Originally posted way back in April of 2008, this post laid out what I thought of the Wii, the state of gaming and the shape of things to come. Its hard as a writer to re-post stuff without resisting the urge to ‘tweak’ it with what I’ve learned since, but I think some ideas aren’t far off in the last 4 years.
So, read, enjoy, and for the first time in 4 years, comment!
Hi, my name is Anthony, and I’m a Gamer.
I was once a hardcore gamer, but not anymore. It’s been 6 months since my last headshot. I still see it playing back over and over, but that’s because one of the clan FRAPS’d the match, but that’s neither here nor there…
Now, it won’t be a surprise to earn that I am, in fact, a confirmed gamer. And not just of the tabletop, expensive & time consuming type either. I’ve played lots of games, from Warhammer, to D’n’D, Monopoly to Magic, but my once-and-future love is, was and may always be Video Games. But there’s a crisis in VG-Land, a dark threat looms in the West, threatening to join with the Giant of the East and cover the land in over-expensive, bland powerhouses that only have endless sports games and poorly designed, terrible to control shooters, running on bland boxes with exciting names. Yes, the spectre of “PC GAMING IS DEAD!” (Written in Ominous, Block Tones for dramatic effect) has risen it head once again.
I’ve been reading a lot of articles in the last few weeks at places like the register, or Rock, Paper, Shotgun or Gamasutra, etc, that have various computer companies either try to sound the death-knell to PC gaming or to try and shore up PC gaming.
I’ve been a gamer since I was 8 and my one of my older brothers brought home a NES.
I played Duck Hunt, Turtles, Mario’s etc, on a small 10” black & white portable screen for years. I’ve played countless “indie” games on the C64 another of my brothers had. Then I got an Amstrad 464+. Then I learned BASIC. And soon I was programming games from the back of Amstrad Action every month. Between school and playing Dizzy that was. Later on, the very first PC game I played was the still seminal, SimCity. I played Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and the original Duke Nukem games. (You know, the side-scrolling ones without the nudity and swearing.)
I’ve seen all the major shifts and jumps in computer gaming throughout the years, from being a console kid thinking PC’s were for bad flight Sims, (where, for instance, could I shoot down other planes in these things?) bookkeeping and business-type stuff, right through to wanting a 3D-FX card for my PC and bothering my University going brother to “acquire” Quake for it, up to being blown away by the rendering in FF7 to being enamoured by the Wii’s control method and appalled by the bad name.
So, basically, I’m in a position as a consumer to chime in and bring my opinion to bear on the whole topic that PC gaming is dead.
Most of the pundits trying to kill off PC gaming discount a few things, namely: Asia, Europe, Steam, Blizzard & the fact that just because a game can be bought, downloaded & played online and has no real shop shelf space to take up, or the fact that it’s not $60+ to buy, means it somehow doesn’t count. These things alone count for a major slice of the PC pie, and just because you can’t get to the 12 to 15 year old demographic in a GameStop south of i90 in NowhereVille, (Worth about maybe $1000 a year) USA doesn’t mean you can’t sell to all of Europe, most of Asia and if its an online game in on sale in Korea? Hell, you’ll have people dying from your game.
Conversely, those attempting to shore up the PC’s gaming reputation also neglect a few things. Things such as the Xbox’s hypnotic reach into America’s youth, Sony’s grabs for everyone’s money, piracy and the average Joe’s perception of it, piracy and the average game company C.E.O.’s perception of it, the power of advertising and having a united front. Arguably, though, for the side that wants PC’s to die, it isn’t going to happen very soon.
The common conception that a PC is an expensive piece of hardware to have in a home is slightly confusing. Sure, it’s a bigger once-off investment and upgrades can be costly, but when you upgrade, the majority of the games you bought years ago will run, one way or another. While the newest generation of consoles only now boast “backward-compatibility” and their owners proudly show off the PS2 game or Xbox game now running on the shiny PS3 or 360, most PC owners are baffled by the inclusion of, and pride in, a feature long since taken for granted in the PC space.
Inevitably people will come back with the “But PC’s are harder to use” response. These days, I get crotchety with trying to get hardware or software to play nicely with the PC. So I agree, I want things to “just work” and consoles are great for that. But I like to tinker getting the absolute most from my PC, lengthening its life again. The problem with PC hardware not playing nicely comes from when IBM was designing the first PC, and had plans for add in cards. As the connection standards became more open and standard over the years allowing for the original PC to be greatly expanded in capability, the leeway for peripheral manufacturers to vary their designs to make them unique, better or just plain stand-out came to the fore. And, where you have complexity, you have problems. Things refuse to “just work”, leading folk to think “Computers are Hard”, like algebra or predicting who the US Democratic Candidate will be.
You don’t get that with consoles. This comes back to the unified front that consoles project. And while consoles “just work”, they have 2 to 3 years prior development gone into them to get to that stage, and with the next-gen consoles stealing the network updating trick from PC’s, they can get away with having bugs in the software until noticed. As a counter to the fact that PC’s seem expensive, bear in mind that over its useful life, you may upgrade a PC several times, often to the point where the box in the corner you call “the PC” isn’t the same one as the shiny new one you put in 5 years ago, to get into “that internet thing” everyone kept banging on about.
And it’s that Unified Front that PC’s battle against. Ask anyone who has a PC what they can run on it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Hmm, back so soon? Didn’t get a decent answer? Not to worry, every time my girlfriend asks about what exactly I can do with a PC, she gets answered: “Uuuhh… lemme see…” Like the Three Dead Trolls say there’s lots of stuff you can do with a PC now that you couldn’t before. In operating systems alone you can currently run 3 versions of Windows, Apple OSX and as many flavours of Linux that sanity will allow.
And it is that choice in everything from hardware to software on a PC that’s part of the problem, because when you make a choice, be it Windows, Apple or ‘nix, you then tie yourself to what that particular OS offers. Or these days, maybe not. What with Transgaming, Crossover Office Cedega, Dosbox, etc. you can run anything on anything. See where I’m headed with this? No? Read on.
Walk into any games store today and pick a platform of your choice. Excluding emulation you have 5 choices: Wii, DS, PSP, and Xbox 360 & PS3. Five totally independent platforms that will not allow you play games bought for one on another. This is their strength and weakness. It is a strength of consoles because you make you choice of platform and stick to it to the end, good and bad, like a political party and government. It’s also a weakness for consoles because any AAA games will have to be developed for at least 3 dissimilar platforms. When development for a single game costs several million that sort of money soon adds up. And it’s the end user who gets stung.
Cost wise over their life spans hardware wise, consoles are far cheaper. If we start to take software into account, while you might have bought say 20 to 30 games for the Xbox, you might well have bought 100 to 200 games over the PC’s lifespan. That being said, if we were to take into account the fact that the Xbox lifespan was about 5 years and the PC’s was about 7 or 8, before being replaced by a newer PC, that, coincidentally still ran the 200+ games you still had knocking around as opposed to the 20 or so games you may still have for the Xbox.
But, I forgot to mention the Wii. Mainly, because like most other observers, it’s difficult to accurately find a niche to place this under-powered, weirdly named surprise hit. On the one hand there are the hardcore and franchise games for it (Metroid, Zelda, etc.) the kids games (Pokemon) and the unclassifiable games (Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Fit, etc.). At first glance, the Wii’s motion control seems like a gimmick, and for most so-called hardcore gamers, it is.
I was a hardcore gamer until recently, and the hardcore-ness dropped in proportion to getting a far busier job and life getting in the way. So the Wii appealed to me. I didn’t want to spend 10 to 12 hours grinding through the same level 8 times (Halo – Library level, I’m looking at you.) just to progress a slightly silly story trope. I wanted instant, easy, gratifying fun. And systems like the Wii and Steam provided that for me. I can still use Steam for the heavy, serious, 4+ hour session if I want, but sometimes, after a long day, I like nothing better than to come home, check my mail and fire up some Peggle.
But, as I said, I enjoy the occasional “hardcore” session too, and while the Wii fits in my living room like a small, fun, attractive, easy college girl at a party, I freely admit that I am “WASD fo’ life, dawg” or whatever the actual thing is now. That’s the big selling point for me and PC’s. Community. Not just in-game gimmicks like voice-chat either. The PC has web logs, message boards, forums, clans, guilds. Whole groups of people coming together to celebrate and spread the hobby and pastime they love.
Overall, I think that the Wii and the PC will be the “winners” in this generation, despite the advertising billions being pumped into Live and PlayStation Network. And it comes down to the fact that gamers will want different things at different times. The “Big Two” of Microsoft and Sony are seeing this now, and are allowing smaller, more casual games onto their distribution services, but are far too late and far too monolithic and in favour of the big bucks approach to making games to actually see that they’re losing this race. Wii has been planning for this from the ground up, but with typical Nintendo slowness deliberation, never telling people just what Miyamoto’s vision of the Nintendo future is. And Steam, well, Steam has always been ahead of the rest, and will probably outlive me. So, I plan on bequeathing my steam account to whichever of my eventual kids can either beat me in a 12 hour straight CS death match, or in levelling a Wow ‘toon to the cap. I already know they’ll hand me my ass on a plate with the Wii, my non-gamer girlfriend does this already.
So, while the PC may cost more over its apparently immortal life-span, value wise it’s far, far greater than any console. And while it may be far more complex, its also far more rewarding too. And it is this intrinsic value that will allow PC’s their place in the sun, because if we cannot game on PC’s that leaves us with consoles to game on, and that market stagnates exceptionally quickly. It has a handful of genres, all treaded and re-treaded until the games they are made up of become indistinguishable from one another. While that outcome may be good for big business and the bottom line, it can ever only mean death to the pastime and hobby that we all know, love, cherish and argue about on message boards, in the street, in the pub and in magazine letter columns all over the world.
And its in the innovation and expandability and longevity and sheer value of the PC that will let it live far on into the far flung future, when kids will look at things like the PS3000 with Generic-Future-Sport 9999 – Part 7000, and shrug, and go back to playing Wow-Steam-CS-Half-Life 40 – Episode 99, to level their ‘toons to 8 million and get Gordon’s Epic Crowbar. All on the lineal descendant of Intel’s little calculator chip that could. Makes me shed a tear, really.