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Here Come The Heroes

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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