For quite some time now long time PC gamers have been sounding off at various places about the decline of the PC as a gaming platform. While I certainly don’t think PC gaming is dying which is what most people seem to be getting it, there is a very noticeable decline in the general sales of PC titles evident from sales of games such as Crysis last year. It seems to have hit the ears of most of the people connected with the PC market as companies such as Acer, Dell, Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Microsoft, Activision etc. have banded together and formed the PC Gaming Alliance – a non-profit organization focused on “coordinated marketing and promotion of PC gaming…”.
When I first heard about the PCGA, all I could hear in my head was “PR Stunt”. Each of the companies that are part of the alliance has something to gain from it. Microsoft could sell more copies of the underselling Vista as well as increase market for their Games for Windows Live initiative; AMD, Intel, Nvidia all have the advantage of being able to sell more of their respective hardware; and of course all other publishers get to sell more of their games. The word “non-profit” seemed like a blatant lie to me and while I still think of the PCGA along the same lines, I am more positive of the overall outcome of the newly founded body. Instead of reiterating what has already been said by most PC gamers at various places, I think it would be wiser concentrating on what the PCGA should do to set right all that is wrong with the PC.
The most talked about aspect is, of course, piracy. No matter what the PCGA or anybody else does, piracy can never be fully curbed as long as there are people who are intent on doing such stuff (and there will always be dickheads like that). The optimist in me hopes for the usage of Steam to better curb piracy. Steam is a natural choice because of the forced serial key validation required even on boxed copies and as far as I know there are very little options to circumvent this check. Apart from Steam and the amazing Steamworks, something along the line of what Stardock achieved with Galactic Civilizations II would also be a positive move. The one thing that would ruin gaming experiences is adding third-party intrusive anti-piracy systems like Starforce or Securom which will only end up frustrating people who have bought legitimate copies of the game.
With piracy out of the way, the other major hurdle for modern PC games is the Hardware Requirements. What certainly would be bad is a “standardization of requirements” - forcing developers to adhere to a certain standard of PC requirements which would mean lesser games like Crysis that push the boundaries of gaming to the maximum extent. What would be positive to see is a clear explanation of the requirements and the different game settings out of the box so as to help even complete newcomers adapt quickly to the nuances of PC gaming. Standardization in the naming of graphics cards wouldn’t be too bad also.
Games that require patches out of the box to work properly also have to be minimized. This is a trend that has started very recently with many games being delivered to the factory to get it out to stores as quickly as possible only to require a patch on day 1 because they are not coded properly and contain several bugs out of the box. Such a trend does nothing to help PC gaming and has to be stopped at the earliest as it only increases frustration for all parties involved including developers and consumers.
These are some of the major problems as highlighted by the PC Gaming Alliance themselves and are ones that I know, if set right, would kick PC gaming up the hill again. The PCGA is definitely an interesting move. On the one hand, while it certainly seems like a PR stunt, it also has a lot of potential because it provides a common forum through which all these amazing companies can share their thoughts and opinions. Whether the PCGA actually goes somewhere and fixes a few of the aforementioned problems remains to be seen.