April 30th, 2010
Logan Decker really likes PC gaming. Admittedly, as editor-in-chief of PC Gamer, he gets paid to like PC games. But when talking to him about what makes the platform special, he exudes both enthusiasm and fairness.
And he's smart enough to know that the real allure of PC gaming is all about choice. "The biggest draw of PC as a gaming machine is that you can play games any way you like," he says over email. By that he means anything from "no upgrades required" browser games, World of Warcraft with a $75 3D accelerator, or the spare no expense monster rig capable of rendering 3200p very much included.
"On PC, licensors and hardware manufacturers don't make the decisions about what your machine can do—you do," Decker says. "We like to decide what games we play (including indie games that may be too controversial or obscure for licensing on a console), how we play it (with a mouse and keyboard, a gamepad, or a $3,500 racing wheel), where we play it (my Steam account lets me to play Borderlands at home and at work, and even stores my saved games across all locations), and how much we pay for it, and—especially important—who we play with (whether teamed up via a matchmaking service or on our own dedicated servers)."
If you decide, the platform will even let you become the designer. "For many PC gamers, a great shooter or RPG is only the beginning of the experience," Decker says. "We want to create our own maps, conjure our own villains and make our own stories. We want to intensify the experience the developer gave us, or satirize it, or just have fun with the engine. But the majority of us just enjoy the mods that other fans make.
"Of course, console gamers have this creativity and enthusiasm in them too. But it's the PC platform—you know, with that mouse and keyboard thing—that makes it the natural habitat for modders."
In other words, the original gangster of "Play, Create, and Share." The de facto breeding ground for creativity and inspiring user-generated ideas.
If it sounds like the most versatile and accessible gaming system in the world, it's because it is. Why then in recent years has the PC played second fiddle on occasion to popular consoles?
Decker blames the PC's Wild West economy and its lower profile. "Developers are frustrated with what they perceive as enormous, uncontainable piracy on the PC, and often feel better served by consoles which are just giant DRM boxes," he says. "So console manufacturers bribe and cajole developers with all kinds of enticements, and the developers look at web sites like The Pirate Bay and say, 'screw that.' I get that.
"But PC games don't need a fair shake. 300 million PCs shipped last year. 300 million. And every single one of them has the potential to be a gaming PC. World of Warcraft has 11.5 million people paying $14 a month to play. Steam has 25 million active users (excluding other digital distributors). This isn't a suffering industry. It just hasn't been as glamorous as consoles lately."
Furthermore, the platform is decentralized, so it doesn't benefit from the unified publicity consoles typically enjoy, according to Decker. "Digital distributors, including Blizzard, Steam, Impulse, and Direct2Drive, don't like to share their numbers," he explains. "So no figures, no press releases. No milestone parties at expensive hotels with Zoe Saldana."
To that end, the PC Gaming Alliance was formed in 2008 to evangelize "the single largest gaming platform worldwide." And while the alliance has succeeded in creating greater cooperation, efforts to champion the platform are still largely fragmented.
Take helping people to view their PCs as gaming machines, for example. You know, the kind that play blockbusters as good as any other. Or as Decker adds, enticing prospective PC gamers by putting publisher money where their mouth is.
"I'd make the industry do what every other industry in the world except underwear manufacturers do, which is to offer a guarantee," he says. "If you're not satisfied, here's your money back. Of course, publishers are terrified that people will play their games in one marathon crack-fueled session or copy the discs. But if you can't stand behind your product, why should gamers?"
Obviously, piracy is a major concern. But the way it is now, namely the draconian digital rights management products, "Pirates get a better product while legitimate customers are treated like criminals," Decker says.
That being the case, the long-time PC insider encourages gaming vendors to leave the past behind while looking to the future, much like other industries in transition. "These are problems that require major systemic changes, and those changes mean some businesses will win, and others will fail," he says. "It's scary. I'm not belittling vendors. But PC gamers gravitate toward the platform because it offers choice. Fortunately, no gaming platform does change as good as the PC."
In any case, Decker says PC gaming will keep chugging along—as it always has done—with or without the headlines. "PC gaming will die when people no longer use computers, and I don't see that happening anytime soon."
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