PC Gaming Dying? No, Just Changing

During a recent visit to my local mall, I noticed what seems to be an elevation in a disturbing trend that we PC gamers have noticed for some time. Namely, that the ideal of the PC version has been melting away like an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day. I don’t think I’d quite realized how bad it had gotten, however, until I peeked into the newly rearranged confines of my local game store. To my surprise, it seemed that the PC games had been removed from their single rack and had been pushed out of sight behind the counter.

After all these years, what had been a major reason for the elevation of the gaming industry to the place it is today, had been removed from sight like an irritating elderly relative pushed behind the doors of the local retirement home. Incredible. How could it happen? At first there seemed to be no answer; only the wide selection available from Best Buy provided some relief from my disappearing PC game blues. Even after my mood was elevated there was still little light left at the end of the tunnel. Could it be that even big companies like EBGames had cast PC games to the winds, leaving only bigger companies like Best Buy and Wal-Mart to provide these wayward souls with a home?

Apparently this is so. According to the NPD Group’s sales figures for last year, PC games suffered a drop of 14% from 2007, which, by the way, was another low year for the PC game market. Indeed it seemed like the last time PC sales went on the upswing was during 2006, and that was due mostly to the fact that people were buying copies of World of Warcraft and had apparently stopped playing anything else…or doing anything of any kind at all, for that matter.

Those of you who play World of Warcraft know just what I mean.

We at TGR even have our own evidence for the decline in PC game sales, using our The Good, Bad, and The Shipping piece as a guide. Last year, the number of PC titles released to retail dropped no lower than eight titles per week from September through November, but by the last week of December, there was only one PC game released for retail purchase — Professor Heinz Wolff’s Gravity. I respect both Professor Heinz and gravity, but really, how could the industry have fallen so low? This less-than-impressive record has changed very little during the new year; so far there has been a high of three releases in a week, and a low of, well, one. It’s hardly the stuff that dreams are made of.

However, PC fans, there is a positive side to this apparent degradation of the gaming market, as many noted industry figures are aware of the situation and do not view it as a bad sign. Take the statement given to Gamasutra by the Senior Vice President of GameStop, Bob Mckenize, who was quoted back in September of last year, saying, “the number of new titles we have on PC is down probably more than what I had anticipated it would be down — but I don’t see that as a threat or a signaling, we’re not backing away from it at all.”

Furthermore, although there is a lot of numerical evidence to indicate that PC sales are going down, down, down, it seems that the numbers are not indicative of a decline in either the number of releases or the development of future titles. Instead, the downshifting of the PC industry is really just a shift in focus that is not confined to PCs, but the entire gaming industry. It seems that the PC is not dying out, but is evolving into something new — a digital platform. When you include the sales from games obtained via online sources, such as Valve’s Steam service, the number of transactions is much higher, although these are not normally included in NPD’s regular studies.

When those PC purchases are taken into account, it equates to a trend that, while not easy to pin a number to, is certainly on the rise. As the Senior Manager for Games for Windows, Michael Wolf, explained to GameDaily back in November, “The PC gaming industry is not in decline; it’s evolving and it’s definitely evolving to a more online market. I believe the PC is the cradle of innovation; there’s always new things happening on the PC.” NPD themselves have yet to release a report, but they do have one in the works which gives a clearer picture on where the PC industry is going. Stay tuned to TGR to see what they have to say.

There’s still hope, friends, still hope.

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