There's never been any doubt that the PC has always been at the forefront of gaming technology. But it comes in waves. There's a reason why many companies didn't touch the consoles until the most recent generation, the PC always too far ahead in terms of graphics and tech for their ambitions to be realised elsewhere. Although for quite a few years now it's become an equal race. Not realistically - the PC has been artificially held back as a consequence of cross-platform development, its current capabilities barely realised by this generation of developers. As has been the case previously, there comes a point where developers start to see the possibilities away from the plastic boxes, and the PC once more has its day. It's my opinion that that time is coming, and it feels rather validated by Crytek recently telling EDGE that the PC is a generation ahead of the consoles.
CVG reports the story, stating that Crytek's boss, Cervat Yerli, believes that the focus on 360 and PS3 is "holding back game quality on PC."
There's a reason to listen to Yerli and Crytek. Their November 2007 game, Crysis, is still used as a benchmark for PC graphics. (That it's three years old is perhaps strong evidence for Yerli's statement, PC games not seeing any significant steps forward in a long time.) And Crysis 2 shall inevitably replace it, perhaps in competition with id's idTech 5 engine.
Of course, Crytek are just as much a part of the cross-platform bonanza. While they've been exclusively PC in the past, Crysis 2 is being developed across all three platforms. But Yerli says to EDGE that the creative expression of the developer is "limited" by Sony and Microsoft. He said,
"PC is easily a generation ahead right now. With 360 and PS3, we believe the quality of the games beyond Crysis 2 and other CryEngine developments will be pretty much limited to what their creative expressions is, what the content is. You won't be able to squeeze more juice from these rocks."
However, he also identifies the issue that developers aren't taking the PC seriously at the moment. He explains that sales expectations are set so low that they don't consider the PC a "big issue". Which of course is a self-fulfilling prophecy. He adds, "Until the PC market creates comparable revenues, companies are not going to spend enough on the PC SKU of a game."
Which means it's perhaps time that the digital distribution services stopped being such massive idiots, and started publicising their sales figures. The secrecy around the subject is possibly causing the PC immeasurable harm. And we know some of those numbers are very large. Otherwise Valve wouldn't be working in that floating platinum castle, paying their employees in diamonds.
Crysis alone sold over one million copies on PC in four months. The myth that the PC sku doesn't sell needs to be overcome.
Like Yerli says, one more year and the consoles will be looking especially primitive. PC versions of games are already outshining the console equivalents when the developers make the effort. When a Crytek or an id or an Epic is looking at building their next major engine, they're going to have to rely on the PC to go anywhere new. Clearly Microsoft and Sony are already working very hard on their next-next generation console, and that gap will likely be smaller than ever. But I really think a time is coming for the PC to get its nose out ahead once more.