So I hear PC gaming is dead - What can I do?

I know this blog is normally 100% focused on it's core function of video game bargains, but every now and again something comes up that I feel I need to talk about, and now is one of those times.

There has been a lot of talk recently about how PC gaming is 'dead', and that there is going to be an increasing shift away from big name games on PCs as publishers and developers seek higher revenue and profits from console markets. There is almost certainly some truth to this.

I, for one, love PC gaming, and would hate to see an industry in 10 years time with far less PC centric games like Realtime Strategies, Turn-Based strategies, First Person Shooters, Graphical Adventures and RPGs. Sure, lots of these games can be played on consoles, but there are a whole bunch of advantages that the PC platform provides.

As customers, we have several options. What kind of things can be done to improve the situation for PC gamers?

1. Reduce Piracy.
This is a pretty big one. Nobody can accurately measure the impact of piracy on publishers and developers. It would be sheer ignorance to claim that every individual game pirated is lost revenue for the PC games industry. However, an unquantifiable proportion of people will pirate games as an alternative to paying for them. If money is the issue, then be patient. PC games drop in price pretty fast, sometimes even waiting a few weeks after release can net big savings. Don't use a lack of disposable income to justify copyright infringement, or if you do, realise that you are sacrificing your right to complain in the future when PC gaming is dead.

Is this you?
If yes, then genuinely stop and think about what you are doing. If you can afford to buy PC games but choose not to, then I seriously urge you to ask yourself why? Think of any one game you have played in the last few years that you absolutely loved. Now imagine a world where the developers last game sold half as much because people chose to pirate it for free, they would have had much less creative freedom over their next project, if indeed they were able to secure financing for it. Making games is expensive, and if customers do not foot the bill then it will stop. Simple as that.

Is this not you?
You aren't a dirty filthy pirate? Then I salute you good sir or madame, however, there is still things you can do to help reduce the impact of piracy on developers revenue stream.

Load up any torrent site you care for. I'm not going to name names because I don't want target any one in particular. See if they have any torrents for PC games available. Hosting torrents is perfectly legal, absolutely no copyrighted content is held on these sites, and they are untouchable by the law. However, there are other ways to get to them.

Most, if not all, of these sites contain advertising. Because of the way internet advertising works, the companies represented on any given web site may not be aware of which sites in particular they have adverts shown on, they just deal with an advertising agency which acts as a third party between advertisers and web sites. I know if I were running 'Dell computers' I would not want to be associated with copyright infringement, particularly not of software that I sell.

If you ever see a legitimate, reputable business advertising on one of these sites, here's what I suggest you do. First take a screenshot of the site, with their advert showing. Then do a whois search on their domain, and send an email to their Administrative Contact explaining how shocked you are to see a reputable company like theirs supporting web sites which facilitate copyright infringement, and ask if they are aware of it. If they brush you off with stock responses, then take to the tubes! Social network, Social media, blogs, video streaming, these are our tools, our weapons. Use our democratised media for good by naming and shaming any companies which provide a revenue stream for piracy.

If enough people do this, eventually businesses will see that their brand is being harmed by this, and will seek out advertising agencies which do not condone and profit from facilitating copyright infringement.

Legislation against torrent sites only marginalises their users and pushed them further underground, legal action against individuals only fosters negative feelings towards 'the man', and restrictive Digital Rights Management only turns more consumers away from PC gaming. The only way to help developers profit from their hard work and still be around to make games in the future is to foster an economic environment by which operating web sites which facilitate copyright infringement is not profitable.

2. Approach new business models with an open mind.

EA recently announced Battlefield Heroes, a free download, relatively low hardware requirements, micro-transaction based spin off from the Battlefield series. Why do you think they would do this?

Valve have released new Half-life content in a (kinda sorta) episodic manner, Telltales' Sam & Max games have done the same. What reasons could there be for this?

Steam itself now have a huge amount of games in it's library, all at, on the whole, pretty fair pricing.

The PC games industry is moving away from a situation where you put a disc in a box and sell it on a shelf for £40. The number of middlemen involved in doing that creates tonnes of overheads.

If we can look to these new channels of distribution, and embrace them, it is perfectly possible that games could sell the same number of units, experience smaller nominal revenue, but still experience increased profits, as less of the money goes towards getting data and packaging from A to B, and more goes towards creating games.

3. Embrace new types of games.

Lets have a quick look at the top selling PC games of 2007 (excluding online distributed games, like steam downloads) -

1. World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade – Vivendi (Blizzard)
2. World of Warcraft – Vivendi (Blizzard)
3. The Sims 2 Seasons Expansion Pack – Electronic Arts
4. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Activision
5. Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars – Electronic Arts
6. Sim City 4 Deluxe – Electronic Arts
7. The Sims 2 – Electronic Arts
8. The Sims 2 Bon Voyage Expansion Pack – Electronic Arts
9. Age of Empires III – Microsoft
10. The Sims 2 Pets Expansion Pack – Electronic Arts

What do you see here? I see sequels, I see games in genres that I have been playing for years, I see three Sims expansion packs, and I see only three (since the Vivendi/Activision merger) publishers represented.

Now, of this list I have played COD4 and C&C3, and think both are pretty damn good.

I also realise that the people reading this blog probably aren't the same people playing "The Sims 2 Pets Expansion Pack".

However, there is another way.

For every mega-blockbuster, quality, game there are tonnes of games which cost much less, and are the same quality. I am not by any means suggesting you stop buying the big name games, but maybe go out of you way to spend maybe half of your gaming budget on the smaller, indie titles that won't have the mass market appeal and marketing budget of their big brothers.

You also have the power of word of mouth at your command. I bet every one of you reading this knows someone who is addicted to The Sims, or World of Warcraft. Maybe you are one of them?

Why not take the time to make some recommendations of other games they might like? Games that might be on the border of making a loss and making a profit could be tipped over the edge by just a small number of increased customers. The Sims is a massive cash cow for EA, but their is no reason customers of The Sims wouldn't buy other games. Off the top of my head there is The Ship, but I bet you guys can think of even more. Treated properly The Sims instead of being unjustifiable criticised as ruining the PC games industry could be one of the most powerful gateway drugs out there.

Same goes for World of Warcraft. Why not try to convince one player to go without WoW for one month and use the saved money to try out something like Mount and Blade.

By making games like these commercially viable you are fostering an industry where great games are successful, and quality developers stay around to continue making games into the future. Let's make success be influenced more by quality than it is by marketing budget.

4. Stop letting reviews tell you what to buy.

Reviews are great, good ones that is.

I personally find that Eurogamer's reviews are great. I also really enjoy The Gamers Quarter (not that they have updated in ages) VideoGaiden/Consolevania, Zero Punctuation and Way of the Rodent.

But you know what. Games are subjective.

How can you put a discrete numerical value on busting out of Nova Prospekt? How can you quantify how fun it is to ruthlessly crush a galaxy with your iron fist in GalCiv2? and what is the real difference between a metascore of 84 and a metascore of 85?

Traditional games reviews on big commercial publications are geared to make profit by homogenising what I love. Lord knows some of them seem to have lost sense of journalistic integrity.

Why do we let big companies tell us what to buy?

I emphatically suggest you look to the communities, the forums, the relatively small scale reviewers, your friends, 'word on the street', word of mouth. Take risks with games, buy games from developers you haven't even heard of, without even checking a review score. Worst case scenario is you are disappointed, best case scenario you are rewarded with an amazing game made all the better by it being a surprise.

If and when you do find a game like that, be vocal about it, let others know how much you loved it.

That's all I can think of. Maybe their are some other ideas you have, please contribute them in the comments section.

If PC gaming must die, it won't be without a fight.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

The Club, Xbox 360 - £29.93

The Club, Xbox 360 - £29.93 delivered

The Club, PC - £17.95

The Club, PC - £17.95 delivered

The Club, PS3 - £28.99

The Club, PS3 - £28.99 delivered