PC Sales Drop 10%, But Is There Anything To Worry About?

By John Walker on December 5th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

So we see in the news again that PC shipments are falling. Doom! Doom! Abandon website! Or, indeed, perhaps not.

The estimated number of PCs shipped in 2013 is thought to be around 300 million, according to regular soothsayers, IDC. That’s the level in around 2008, and they’re not expecting that number to significantly rise… Or fall.

It’s a significant drop. -10.1% in 2013, the biggest drop in numbers recorded. It’s not to be ignored. And IDC goes on to guess that there will be continued shrinkage next year, expecting to see another -3.8% fall in sales. But then, oddly, their long-range futuremancers predict a slightly positive turn. Not a dramatic change in fortunes, certainly, but they expect to see this decline level off. PCs aren’t as popular as they used to be. So what does this mean?

The first thing to bear in mind about these numbers is there’s no way to extrapolate information about gaming PCs. When it comes to what those PCs are being used for, we simply don’t know. The belief is that, with the expectation of levelling numbers, people who already have them are replacing them, but new people aren’t adopting the great wheezing boxes in a world of smartphones and tablets. But that doesn’t sound quite right to me. As much as whizzbang tablets are fantastic, it’s still pretty tricky to type your homework on them. Fortunately, IDC also postulates what seems more likely to me: that people just don’t see a need to upgrade their current machine. So says Senior Research Analyst, Jay Chou:

“Perhaps the chief concern for future PC demand is a lack of reasons to replace an older system. While IDC research finds that the PC still remains the primary computing device – for example, PCs are used more hours per day than tablets or phones – PC usage is nonetheless declining each year as more devices become available. And despite industry efforts, PC usage has not moved significantly beyond consumption and productivity tasks to differentiate PCs from other devices. As a result, PC lifespans continue to increase, thereby limiting market growth.”

And how. With Windows 7 running on machines that would have struggled with the dreadful Vista, and Windows XP still being supported through to the end of next year, were you not interested in gaming, what possible aspect of your machine would you need to change? A five year old PC handles the web, email, Word and Bejeweled – the Big Four – just dandy. With Windows 8 offering little to the desktop, there’s no sense of need for movement, and certainly nothing vaguely close to the perceived need to shift from Win 3.1 to 95, or 98 to XP.

And this even extends to gaming. A good PC from three years ago will still run pretty much everything, maybe only needing a new stick of RAM popped in, rather than worrying about replacing the whole box. With the stagnation of the previous console generation for so many years, the AAAs weren’t pushing technology in any interesting directions – there simply haven’t been the Unreals or the Cryses that drive a gaming generation to spec a new system. Now the new consoles are out, they’re pretty much equivalent to a decent current PC, so again that big shove is missing.

Of course, the other reason RPS isn’t tying its noose is that PC gaming is just so damned big right now. The scale of everything from eSports to bundle sales, MMOs to Steam, shows a vibrant, thriving PC market, as idiosyncratic and bloody-minded as it’s always been. Steam user numbers are growing at an astonishing rate, and RPS’s own readership only climbs. In the six years since RPS was the only dedicated PC gaming site out there, we’re now surrounded by (unworthy) competition. Major cross-platform sites that ignored the PC back when we were put our boots on are now putting it front and centre. Big cross-platform publishers are confused by it, certainly, not understanding that 10% of their sales is perhaps, you know, TEN PERCENT OF THEIR SALES, but everything points toward PC gaming being bigger than it’s ever been, and only pointing upward.

So what is the future? Obviously that’s a question we ask ourselves rather a lot. Our business rather depends on it. And indeed our beloved hobby. I could speculate. You should, in the comments. But while we wonder whether tablets-with-keyboards will evolve their way to being powerful enough to run top-end games, the reality is that’ll still be on a tiny little screen. It seems, for the foreseeable future at least, there will continue to be a market for desk-hogging great coughing metal behemoths plugged into miles-wide screens. And you know what – 300 million PCs a year? That’s an awful lot of PCs.

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162 Comments »

  1. Berzee says:

    Even so, I wish the PC2 was out already.

  2. TillEulenspiegel says:

    I’m currently using a 4+ year old i7 920 and have no plans to upgrade in the near future. I bought a new mid-range GPU about a year ago and an SSD for fun, but that’s all. Still runs most of the latest games on high settings.

    I’ll probably wait another year or two until DDR4 RAM is the norm.

    • sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

      Sounds like you’ve got exactly the same system as me, except I’ve yet to upgrade my 5850.

      I agree that there’s no reason to upgrade. sata3 instead of sata2 would be nice I guess.

      It does freak me out tho that the Galaxy S5 is rumored at 8 cores. Which is the same as that big box under my desk. The real hardware innovation these days is all mobile not desktop.

      • Cinek says:

        And still will perform worse than some of single-core smartphones?
        I’m not impressed.

      • klmx says:

        Err, some models of the GS4 already come with the infamous Exynos Octa. Also note that Samsung uses the term Octa very loosely, as they’re 2 sets of quad cores made for different loads (aka big.LITTLE)

        At any rate though, that chip is last-gen. They’ll probably unveil their A57 based soc at CES. At their current node I don’t really see a multi-core monster happening

      • nil says:

        I think you mean “catching up to real computers in process technology.” Now they have hit that particular cap (28nm node), look for “innovation” to slow down somewhat.

      • jezcentral says:

        I got my i7 920 with a 4890, which I upgraded to a 570. That’s it. Nothing else got changed, and it was still running everything I wanted until two months ago. (Then I won a ZooStorm 4770k with a Titan and SSD in it. Yay!)

      • neurosisxeno says:

        A bit of a nitpick but the i7-920 doesn’t have 8 cores, it has 4 cores with HyperThreading resulting in 4 cores and 4 virtualized cores. While you get a performance boost from HyperThreading it’s only something like 30% of the performance you would get from an actual core.

    • Jp1138 says:

      I´m using a i7 920 too, with 6GB RAM and a Radeon 5870… no urge right now to upgrade anything. We´ll see next year.

      • Asurmen says:

        I had this precise system (although my 920 is running at 3.9ghz instead of 2.63ghz) until August when I bought a 7970. I might need to upgrade every bar the GPU soon as I had a very crazy moment of spending and bought a 1440p IPS overclockable monitor.

        • sekoj says:

          Also still running an i7 920 @ 4.1 GHz, replaced my 5770 with a 7970 last year so still good for maxing most stuff out at 1080p @ 120hz . Planning to see how see how Haswell-e turns out next year and build myself something really nice :)

    • aequidens says:

      I have a 5 year old Q8200, which I only added an ssd and a gtx460 to, it runs most games at medium-high still.

    • kalirion says:

      After my desktop broke down, I gamed for 3 years on a 1.3GHz laptop with 4500mhd. Not bad for clearing out my retro gaming backlog, except that didn’t work as I simply started buying indie bundles left and right. But then even most indie games started having trouble with it, so now I have a second hand i7-920 w/4850. That’s enough for me right now, and I finally started going through my “newer AAA” backlog like Path of Exile, Borderlands and Dark Souls, as well as indie games which didn’t run so well on the laptop (Rogue Legacy, Giana Sisters.) Strangely enough, *now* I made time for Unreal 2 & ST:Voyager Elite Force… Go figure.

      But I guess the point is, I don’t really feel the need for the latest&greatest. So I play games without Anti-Aliasing, SSAO, and HairFX – big deal.

    • Bluerps says:

      Hah! I’ve got one like that too. I think it will be good for another year or two.

    • DrStrangeLug says:

      Pfft, I’m still running the same 486 I had 13 years ago.

      True, every single part of it has been changed at least 3 times but never have I actually bought a new PC.

      • Barberetti says:

        Same here, apart from my floppy drive and keyboard(s) which are still going strong after all these years!

      • Apocalypse says:

        Same, its just 17 years ago ;-)
        Though I have to admit, I got 2 notebooks and one iMac as well in those 17 years.

        In the same time I got about 16 new different graphic cards, nearly as much CPUs, a dozen HDDs, etc
        And I did build dozens over dozens of systems for friends, relatives, etc

        There is no sane reason not to use a modular platform in a modular way.

      • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        I hope you’ve named it Theseus.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Hell, I’m on a Core 2 Quad and the only game I notice suffering for it is PlanetSide 2, which a) is about 50% more HUGE than other games b) they’re currently in the process of making faster.

      Got a newer graphics card, though, mind. The old one blew up.

      • SuicideKing says:

        The games that i found my C2Q being a bottleneck were/are:
        1. Freespace 2 Open
        2. Arma III
        3. Earlier Planetside 2, but it’s become better now.
        4. Rome II, but again, that’s become better after the 7 patches.

        I think mostly that’s the big ones. I mean, well optimized games haven’t proved too much of an issue.

    • kromeboy says:

      changed my PC 7+ years ago to play BioShock and never updated ever since. I have only replaced some broken components like the Graphic Card and the Power Supply.

    • nrvsNRG says:

      post was crap so i deleted.

    • jrodman says:

      My year-old gaming pc is a core i5 tuned for quietness; it’s fine for everything I’ve tried for gaming.

      My productivity machine is still a core 2 duo with 4GB of ram running Debian Linux. Nothing I do on there makes me wish I had a faster box. I’m not sure when I bought it. Maybe 2006?

  3. floweringmind says:

    Microsoft gave up on the PC market with Windows 8. They are so obsessed with Xbox and mobile that they hurt the PC market from growing. With zero desire to innovate on the PC, the only thing you are getting from Windows 8 is more DRM and trying to reduce the PC to a tablet that can be controlled in the ways they want instead of what the user wants.

    I have heard rumors that the future versions of Windows are going to run in the cloud like Office. So the your PC will be turned into a terminal. I think we are headed towards the great exodus to Linux systems.

    • JaminBob says:

      I hope you are right (about migration to Linux). But at present their is still not the range of games, of course that is a vicious circle… low adoption rates because of few games, few games because of low adoption rates…

    • spinnenente says:

      it would be mad if Microsoft would turn windows into a fully “cloud” driven software since they’d loose a massive amount of customers from the industry which will not use those cloud services for obvious reasons. Additionally such a system would only make sense if they were a company like google which they are not.
      While Microsoft might intend to bring they tablet and smartphone software closer to Windows on pc they will not be able to merge those systems for a long time.
      Anyway the pc market is a complex one compared to the consoles. Especially that the number or sold PCs is not a true indicator of how the trend of PC usage is going to be. And you can upgrade your pc quite easily expanding the lifetime of your machine.

  4. Wisq says:

    With many people buying parts and assembling their own computers, and with that task becoming easier and easier with each passing year, it’s hard not to wonder how accurate these estimates really are anyway.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Exactly, I know of at least 3 people who have built their own PCs for the first time, having bought pre-built systems before hand. Coincidentally, I only know 30 people.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      This. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a pre-assembled PC from a store, and there’s no reason not to think there’s an important quantity of people like us out there.

      • Richard Burton says:

        I agree. I think this is also major factor why we are seeing an increasing amount of high-street “computer shops” disappearing in recent years; it is becoming common knowledge to repair and build our own rigs.

    • Volcanu says:

      Hmm….I imagine the majority of PC gamers build their own system. But I doubt more than about 10% of more ‘generalist’ users do. And the enterprise sector which will account for a large chunk (possibly even the majority) of that 300m will be buying pre-built machines.

      I genuinely doubt that a ‘shadow’ PC market of machines assembled from seperately sourced components, is what lies behind this apparent tailing off in sales. For one thing most ‘generalist’ consumers want something that you can unpack and switch on (or instance beyond the ‘cool/aesthetic’ factor, Apple prodcuts are hugely succesful becuase of their ease of use ). I think most would find assembling a machine too daunting a task ,despite it really not being all that hard…

      For my part, I think it really is down to the fact that their is no need to upgrade for most users- whereas in the past even the family PC would become obsolete every 2-3 years. I imagine the same will happen with the tablet market too (eventually).

      • Cinek says:

        “But I doubt more than about 10% of more ‘generalist’ users do.” – you would be surprised. I don’t know how it is where you live, but here major PC stores sell custom-made PCs to the general clients – they just hand-picked parts and sell them as a PCs showing ratings from 3D Mark or stuff like that.
        Owning custom-build PC doesn’t require any knowledge. You just go in store and pick one that got best performance in your budget.

        I would easily say that over 50% of all the PCs sold are custom-build, and with each passing year this percentage rapidly grows.

        • Volcanu says:

          Maybe I would be. I’ll admit I was n’t going off any hard evidence here, more thinking anecdotally about the people I know (who arent ‘in’ to PCs) and how they go about buying a machine and the general popularity of easy to use, pick up and play type devices (tablets, consoles, that sort of thing).

          It would be interesting to know if there are any figures available for PC component sales that might shed some light on the matter. You would have thought that someone, somewhere tracks & collates such things….

          • Cinek says:

            Problem is that often people don’t even realize they got custom build PC by a definition of these stats, as they include only pre-made PCs from a big companies, like Dell, HP, etc. etc. Meanwhile many shops simply put up their PC together, put their own brand labels on them, and sell without anyone realizing that what they buy is exactly the same thing as a PC they could build on their own – at least Dell and alike bother with custom case – they don’t ;).

    • frightlever says:

      End users building their own PCs are a rounding error when it comes to total PC sales.

      But new PC sales are unimportant, it’s whether or not games sales are rising that is the only thing that matters, for now. If more people with a PC are using it to play games then even if the overall sales of new PCs are falling, the number of people playing not-Minesweeper on them can still be rising, and in fact as mentioned above, the install base can also be rising.

      If you’re a PC manufacturer and fewer PCs are selling, it’s a problem for you. You make your money selling PCs. If you’re a PC gamer and fewer PCs are selling, then it’s an indicator but it’s not a critical statistic.

      • Volcanu says:

        Here’s a man who understands.

      • HadToLogin says:

        If you’re a Gamer and number of sold PCs fall down that only means developers stopped pushing forward, so there’s no reason to spend $1000 on Titan-based PC.

        My brother still use some GeForce 9800 to play without much problems (console quality at least).

  5. Stepout says:

    Perhaps when my super-powerful tablet streams video games to my light-as-a-feather VR goggles I won’t need a desktop and monitor anymore? As long as its not difficult to play turn-based strategy games that way.

  6. noodlecake says:

    I bought my PC two and a half years ago. It has a HD6950 and some weird ATI processors with an incredibly obtuse and impenetrable name and description and I’m happy with it. No need to replace or upgrade it for a good while, I think. I can’t max out some newer games but I don’t mind really. They still look pretty good.

  7. Kubrick Stare Nun says:

    With the lack of games that actually require more powerful PCs that comes as no surprise.

    • mouton says:

      I got a damn Core 2 Duo and I still can play practically everything.

      Of course, detail levels and fps are not exactly stellar now. On the other hand, most games I play don’t have high requirements anyway.

    • Cinek says:

      Yep. You don’t buy a PC to handle “Crysis at max details”. Unless you got multiple screens – average new office PC will handle pretty much every game out there at high details in 1080p. That’s sad, but it seems like Star Citizen and alike will eventually change that trend (heck – even Oculus Rift will be a motor of progress if it’ll be successful enough – though with 300 000 000 PCs sold every year I doubt single accessory or game can affect overall sales in any significant way).

      • mouton says:

        While I like technological progress, I do prefer games competing with gameplay instead of going for the most shiny, as it was ten years ago.

        • Cinek says:

          I prefer games to be great in all aspects. I don’t spend 1000$+ on a PC to play only a poor-man 2D games. No matter how good gameplay they got.

  8. DantronLesotho says:

    I think a large part of this conversation has a lot to do with the fact that we really haven’t seen a huge Hertz jump in processing in a few years. Sure there’s number cheating by adding multiple cores but it’s not like the 90s and early 2000s. Sure there’s no new Cryses or Unreals to put on a machine, but there’s also not as much of a reason to develop them because there are no expanses of processing space to fill up at the moment. GPU’s have taken a bunch of visual shortcuts so there’s not as much of a need to innovate graphically in the core CPU development, and things look pretty damn awesome these days so the hunger is not there. But either way I look forward to progress; the only way to the future!

    • FriendlyFire says:

      “Number cheating”? What the hell does that even mean? The GHz race has long since stopped being relevant; compare a 2.4GHz Core 2 Quad with a 2.4GHz Haswell and see how the former gets utterly wrecked by the latter. CPUs improve in many ways besides just clock speed, and core count is just one of them. With threading becoming more and more important, core count is also becoming a decisive factor and not “number cheating”.

    • frightlever says:

      Originally, I believe, Moore’s law stipulated that processor speeds would double every 18 months. Years ago this was re-worded to say that processing power would double every 18 months and that’s still holding true and likely will for a decade at least.

      You cannot meaningfully compare a 3GHz CPU from today, with one from five years ago.

      • Pliqu3011 says:

        Actually Moore’s Law is ending rather quickly and it will most likely not hold on for another decade.
        Fascinating article about it (and evolution of CPU’s in general) here for anyone interested:
        http://herbsutter.com/welcome-to-the-jungle/

        • jrodman says:

          This article is not really arguing that Moore’s Law is going to have some inflection or that transistor count or density will plateau, so it doesnt really suggest Moore’s Law won’t continue on indefinitely. Instead, it argues performance benefits that derive from it will become challenging to realize. But it does muddy the waters a lot with language choice.

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Moore’s law states that IC transistor count doubles every two years.
        The 18 months performance stuff is a rewording from someone else.

        • jrodman says:

          As a minor quibble; moore was just making an observation on trends that were current and expected to continue, it was dubbed a law after the fact. But indeed it was about transistor count, which is more or less related to chip density.

  9. Brosepholis says:

    This is only news to worry about if your sense of self-worth is inappropriately tied to your choice of gaming platform.

    So most people who visit and write for this site, then.

    • Frank says:

      Another reason to care: software developers have less incentive to make version of their products for platforms with small market shares. I guess we still beat phones and tablets for low-system-requirements stuff, since consumers there are used to paying only $1-2 for games…

      • frightlever says:

        That’s not true. If it was developers would ignore the paltry consoles, with their 5-6 million sales per year, to concentrate on PC with its healthy 300 million sales a year.

        You don’t understand how numbers work. None of you do. It makes me weep.

        • Frank says:

          Nice trolling…maybe you didn’t notice but I was commenting on the *shrinking* of the PC market (which may or may not be implied by the numbers reported in this article), not on the size of the PC market. I guess if I’d used “smaller” instead of “small” you might have cottoned on.

          Again, I don’t reckon you actually believe what you say, but in case you do: you don’t understand sales. Folks who buy a dedicated gaming machine are (i) interested in buying games and (ii) relatively wealthy. So the revenue per device a publisher can expect is higher for consoles. Also, the cost of ensuring compatibility across all PCs is typically high relative to the cost of developing for one or two consoles.

          • jrodman says:

            Of course that’s a misleading number to track, because game sales should relate to the *installed base*, not the rate of acquisition. Obviously not all PCs are going to be used for gaming, but a very large percentage, probably over 30%, are used at least for occasional gaming, so the installed base is enormous, and probably still growing.

            The other interesting question would be whether the amount of gaming time for the platform is growing, steady, or shrinking as the sales slow, the installed base continues to rise but more slowly, and the the hours of attention of users shifts to other devices.

    • Reefpirate says:

      So far I haven’t seen anyone worrying about it…

    • Nogo says:

      You realize how much of a putz you look like when you tie your self-worth to your sense of self-importance, right?

      You’re a walking contradiction, bro

  10. Richard Burton says:

    Do hardcore PC gamers with high-end custom water/freon-cooled tower rigs actually buy stock PC’s? Um.. no, we do not. We build them from scratch ourselves. I always recommend new gamers to build their own rigs, the price to performance ratio will save one hundreds if not thousands of pounds. If stock PC sales figures are dropping, then what are the sales figures of individual components like say Motherboards, PSU’s, Videocards, memory, etc? I’m pretty sure those figures by comparison will be rising, not falling.

    • Blue_Lemming says:

      or we keep the same system for years, and replace bits ad hock as I and possibly many others do, some extra RAM here a new drive there. Maybe a GPU update but so far even on my rather wheezy Q8400 CPU i am still gaming without a problem.

      My PC still has IDE drives and most bits were scavenged from older builds and half broken PC’s.

      This tells us people are become more savvy perhaps? too much faith in my fellow humans?

    • Volcanu says:

      Perhaps. But I imagine they are relatively insignificant in terms of the overall ‘PC’ market.

      I dont doubt that PC gaming itself is in rude health, but it’s probably taking a larger slice of a shrinking pie. Or at least a pie that is growing less quickly*.

      * y’know those well loved growing pies, just like yer ma used to make….

    • stele says:

      I have a custom “high-end” PC I use for software development and gaming, and I had a local shop build it for me. I have better use of my time than fiddling with selecting and configuring components that may not work together properly.

    • frightlever says:

      Gamers with Freon-cooled custom PCs are about as important to the gaming industry as my uncle, who keeps telling me he can beat me at Freecell, which I have apparently failed to explain to him is a single player game.

  11. Richard Beer says:

    I actually just bought my first complete PC system in about 7 years, and only because I had a very specific requirement: a powerful gaming PC in a form factor that would fit neatly under my TV. So I got a mid-range i7 Alienware X-51 with an SSD, which I’m sure will keep me going for many years.

    • Richard Burton says:

      Sounds very nice, and funny you should mention Alienware… the last PC I built was based on the exact system specs of the top of the range systems on the Alienware website. It was quite a useful guide!! I saved myself a few hundred pounds and bought the individual components myself; the shiny black form-factor metal case I built it in looks rather nicer than the Alienware one I think. The money I saved by building my own shall be going towards an Oculus Rift and a copy of Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen.

      • Richard Beer says:

        Would love to know where you got your case and how big/small it is. I wanted something vaguely XBox sized but could literally find nothing that came close to the X51. That’s the only reason I didn’t build it myself!

  12. Frank says:

    My video card is too weak to play the Witcher 2 and my RAM a little low for data work (6 GB), but that’s not enough reason to upgrade. Usually, I upgrade when I become accustomed to faster window navigation or having more windows open or generally improved OS UI thanks to experience with a computer I don’t own (e.g., at the office).

    I’ve gone 3.5 years, which is longer than usual, but don’t see myself upgrading until Windows 9. At that point, I’ll finally get a decent video card and effectively future-proof the thing, I reckon.

  13. Ergates_Antius says:

    I doubt this will have much to do with gaming PCs at all tbh.

    This will be people who use[d] a PC for web browsing, email and the occaisional letter or spreadsheet. Some of them will just continue to use the perfectly functional PC they already have, a lot of them will have realised they don’t need an ugly beige box cluttering up the corner of their lounge at all and will buy a nice shiney tablet instead.

    • Richard Beer says:

      This is exactly right.

      It is also worth bearing in mind that, from what I can make out, ‘PC’ here includes Macs as well as Windows machines, and lumps laptops and desktops in with each other.

      It’s almost certain that this 10% drop is caused people choosing to use an iPad, other tablet or their phone for casual browsing rather than buying something with a keyboad.

      This figure has zero bearing on PC gaming because this 10% drop doesn’t relate to systems bought to game on. Or at least that’s what I’d expect if I could drill far enough down into the figures.

  14. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    So, the time has come for panic. I, for one, shall immediately commence the burning and looting.

    • Arvind says:

      Big publishers will use this comment as proof that PC gamers resort to piracy at every available opportunity.

      • grimdanfango says:

        Hehe, I’ve found the internet so much easier to digest ever since I read about Betteridge’s law of headlines.

        Of course RPS are rather more professional than that – they’re rather obviously *not* running a scare story about the imminent death of the PC here. It’s more an ironic reference to the rest of the internet’s tendancy to parrot off that same nonsense year after year, followed by a decent bit of journalism actually taking a look at the reality of the situation.

        I’m wondering if there’s a similar law regarding any headline that refers to a specific number of things you need to know about a thing. I tried googling to find out, but I couldn’t find anything amongst the mountains of trash journalism :-)

  15. db1331 says:

    PC gaming is dying. Again.

  16. Ny24 says:

    I just bought a new PC a few days ago. So actually there was a rise in pc sales by about 100% to last year. Maybe those statistics didn’t include me then?

    • The Random One says:

      Well, I bought a PC last year, and didn’t buy any this year, so maybe you bought a PC that was 10% smaller than mine and caused this trend.

  17. burmabaines says:

    I think the next big game to come out that will send people scurrying to their newsagents for a PC Shopper will be Star Citizen. I have a 5 year old machine (i5 dual core, 8800 GTS, 4Mb ram) and can’t even run the hangar module. I plan on spending about 2 grand just before it comes out and can imagine a lot of people doing the similar.

  18. trjp says:

    There are a lot of factors in the drop in “PC” sales – many of which directly relate to the way the industry has been run for ‘profit over progress’.

    Examples:
    There’s a widespread belief that earthquakes in Taiwan led to sharp increases in HDD prices but that’s total bollocks. Aside from a short “panic” period, HDD production barely flinched (see the industry’s own figures) – what really happened is that companies making HDDs merged/were taken over, competition died-out and prices were hiked.

    Netbooks were designed to work alongside your laptop but in many cases they outright replaced them – this caused laptop sales to drop and so to counter this they made laptops cheaper (e.g. they made them netbooks). What the industry missed is that netbooks were all most people needed and by creating them they enabled people to buy a £200 computer instead of a £400 one.

    Tablets and phones came along and replaced netbooks and laptops for many people – and worse still, their cost is largely obfuscated by behind deals and contracts. My phone would have cost more new than my PC did but I never noticed that because I ‘paid’ for it over 2 years on a contract…

    All that is down to the industry not realising that many of it’s customers “just wanted to use Facebook, eBay, Amazon”…

    There’s also the ‘death of the desktop’ – the only people left wanting ‘full size’ desktops now are gamers which pushes-up prices and thus lowers sales on those too.

    2008s sabotage of the world financial system by thieves-in-suits pretty-much stopped Moore’s Law – products didn’t get updated so fast and so people had less need to upgrade. I know people still using Q6600 systems which are faster than some systems I’ve seen people buy in the last 2 years – I’ve seen people buy ‘new’ laptops which are worse than their ‘old’ ones…

    There’s a lot going on but most of the fall in sales is down to foolish/selfish/short-sightted exploitation of customers – indeed otten a fundamental misunderstanding of what customers actually wanted!!

    • Emeraude says:

      I know people still using Q6600 systems which are faster than some systems I’ve seen people buy in the last 2 years

      One of my friend was recently irate at my old Q6600 rig getting better results in tests than his brand new shiny rig.

      I know I’d be too.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Then there is the opposite end of the scale. Those getting 6-8 core monsters, with 8gb DDR3 1600mhz, ssd and NVidia 570GTX with a suped up motherboard, all for playing “games”.

        Which equates to solitaire. No, for real, they got it to watch DVDs and play solitaire and surf the net.

        Mind you, it’s to be future proof. But even then, when 3d volmetric memory cubes become too complicated for most dual core systems, your 8 core monsters not going to help without that new q-bit integration… Basically, you can’t future proof everything, as the old super intel Prescots show struggling to play HD!

        • cF- says:

          I’m in the Q6600 camp. Oc’d to 3.4 and still running fine. Best PC investment so far. Not sure the next one can top it.

    • Sakkura says:

      Earthquakes in Taiwan? It was flooding in Thailand, for F’s sake. Please stop babbling about stuff you don’t understand.

      • trjp says:

        Flood – earthquake – slight bowel-disturbance – my bad – except It wasn’t either of those things of course – was my point – it was a landgrab for control of market and it resulted in prices still being higher than they were before it happened (over 2 years ago).

        You really have to stop leaping into threads to highlight the mistakes of others – throw a barb – miss the point and add fuck-all else tho – seriously – stop stroking your chin :)

  19. TaylanK says:

    Thank you for this intelligent analysis. Not long ago I was at a game dev meetup thing, where a tech-evangelist from a certain mobile device company was heralding the death of PC, by citing the decline in sales numbers. Somehow I managed not to shout ‘BS’.

    The decline is bad news if you are a PC manufacturer. It does not have the same bearing on you at all if you are selling software, where your concern should be the installed base. In fact, in that regard, things are better than ever. If the PCs sold in the last three years can all play your game, all three years contribute to your installed base, which is a great improvement compared to the ~1 year obsolescence at the heyday of the PC graphics arms race.

    • Ny24 says:

      But you should have called bs on this one. Sometimes one must not hold back and this is one of those moments.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Sadly I feel it’s not possible. Such is, comparable to telling a Doctor in their own conference that their [insert obvious con treatment] is a con, and not expecting serious and dire consequences. :(

  20. aldo_14 says:

    I still have a pretty nifty PC (i5-3750k, GTX670, 16GB RAM, SSd, blah, expensive but nice stuff), but what I’ve really discovered is that not upgrading my monitor beyond 1600*1050 is great for performance.

    Another thing I noted. Obviously all those machines aren’t dedicated gaming machines (although I’m guessing that proportion is increasing, as non-gaming, no-work machines are replaced by things like tablets), but 300m is almost twice the lifetime sales of the PS2 (155m), which is the current record holder for consoles.

    • frightlever says:

      Or, you’re wasting all that very credible hardware on a monitor the size of a postage stamp. I doubt there’s much you couldn’t run at 1080P with that gear. But yeah, I hung on to my 1280×1024 TFT for far longer than I ever should have but never had framerate issues with anything.

      • Emeraude says:

        I hung on to my 1280×1024 TFT

        I’m mad as hell my 1280*1024 CRT died recently, trying to get it repaired.
        Got a BENQXL2420T on a friend’s advice, and I’m frankly hating it in comparison. Especially the 16:9 bit. really uncomfortable for gaming I find.

  21. Caradog says:

    With integrated graphics my laptop can barely render anything in 3D, but quite merrily runs 2D games. There’s a seemly inexhaustible stream of great indie games that work well on it, so I while I’d like to upgrade I really don’t need to. As long as the indie scene keeps going I should think I’ll be fine.

  22. Moraven says:

    Year of the Consoles.

    I said it.

    • fish99 says:

      These numbers aren’t specific to gaming PCs remember, and Steams concurrent user numbers are higher than ever. This is more about people switching from laptops/desktops to tablets.

    • TormDK says:

      Decade of the casuals you mean.

      That is who are driving the Steamøs user base after all. F2P games that doesn’t require much more than a cheap laptop to play.

      Thats also why laptop sales are up, while desktop sales are down. The PC enthusiast has always been a minority, but truely it’s only down hill from here. The future is mobile.

    • The Random One says:

      I said it too. In 2006.

  23. Foosnark says:

    I bought my computer in 2011, I don’t predict needing to replace/upgrade it for another couple of years, unless it suddenly dies for some reason. I don’t plan to go beyond 1680×1050, and the video card I have in there is kind of overkill.

    I do want an SSD — for my OS, music production software and sample libraries mainly. But I’m not sure I want it enough to go through the hassle of setting it up.

  24. HeroJez says:

    For a minute I thought that was my PC case, but then I remembered my PC case is nowhere near that big.

    And I’m using it right now!

    Still. Exciting sudden mistake thought!!

  25. Cinek says:

    300 000 000 PCs sold in a year.
    Remind you one small fact:
    - Playstation 3 sold since release: bit over 80 000 000
    - Xbox 360 sold since release: bit over 80 000 000
    - Nintendo Wii sold since release: bit over 100 300 000

    All 3 consoles together sold less units since their respective release dates than there are PCs sold EACH YEAR.

    What did you said about dawn of PCs again?
    How do we call that thing consoles got? Rotting corpse?

    • Bull0 says:

      Right, but for example, my office has about 40 PCs in it and one PS3. You don’t sell 60 Xbox Ones to a school computing lab, etc. Don’t get too excited, they don’t compare that easily.

      • Cinek says:

        How about that:
        Xbox one + PS4 sales: 3.1 million units (including these used as a BR players / TV accessories, not a gaming consoles)
        Concurrent users on Steam: 7 million (all gamers)

  26. Kinch says:

    Possibly a large portion of the cake was taken by tablets. I think many people moved away from ‘traditional PCs’ because they were tempted to try out all the new iPads and such.

    Myself, I haven’t bought a new PC (bar a laptop) for 3 years now and I have no incentive to do so in the nearest future. Phenom X4 965 BE with GTX560ti and 4 (yes, four) GB of RAM can still run everything for me, in 1080p, 60 frames per. The only thing I did was replace the main HDD with an SSD. And that’s another factor – because PCs are so modular, people don’t just ‘buy a PC’ – they upgrade the video card, get more RAM, a better drive, etc.

    I think PC market needs more innovation. The numbers will get bigger once we have G-Sync, Mantle, Oculus Rift – and let’s hope they’re not a flop like 3D gaming has been.

    • Cinek says:

      If anything – Laptops were eaten by tablets.
      I doubt anyone with half brain would really replace desktop with a tablet (unless it’s something like Surface Pro).

  27. InternetBatman says:

    “But while we wonder whether tablets-with-keyboards will evolve their way to being powerful enough to run top-end games, the reality is that’ll still be on a tiny little screen.”

    I hate being this trollish, but that’s just dumb. It’s dumb for a bunch of reasons:
    A. If screen-size was the all important factor, people would play games exclusively on their TVs.
    B. Screen-size doesn’t matter if a device has an HDMI port. A freaking raspberry pi can’t run games but can run on normal screens.
    C. It’s a petulant argument; lots of people will want to play on our platform because it’s our platform.
    D. PCs are not hardware or even an OS at this point; it’s a philosophy towards openness and towards user control of things like input, hardware, and software.
    E. If you are worried about hardware, the advantage of the PC is not the size of the screen, but it’s ability to have huge honkin fans that throw heat away.

  28. Richard Burton says:

    I’m not surprised PC sales are dropping. Are the sales graphs of Gigabyte, Nvidia, AMD and Intel dropping though? Most PC gamers I know who are into flight, racing and space simulations either build their own systems or have friends and colleagues to do it for them. There will also always be a minority of rich people with no friends who are happy to sit back with a cigar and brandy whilst throwing their money at someone else to do it for them. Whether PC sales are dropping or not is irrelevant though, so as long as independent companies like Frontier (Elite), eSim Games (Steel Beasts Pro) and others who fund themselves will keep going. The rest of the public masses can be dumbed-down on brainless Call of Duty clones and Windows8 tablets forever if that’s what they want to do.

  29. huldu says:

    We need to do something drastic to stop pirates, it’s their fault game sells has been on decline for a very long time. I suggest treating pirates as normal criminals with severe jail time to boot. If someone gets caught pirating games or applications minimum jail should be a couple of years, at least. They’d stop pirating within seconds and everything would return back to normal. In time it’ll happen but until then, I’m sure the decline will become worse and worse until no developer will even consider making games because there just isn’t any profit.

  30. DanMan says:

    Only thing i have to add is that discarded PCs are being passed on to relatives, which is another reason not to buy a new one.

    To me, people seem to be more attached to their mobile devices, too. Their phones certainly, but also their tablet, compared to the (often beige) big fat block sitting under their desks.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Yeah, i just re-purpose old components into new PCs for light office use, or sell them to a friend or something.

      They’re attached because it’s a fashion/status statement, and contains a lot of personal information that they’re running around with. Also, that tiny device probably cost more than their PC.

      Ask a PC gamer or enthusiast like me whether i’m more attached to my phone or PC, you’d pretty much always hear “my desktop” from my mouth.

      Heck, a friend of mine addresses his PC as “Rigsy”. Yes he has a girlfriend too. :P

  31. SuicideKing says:

    Well, my humble take is this:

    Capitalist industries appear to favour looking at “growth” rather than profit or whatever else. So the PC “decline” isn’t negative growth, it’s less growth. The problem for companies will be less growth, but then they’ll adjust till an equilibrium point is reached. Expecting infinite growth is sort of dumb, i think.

    The PC industry is old, CPU power is hitting a wall as far as single threaded performance is concerned, physical limits of silicon are slowly kicking in, and most people already have a PC.

    I remember reading recently that the smartphone/tablet industry was also slowing down, of course no one’s going to be throwing that story around because they still want people to change their phones every few months or so.

    Remember, these are 300 million sold despite 1.2 billion operational PCs.

    Then there’s also the question of how IDC collects its data, etc. What are they counting as a shipped PC?

    Other angle is, they’re not counting sales or activations, they’re counting shipments. Tablet/smartphone shipments may be huge, but what about sales? Apple was cutting inventory, iirc. Same applies to PCs of course.

    A 5-year old quad core or dual core CPU is still good enough today, if it’s paired with a decent GPU. I think the next two years will see more sales to enthusiasts and the gaming crowd, as game devs stop devolving for the old consoles.

    And i mean, most of the tech-using world has a PC (desktop or a laptop) first, then do they go for a smartphone or tablet.

    The ultra-portable industry is hitting the point where the PC industry hit in 2010, devices are gradually becoming “good enough” for whatever they are bought to do, and it’s increasingly the responsibility of software to offer more functionality.

    Then there’s also the fact that if a new OS is released, it can be installed on older hardware, so a new OS doesn’t drive new sales. Operation Must Ruin Windows for the PC (OMRWPC) by M$ succeeded in damping general consumer interest in their core market, while simultaneously failing in the market they were targeting.

    Intel’s ultrabook initiative also didn’t really take off, OEMs cut too many corners and sold overpriced stuff. Intel’s idea of pushing thin, light and low power notebooks was a good one (selfish, of course), but the execution wasn’t there.

    For the gaming scene, here’s what will really drive sales:
    1. full 64-bit adoption (pushes people to Windows NT 6.x, x86-64 CPUs)
    2. Efficient multi-threading on the CPU side, and legit scaling going from 2C/4T to 4C/4T and beyond.
    3. Highly detailed textures and maps (pushes more RAM and VRAM usage, needs faster storage, i.e. SSDs)
    4. 1080p maxed out at 60fps minimum at the $250 price point. Pushes that segment, and encourages monitor sales.
    5. GSync.
    6. In the long run, VR.

    For general use:
    Better train people on how to be productive wit computers. Once more people get into serious coding, video/audio work, photo editing, designing, etc. the more they’ll require powerful hardware.

    If you’re going to insist on teaching Comuter Science engineers how to use graphics.h and borland turbo C++ in fucking 2013, well duh they’ll be content consumers rather than creators.

  32. Stevostin says:

    “As much as whizzbang tablets are fantastic, it’s still pretty tricky to type your homework on them. Fortunately”

    My wife teaches at the university. Tablet already are the standard for students to take notes.

  33. Stevostin says:

    It’s not complicated, really. Once you drop the idea of “one market to rule them all”, you just see that there are “big enough to make a market” crowd dedicated for each platform. So no, tablet or console or whatever won’t kill PC. Maybe they’ll make it drop a bit, but OTOH so far there also more digital consumer every year. The only thing that could significantly change the deal would be the Steambox to me and… yes, it’s a PC.

  34. chewbaccasdad says:

    So what I have been predicting has come true: PC sales are down.

    You all should heed my next prediction: Atari Jaguars are coming back in a big way in 2014.

  35. cF- says:

    I’m still using the same PC I bought in 2007!
    OK its got 6 gig instead of 4 gig that it used to have and it’s been through a couple of graphics cards but I’m only now thinking of an upgrade, and only now because I know the rift is on the way!

  36. porps says:

    Couldnt it just be that more people are finally figuring out that it’s really easy and much better value to just build your own PC from components?

  37. Stompopolos says:

    Why would I need to upgrade? I have a 16-core with a 10 meg pipe. I need the faster response times for the new online games.

  38. CookPassBabtridge says:

    I suspect a great many PC gamers are PC gamers in much the same way as petrolheads like buying powerful components for their bikes or cars. My mate loves bikes, loves working on bikes, and has always had a love for perfectly tuned, best-of-the-best type tech. Does he NEED it? Can he justify the expense to anyone who cares little for bikes? No. Its the sensation of owning and understanding something unique and special, and more to the point being its creator.

    For me its similar with PC’s – I have always wanted something that is beautiful, powerful and cutting edge. I love technological development, and have watched gaming hardware grow from my uncles wooden atari console playing Pong, through my Amiga, and up to the PC I have now. I love watching it evolve and I love how it can create compelling, absorbing experiences that no other medium can create. I get a lovely dollop of creamy dopaminergic goodness from seeing finely crafted HD pixels moving at silky frame rates, and feeling that whatever is on my screen is somehow alive, and I am connected to it, but also that I had a part in creating it – the waking lucid dream that I author. (Is there also some egotistical part of me that just wants to own an expensive thing? Yes, I’m sure there is, but as so few people really care about what rig I own its been many years since this was a motivator)

    Do most people who buy a sound system go for a hand-crafted, £10k rig that makes you feel like Mozart is in your room blowing his brazilian nose flute? No, the vast majority of people buy the ‘best of good enough’, like consoles. But there will always be that niche market in any area of tech that provides a consistent income, the guy that orders speakers from Holland because they’re the best, the guy that buys a rare carburetor cover from ebay because of the way it makes his bike sound or look. Even if s/he’s only 10% of his or her respective market, they are steady and committed. If I were to hear that high end PC sales and / or components have stayed at the same level, it would come as no surprise, as there will always be those people like me, and like the avid readers of RPS’s tech column, whose hobby is as much the technology as it is the games that technology plays. It would be insane to chuck away that revenue, no matter who you are.

    So, see you in 2025 when I am in my 40′s and enjoying the holographic RPG (Maybe STALKER 2 will be out by then) that’s plugged into my infinite resolution brain stem dongle (and still running an NVidia :) )

  39. P.Funk says:

    So basically the PC is dying because they make them so good these days you don’t need to replace them as often as your phones.

    In the modern kooky economy of planned obsolescence this is a bad thing… at least in the minds of some people.

    All in all this might actually be a positive reflection on the PC for consumers. Go figure. PC is dying because it has great longevity.

  40. alsoran says:

    PC games sales going up. PC component sales going up. Is building your own PC a PC sale I wonder.

  41. Mittens89 says:

    Im still using a Q6600 from about 6 years ago and I can run the latest and greatest just as I could all that time ago. Its a wonderful processor, one that will go on for another year or so I am sure.

    Until it starts to struggle, why would I fork out for a replacement? In six years all I have had to upgrade is the RAM and the graphics card. That’s £180 in 6 years. Not bad at all.

  42. Carra says:

    I do kind of miss the days where I was dying to get a new PC to be able to run Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Far Cry or Crysis. The jumps in graphics that was made in a few years were miraculous.

    Then again, I don’t miss the days where wanting to play one of those games meant spending €2000 on a new PC…

  43. Richard Burton says:

    I’m glad PC sales are dropping. I will nevertheless continue to buy my PC games from independent places like Frontier, eSim Games and 777 Studios and carry on playing the best PC games available. Got a problem with that? And I mean, I’m glad to be in an elite minority. Better that, than to be in the dumbed down masses.

  44. CoreWolf says:

    That’s a lot of typing for what is really a question with a simple answer:

    PCs have long been the only format for web and decent computing access, but now, that’s no longer the case. So we’re simply seeing different needs split across multiple devices.

    To keep it simple:
    - Consumers – tablet/smartphone
    - Creators / productivity / ‘serious’ gamers – PC

    Of course PC sales will decline as the market fragments across multiple device types. It may stabilise though at some point. Although I personally think we’ll eventually end up with everyone owning only one personal portable device that can be docked in a variety of ways for multiple experiences. If you think about it it makes no sense technologically, economically or financially for everyone to own two or three devices that could pretty much all do the same tasks with the right interfaces – which are quickly being developed (see: wireless displays, flexible displays, ultrathin keyboards, wearable computing, VR). The creators of Oculus Rift are obviously predicting the same path with their Android integration.

    You may also be right however about the lack of a need to replace a PC. The smartphone/tablet market have done well to force the opinion that a device should be upgraded every year or so.. I predict this will slow down a lot though in the coming years. There’s only so much you can do to improve – from the first Android G1 to the Galaxy S2 for example was a huge leap. But, software aside, with a custom ROM coming from the S2 to the S4 there’s hardly any difference. Slight improvements to the speed, screen and camera etc.. but nothing particularly innovative (Samsung probably wouldn’t agree with me!). Given a few years this progress will grind to a halt just as PCs seem to have.

    I think you can sum it up when a friend was presented with an iPhone and wasn’t able to tell which version it was until somebody unlocked it! Granted, they’re obviously not an apple fan, but you can see the point.

    Aaaaand now I’ve written my own mini essay. Hypocrisy! Bah humbug.

    • Don Reba says:

      There are physical limits to what a mobile device can do. Consider this.

      The maximum volume of liquid they let you take on an airplane is 500 ml. The reasoning must be that it is safe enough to smuggle 500 ml of an explosive, like TNT, on board. 500 ml of TNT contains 1.268 MJ of energy, or the equivalent of a cell phone battery supplying 14.67W for 24 hours. Therefore, 15 watts is about the maximum a cell phone will ever be able to consume and still be allowed aboard an airplane.

  45. Deano2099 says:

    If this is physical boxes shipped, I’d say much of it is accounted for by the rise of desktop virtualisation in the corporate sector.

  46. XhomeB says:

    With AMD seemingly dropping the production of high-end processors, are we stuck with Intel which doesn’t seem interested in creating a new line of products for enthusiasts?

  47. bill says:

    My parents are doing the Big Four fine on a 7-8 year old laptop, with no reason to upgrade.
    I can play all the games I want, and buy more games than I can play, on a 4-5 year old laptop. And I have no intention of upgrading unless it dies.

    But I’m older now, and have less free time and less desire to keep up with the newest shooters etc..

  48. TheWizardPC says:

    Thinking about buying a new PC? Why pay extra for a brand name? You can have a more powerful system for half the price when you buy a custom built system.
    Check us out at http://www.thewizardpc.com/index.html

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