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PC Games – Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

Posted on Monday, Dec 3rd 2007

By Gabe Zichermann, Guest Author

Most of the innovation in today’s game industry can be traced directly to key advances brought first to the PC, not to mention the millions of players that got their (awkward) start with Leisure Suit Larry on the Apple II. As the most open and edge-technology driven sector of the business, PC games have pushed the envelope in areas such as human computer interfaces, virtual reality, graphics power, networking and themes. Also, the PC platform continues to be the staging area of choice for the hardest of the hardcore players; even as they play across their handhelds and consoles they tend to express a preference for certain kinds of games on the PC.

Of course, the PC is also the primary platform for MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) and all manner of networked, Funware and casual games that we’re going to discuss later in this series. And it’s precisely those categories that offer the PC its salvation, for in a sea of rising games revenues, the traditional PC game has been the lone laggard. As measured by NPD, US PC game sales stayed flat in 2006 at $970 Million, and the top title of the year was the MMOG World of Warcraft. In fact, simulations (e.g. The Sims, Age of Empires, Civilization) account for more than half of the Top 10 games, underscoring the point about the serious and immersed nature of the PC player.

And in this way, it’s the followers that actually lead. While the PC games industry has brought us almost all the hardcore games innovation we’ve come to love and depend on, its future is squarely in the hands of the industry’s newest players: the women over 40 that play casual games by the millions, the obsessive MMOG players that drop everything to become part of a guild or virtual society, and the billions of Funware and social game players that transcend demographics. They will continue to use their PCs to play, but may never call themselves PC gamers.

So while the PC certainly still has a major future as a gaming platform, its nature and ecosystem are going to change, and the tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods are based on the “old” notion of PC gaming are sure to feel the shift. Just as it always has, the PC will continue to evolve, and its use as a “gaming” platform along with it. While few of us in the future are likely to insert a DVD and install a game on our PC – preferring to download or play it out of a browser instead – the current PC game industry will certainly not go quietly.

I, for one, am thankful for what the PC has brought into my personal world. And still, with all the innovation in handhelds and consoles, no one’s yet discovered Civilization on their iPhone, or learned what a leisure suit is really for on their Wii. Is that a bad thing?

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