

    Can’t see this lot doing much good, can we really trust AMD/nVidea and Intel to work together to improve the PC platform when doing so would partly require changing their multiple line ups of cards/processors.

  5. Optimaximal says:

    One word… STEAM.

    It’s managed to ape almost every bullet point Microsoft used to sell GFW: Live & managed to actually get it right in the process…

    • Ease of use – Check!
    • A consistent interface managed by one company for all games – Check!
    • Good games that people actually want – Check!
    • Centralised management system that pretty much forgoes intrusive anti-piracy methods for a built-in transparent system – Check!
    • A free community/gaming system that actually works – Check!
    • Achievements (for people who want them) – Check!

    Steam just seems to do everything right at the moment.

    edit – strange css hack on unordered lists there :)

  6. kuddles says:

    I agree with Acosta. Please stop. I’m not a MS hater, I actually like Vista, my 360 and my Zune.

    But Games For Windows is beyond useless, it actually has been detrimental to PC gaming like nothing before. I’m serious. The number of people who I see in real life and online who are under the impression that the GFW logo on a game means Vista-only and pay-for-multiplayer, are spreading that misinformation, and skipping a purchase of Crysis or World in Conflict because of it is a disturbingly high number. And I don’t even need to go into all the technical issues and false starts GFW Live has suffered.

    Please, guys, just take the money you were going to spend on this initiative and give it to Valve to run it. For the sake of PC gamers everywhere.

  7. crozon says:

    i would say that the figures released for the PC in the US, is actually very good. see more and more people are buying games online which is not tracked. the fact crysis hit a million should also give an indication that the PC is not dying but doing really well. Valve have already said they have seen a 158% growth rate.
    still 2008 will be a good year, what with mass effect, spore, starcraft 2 etc etc and these should be massive sellers

  8. Optimaximal says:

    I know they have their principals, but Valve need to give at least a minimal indication of how well the Orange Box sold, if not the rest of Steams catalogue.
    The game didn’t feature in any top-seller lists when the word-of-mouth generated by Portal could easily have placed it 2nd (Call of Duty 4 just owned everything – thinking about it, if Steam sales had been included, the PC version might have surpassed the PS3)

  9. Feet says:

    I say we form the Brown Coats and fight the Alliance!

    YOU CAN’T TAKE THE SKY FROM ME!

  10. WibbleWobble42 says:

    One thing that would go a long way towards encouraging the mainstream to buy pc games is optimisation. If Assassin’s Creed could be optimised to play on lower spec while still having the options to scale up, then a lot more people would be willing to buy it on pc.

    Brown Coats ftw!

  11. PuPPeTeeR says:

    This just sounds like more hardware based DRM solutions to me…

  12. Kast says:

    @Feet: See, this is why we lost, you know. Superior numbers.

    On topic, I totally agree with Optimaximal. The Alliance is rather late to the party. Also, isn’t it weird that AMD are working alongside Intel and nVidea? They’re supposed to be competitors, right?

  13. Larington says:

    It sometimes seems as though TakeTheMicRosoft have poisoned the skies though, just take a look at Vista. If they’d had any sense they would’ve built a fast streamlined operating system where you then ‘plug in’ all the rest of the features, so specific ones can be disabled when needed so that developers don’t have to create two sets of system requirements – One for Vista and another for XP.

    Heck, a Vista – Gamers edition could’ve worked too, IF done properly.

  14. Jack Monahan says:

    Sorry, but this is by far the worst header graphic to appear on this site. Put your hands up, and slowly step away from the Photoshop filters! :)

    A side-by-side of, say, the Games for Windows logo and the Steam logo would be cleaner and more illustrative of what the posting is about.

  15. Alec Meer says:

    It’s kind of supposed to be deliberately awful, but yeah. It’s awful.

  16. Cigol says:

    Microsoft mentioned in a paragraph about saving PC gaming? More like taking control of it and syphoning it to facilitate the sale of yet more branded ‘bricks’ churning out suspiciously dull and unimaginative PC games.

    Steam ftw.

  17. oryly says:

    “Sorry, but this is by far the worst header graphic to appear on this site. Put your hands up, and slowly step away from the Photoshop filters! :)

    A side-by-side of, say, the Games for Windows logo and the Steam logo would be cleaner and more illustrative of what the posting is about.”

    I think the current heading shows the absurdity of the “alliance” more. Only some monstrous abomination (as pictured) can come out of this alliance.

  18. Muzman says:

    Surely the pic should have been some sort of Logo Force Voltron

  19. oryly says:

    The current pic does kinda look like it:
    AMD is the head, Microsoft and Nvidia are the arms while Intel is the single leg which the giant robot uses to hop around. It would look better though if the Microsoft logo had the “claw” shape to the left rather than to the right. So the robot would have a claw.

  20. Bandit of Fire and Demons says:

    I don’t believe that MS want to do it, I mean they haven’t cared about the PC (as a gaming platform) as much as they did before they made their xbox. At least that is the way I feels to me. (DRM does not count :P)

  21. Alec Meer says:

    [Replaced with boring image to stop distracting people. Original here, for those who care.]

  22. Stromko says:

    I don’t see what crucial interest any of those companies would have in ‘saving’ PC gaming. They either have their hardware inside of consoles, own a console brand, or both. If people stopped buying and using PCs tommorow, all those companies would still survive and thrive.

    I think folks have a good point when they talk about the track records here. The ‘games for windows’ initiative hasn’t achieved anything, and the problems they purport to solve are infrequent to begin with and easily within the margin of poor implementation for a given piece of software, whether or not a universal format exists to ‘solve’ it.

    I agree this coalition is definitely late to the party. If there’s a viable solution to ‘save’ PC games– if they need saving at all — it’s already being implemented by a half dozen different entities as we speak. Digital distribution, niche titles, auto-updating, etc.

    I don’t know why people keep fortelling the doom of the PC when it’s outlasted console generation after console generation. We gnash our teeth when a good game doesn’t get a good PC port, but tons and tons of PC titles never get ported to consoles.

    With a PC you get most of the good games that exist, while with a console you get /some/, and it becomes nothing but a paperweight in 2-to-6 years. You probably end up replacing your PC just as often, but it’s still a PC.

  23. BrokenSymmetry says:

    I love Steam as any other, but it should be recognized that by itself Steam is only part of the solution to “save” PC gaming. It does nothing to solve hardware and operating-system incompatibilities, performance and networking issues, etc. If you buy a game on Steam, and it doesn’t start on your computer, you’re basically on your own, because Valve’s support system is still pretty bad (or understaffed).

  24. Pidesco says:

    This would all be very good if PC gaming wasn’t a healthy, growing industry. As it is, this initiative is a load of useless bollocks.

  25. Rich Powers says:

    Seriously, when has MS’s involvement ever made anything better? Redmond’s sole interest is in keeping Windows the OS of choice for gaming.

    Games For Windows was designed by idiot marketers and implemented by idiot marketers; for a company supposedly into PC gaming, MS totally misjudged the market. Long-time PC gamers don’t want XBL type shit on their computer. Thankfully Steam came around and kicked GFW’s ass. Even so, I’m not a huge fan of Steam and refuse to buy any non-Valve games through it.

    The only problem with PC gaming (other than copious numbers of utterly shitty games) is sloppy optimization. TF2 runs fantastic at 1900×1200 on my 3.5 year old rig; Sid Meier’s Railroads!, the kind of game a more casual user is likely to buy, runs like absolute shit, and the graphics aren’t even that great.

    You think WoW would be so successful if it was optimized like most games out there? Hell no. And even though it doesn’t have the sharpest graphics or most blur effects, WoW still looks nice.

  26. Gulag says:

    “Save” PC gaming? HA. ha. Hold on…

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAAAHAAAHHHAAHA

    I read the press release and all I could hear was, “Oh crap! We’ve missed the boat again! Quick, jump in a life raft and claim to be the rescue mission before it leaves without us!”

    /Starts Steam

  27. Arathain says:

    From where I’m sitting I’ve never been happier with the PC gaming scene, and I really don’t believe it needs saved. I think what they want to “save” is the old graphics intensive blockbuster sales model that online distribution and the indie scene is quietly eroding. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for blockbusters, but it’s better for the platform not to have to rely on them.

  28. Evan says:

    I don’t think PC gaming needs to be saved. Digital distribution and with the fact that the PC is similar to the 360 mean that PC gaming is here to stay. Even Capcom, long a conole stalwart, has made a firm commitment to the PC.

  29. Cigol says:

    How many deaths has PC gaming suffered over the years? Is this just another false alarm? I’m worried because of the console market, or at least what’s masquerading as the console market. Nintendo are doing their own thing which is great, but Microsoft and even Sony to a (somewhat) lesser extent are basically packaging mini-PC’s with a really lacklustre catalogue of games and cross-market dominance.

  30. Stick says:

    So, the future of PC gaming would be Vista-exclusives with dodgy multiplayer aspects, where you pay extra for advantages. And you’ll need hardware good enough to run Skynet on.

    I feel so much safer now.

  31. josh g. says:

    Do the NPD numbers even include titles sold via Steam and other direct distribution methods?

    Maybe the “Death of PC gaming” should really be read as the long-awaited Death to a Broken Game Retail System.

  32. Muzman says:

    Why does this effort to ‘save PC gaming’ seem to be mostly about ‘saving PC gaming from PC gamers’.
    (just to echo the general reaction)

  33. po says:

    PC gaming isn’t going to die. Anyone who wants can go out and make PC games, with little more than what they play them on, a few free programs, and mountains of free information on the web on how to do it.

    If I wanted to make games for a console I’d have to buy an expensive development system. That’s if I can convince MS/Sony/Nintendo I’m worthy enough. Then I’d have to learn how to use the damn thing. Where’s the development community for consoles? Stuck in a few big companies and behind NDAs is where.

  34. redrain85 says:

    When is NPD going to stop giving out misleading figures that completely skew things in favor of consoles. It’s like they’re not even trying to be responsible in their reporting. Get those Steam figures from Valve, do whatever it takes.

    And when is Microsoft going to deliver the Games for Windows Live that they originally promised? Not that we really need it, of course. But GfW Live in its current form is an utter failure. Until they create a standalone application, and offer all the same features that Xbox Live does, GfW Live will continue to be ignored and considered the piece of crap that it currently is. Valve has totally kicked Microsoft’s ass with Steam.

    I understand that Microsoft wants to address the market of the less technically sophisticated gamer, with the 360: who just wants plug and play that really works. But they’ve almost completely ignored the PC side since the 360′s introduction. They’ve become PC gaming’s worst enemy. Which is tragically ironic. These half-hearted initiatives like Game for Windows, aren’t cutting it.

  35. The Pope says:

    From that list, it looks like they will save PC gaming from low system requirements, choice in operating system, free multiplayer and the like.

  36. Dinger says:

    Here’s the “problem”:
    go ahead and price a normal Windows PC that you would find on someone’s office desk (outside of the gaming industry). Now calculate what it costs to buy a mid-class “gaming rig”, that is, one capable of playing AAA releases. Heck, even comparing bottom-of-the-line stuff, Dell’s cheapest PC costs $350 and their cheapest XPS (“gaming capable”) is $1000. You could buy a PS3 for that difference.

    Now look at the new numbers from valve of what gamers are actually using now. Grab your calculators and, crunching out those numbers, figure out what percentage of those computers could run Crysis.

    The Crysis success story is that many, many computers that can run Crysis are running Crysis. The Windows crisis is that many people who want to play games don’t see why that should spend more money on it, especially when it means fighting the kids to use the computer.

    Effectively, the nVidia/ATI arms race, in pursuing those extra hundreds of bucks from the gamers, has created a “Windows gaming platform” distinct from a computer running Windows, and has shrunk the PC gaming market. So fifteen years ago, the strongest gaming asset of a PC was its ubiquity: A good office PC was a good gaming PC. Ten years ago, PCs were the only way to game online. Five years ago, Microsoft sought to leverage the strength of the PC gaming market to help them break into the console market.
    And all of a sudden, indie and casual games are exploding in popularity? Gee, could it be because you don’t need a fancy ATI card to play Age of Decadence? Or that people actually like to play games at the office?

    Besides, how come there are no good games that can be played on a LAN during lunch hour using 4-year-old XP boxes with shared video memory? That’s what the world demands!

  37. sigma83 says:

    Dinger is onto a winner. Most excellently put.

  38. Stuart White says:

    There are a lot of good points here which i wont repeat but there are two extra i can think of.

    1. The PC can be an attractive format for developers / publishers – for example, they don’t have to pay fees to microsoft for each game created (hence why console games cost always at least 7 gpp more than its PC equivalent). Another example is that there arent so many restrictions on PC games during the production process – you can package it however you like for instance and let the marketing team run wild.

    2. Why is it that “gaming PCs” are almost always very high spec, expensive pieces of kit? An xbox 360 is equalled in ability by the most modest of PCs. Is it too much to ask for cheaper PCs which are aimed at gaming without having 4 cores, 2 graphics cards and more RAM than you will ever need? Not every gamer demands to see Crysis in full resolution. Um, see every console owner as an example…

  39. Dinger says:

    errr… let me say fix that before someone else does:

    Besides, how come WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION OF DEFCON there are no good games that can be played on a LAN during lunch hour using 4-year-old XP boxes with shared video memory? That’s what the world demands!

  40. Alex McLarty says:

    We can only save games by bringing every single title ever made to the Mac.

    Honest.

    But seriously, stop relying on middleware and platform specific technologies. Everything can be ported to anything.

  41. matte_k says:

    Someone say Browncoats? I’m thinking we will rise again…