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Musings #44 Ė PC Gaming? Maybe it's on Life Support
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: May 4th 2010

Over at New York News Today, an op-ed about PC Gaming offers up some tidbits on classic games, and a thought: PC Gaming might not be changing, but merely evolving, and it's not really going to go anywhere. Frighteningly, a few years ago I penned an article discussing how everything old is new again, with Hollyweird, the game companies, and everyone else pushing out remake after reimagining after "homage" after remake, desperate to find an old idea but content to constantly rework and redo old ideas.

In many ways, this hasn't changed. Sure, we're a couple Transformers movies down the road. And we just saw the rereleased remake of Nightmare On Elm Street. And it's not always a bad thing to see cherished properties redone: Peter Jackson's versions of The Lord of The Rings trilogy can stand just fine at any time against the old Rankin/Bass and Ralph Bakshi options.

Also true what was said in the op-ed:

The platformís infinitely adaptable, itís hand-in-hand with the rise of casual, ad-supported and subscription-based games, and itís got a back catalogue several hundred orders of magnitude huger than any other gaming system. In terms of that incredible back catalogue, the PCís currently undergoing two very important changes that may rescue it from the impotence of dusty floppy disks and pop-up-infected abandonware sites.

The PC is, in many concepts, infinitely adaptable - but that may not save it for long. One enemy of the PC, being so adaptable, has always been DRM. Many former PC gamers, as time has gone on, have abandoned the platform because their console titles "just work"; no configuring, no worries, just stick the disc in the drive (or select the title through your Xbox Live Library, Wii Channels, or Sony XMB), and the game launches instantly. There are no headaches, no "what resolution am I in", no "do I need to patch to play online"; they get instant warnings if there's a patch, and otherwise the game more-or-less plays just fine.

The back catalog for many of these games, growing large through services like Steam, Good Old Games, and for some newer titles Greenhouse Games, have been growing, it's true - but part of what the op-ed misses is that the nostalgia for many old games simply isn't keeping up with many of the newer titles. The number of well-respected games that are "PC Exclusive", or even "best enjoyed on the PC", are becoming a lesser and lesser breed, almost wholly subsumed by the legion of games that came out last year on the console, and are now seeing just a lackluster PC port that retains all the console game limitations.

And therein lies the problem: it's not in getting the games of the past into the hands of a younger generation. The download services for the Wii and the Xbox360, as well as the aforementioned download services for the PC, have proven that there's a market for these old titles. The mad rush that crashed's servers this past weekend when they began giving away Mechwarrior 4, with a ton of improvements, for free was evidence that love for the Mechwarrior franchise - despite the absolute abortions that were the MechAssault line - is largely undiminished. And there are still plenty of FPS clans out there, and MMORPG guilds.

What's missing is not the legacy to hand to younger gamers. What's missing is the legacy those younger gamers are going to pass on. For many of the younger gamers, experiencing the classic games may very well be through the lens of a browser-plugin option. Or through a downloaded version with an altered interface for the "modern" PC. Ten years from now, many MMORPG servers will be shut down, with maybe mere remnants of their passing hanging around. Ten years from now, will the community of gamers be working as hard to ensure that any of the past five years' games are still playable as they have worked hard tirelessly to ensure that past classics remain playable?

Or will we possibly find that many of the PC titles of the 2005-2010 era are simply not cared about? When so many titles are mere ports, or have been dragged around to multiple download services for the consoles, it isn't so hard to believe. The past two Wolfenstein outings were underwhelming. The King's Bounty series, newly revived, was enjoyable but not a cornerstone of gaming. The reality is that "exclusive" PC gaming is coasting along on three legs - tech demos masquerading as gameplay, MMORPG's, and little casual browser games that constantly try to prompt the player for in-game purchases. If nothing changes, it's very possible that PC gaming could slip further, especially if MMORPG's manage to migrate to the console in any serious degree.

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Musings 44: PC Gaming? Maybe it's on Life Support

Added:  Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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