At today’s Games for Windows Presents: The Big Picture event in San Francisco, Microsoft wanted to make a singular statement as we move into E3 2008:
PC Gaming is not dead.
They made this statement with strong sales numbers and growth with a little help from a group of publishers showing off some new games under the Games for Windows label.
I sat down with Microsoft’s Kevin Unangst to get an overview of the state of PC gaming as Microsoft sees things.
The State of the PC Gaming Union
First of all, Kevin wanted to emphasize how much bigger PC gaming is worldwide than any single console. Microsoft is also showing more PC growth than any single console. They hope to see a 75% increase in sales by 2012.
This only includes software sales, subscriptions, and microtransactions. They are not counting hardware sales. It’s also important to note that Microsoft does not get royalties off of PC game sales. The Games for Windows label doesn’t cost a publisher anything, but Microsoft is pushing it to try and become a singular voice for PC gaming.
There are now over 85 titles announced for the Games for Windows label, some of which were just announced today. The goals behind the program are to task developers with coming toward a unified experience through things like simpler installs, widescreen support, and programming that is optimized for 64-bit processors and more than 4GB of RAM.
Kevin didn’t have any new information about Games for Windows LIVE, but assures us that the program is still alive and well. Expect more details about the PC version of LIVE in the future.
Copy Protection and Piracy
I asked Kevin about copy protection and piracy. Recently, companies like Crytek (makers of Crysis) and Epic (Gears of War, Unreal Tournament III) have been vocal about the effects of piracy and their repurposing toward console gaming. It should also be noted that Crysis has sold over 1 million copies so it wasn’t exactly hobbled by piracy.
Kevin doesn’t see this as an issue. He freely admits that piracy is easier on the PC due to the nature of the platform, but calls attention to Sins of a Solar Empire, which enjoyed several months in the Top 10 sales with absolutely zero copy protection. It is worth noting, however, that Sins has CD-Key authentication for multiplayer, but the single-player game can be played without any authentication.
He also notes that MMO’s like Age of Conan don’t suffer from piracy problems because of the nature of the genre. MMO gamers are happy to subscribe to the game without complaining that it is basically a form of copy protection (with the nice side effect of keeping the servers running).
I asked him about the perceived “lack of exclusives” on the PC, but he explained that the PC gaming market is different from the flame war, exclusive title driven console wars. He also joked that they have the biggest exclusive game there is in World of WarCraft (even though there is also a Mac version). Still, the PC doesn't really have its Halo 3's or Metal Gear Solid 4's every few months.
Microsoft is more than happy to share games with other platforms when it comes to the PC. Even for games that belong to genres historically grounded on the PC. Both World in Conflict, a real-time strategy game, and Age of Conan, an MMORPG, are getting Xbox 360 versions in the future. He believes that this only strengthens PC gaming. Now if only they’d enable mouse and keyboard support on the Xbox 360!
So with all this evidence about the growth of PC gaming… why is there this belief that it is somehow dying or dead?
Microsoft believes that it comes from the NPD numbers, which are showing declines because they only measure retail box sales. NPD doesn’t measure sales through online digital distribution through services like Valve’s Steam and Direct2Drive. Valve, of course, does not release their sales figures for Steam, but it is assumed that they are very good figures. MMO subscriptions for games like World of WarCraft, Age of Conan, and even Flagship's Hellgate: London, which has now surpassed 1 million subscribers, are also not included.
Take decent retail box sales, add in digital distribution, throw in World of WarCraft and future Blizzard releases like StarCraft II (and hopefully Diablo III), which will be PC/Mac exclusive, and PC gaming gets stronger. Check out Electronic Arts’ Spore, which will most likely be a giant success and the picture gets even bigger. Remember the casual games market is also huge with titles like Peggle from PopCap games, which even managed to be a crossover success with some hardcore gamers (I love Peggle!).
NVIDIA and AMD are also getting prices on graphics cards lower and lower. NVIDIA is also pushing the ceiling up higher with their new high-end cards, while AMD hopes to hit a sweet spot of performance and affordability with their new ATI Radeon line. It's now possible to build a "Crysis PC" for about $600.
Is PC gaming dead? Absolutely not!
Check back tomorrow for my impressions and details on:
- Call of Duty: World at War
- Bionic Commando
- Civilization: Colonization
- Space Siege
- Devil May Cry 4
I'll also be summarizing the event itself and giving my opinion on PC gaming. Unfortunately, with E3 just around the corner, the publisher's are holding back their media for the show. I can't give you guys any new video, but you'll definitely want to tune into our E3 coverage because these games are all looking great.