The economic crisis – good news for PC games?

The Sims BoxThere are few tales of boom-time in these days of economic doom-and-gloom apart from junk-food and erm… lingerie. However, according to the PC Gaming Alliance (PCGA), sales for PC game sales are showing a healthy rise, outstripping those of both the Xbox and Playstation. The PCGA are currently attending The Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco where it announced PC Games made around $11 billion last year putting it ahead of the major consoles. According to the GDC, the biggest growth areas were in digital distribution i.e. those games that can be bought online or pay-to-play online such as World of Warcraft. Does this mean that over-the counter purchases and shops such as GameStop could suffer even further then?

President Randy Stuge told the BBC at the Conference:

The biggest story in PC games is the expansion beyond retail. PC games have successfully pioneered online subscription and distribution models that have resulted in a global boom that shows no signs of slowing.

Meanwhile, GDC event director Meggan Scavio says that many game developers are still hiring:

We have a career pavilion here with 50 booths. There are studios that are hiring, companies are hiring. People like Nintendo and Blizzard are still thriving and people are forming their own independent studios and are looking to take people on.

Maybe it should be no surprise that PC gaming is doing well. The PCGA estimates that there are around 1 billion PC owners worldwide many of which are looking for cheap forms of entertainment in these times of crisis. Rather than splash-out on a console, they’re looking towards their PC as the answer. As one gamer told the BBC at the conference:

I don’t know that the climate is affecting games too much. If anything I would think the games industry maybe ought to see a little kick because of this.People aren’t buying stuff so much but the idea of going to the movies or buying a new game which you can use again and again and again probably still holds water.

If PC gamers are indeed moving towards online distribution, then the economic crisis can only be a good thing for online distributors as it cuts out any middleman and generally works out cheaper than buying games from a store. PC Gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun found that almost 50% of its readers now preferred purchasing games online. A whopping 93% had done so at some point during the previous year compared to just 7% from a store. Although the survey was far from scientific and probably represents the feelings of the more dedicated games buying community, one reader expressed his conversion to online games purchases saying:

Personally, I refuse to buy music online (because I want uncompressed DRM free music, and I like having the artwork etc), but I am entirely comfortable with online games distribution. In fact, I think have now reached a point whereby I much prefer it- disk hunting is so 2008.

One particularly interesting recent development as regards online PC gaming is that of OnLive. According to EndGadget, OnLive promises the tantalizing prospect of being able to stream any game over a boradband connection to your PC or Atom-based netbook at the same quality as the PS3:

OnLive claims to have perfected the interactive video compression technique so that latency is low enough to support on-line multi-player setups. Broadband connections of 1.5Mbps (71% of US homes have 2Mbps or greater) dials the image quality down to Wii levels while 4-5Mbps pipes are required for HD resolution. At the moment, OnLive is showing 16 high-end titles at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco and expects to be able to release new games within the same window as traditional retail launches.

Apparently, OnLive games can be played on any Mac or PC without the need for a high-end graphics card, processor or RAM. At the time of writing, the OnLive website has a countdown clock indicating 10 hours to launch time. Could it be the future of gaming on the PC? It certainly sounds like a very exciting prospect.

In the meantime, if you still haven’t yet unleashed the gaming potential of your PC, here are the top 10 selling PC games of all time to get your juices flowing:

  1. The Sims (16 million shipped)
  2. The Sims 2 (13 million)
  3. World of Warcraft (11.5 million subscribers)
  4. StarCraft (11 million)
  5. Half-Life (9.3 million)
  6. Half-Life 2 (6.5 million)
  7. Myst (6 million)
  8. Guild Wars (5 million)
  9. Counter-Strike (4.2 million)
  10. Cossacks: European Wars (4 million)
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