Monday, July 30, 2012

The Future of PC Gaming

With Windows 8 announced to release on October 26th, PC gaming is about to get a bit of a shake up. I won't say that the changes coming in Windows 8 are going to be terrible for PC gaming, but the idea of Valve reaching out to Linux is giving me hope for the growth of PC 'platforms'. Heck, even Apple is looking at letting other companies connect video game controllers to iOS devices. With these developments and changes I thought it might be the right time to talk about where I see PC gaming going and where I hope it might go. Sadly, these things don't always match up.

Where I hope PC Gaming will go:
Valve releases the proper codecs, programming, and other software necessary to enable PC gaming on anything that runs Steam. With the addition of Mac desktops and laptops, as well as Linux and Chrome OS, PC gaming has moved to be available on all computer platforms, not just traditional Windows systems. Publishers work to partner with Valve more closely, removing the need for intrusive DRM and allowing Steam users to 'trade' games amongst themselves. EA expands their Origin service as a download platform, turning it into a broader digital store to compete with Steam. Indie developers now have a pair of distributors to work with, EA and Valve actively compete for distribution rights. The most notable change: Steam and Origin work to become cross-platform, expanding into multiplayer with console gamers without relying on Games for Windows or the Apple App Store.

Where PC Gaming will probably go:
EA's Origin program will maintain the status quo, while making reaching out  to indie games to try and move them away from Steam. Steam will probably release for Linux though the availability of games for it may be small except for Valve games. Apple allows for third party companies to connect video game controllers to their products but the only games available are provided by Steam or through the App Store. Publishers continue to experiment with DRM, more often than not, to the annoyance of their customers. Digital game resale and trading is swept under the carpet except for small companies like Green Man Gaming which only allow for games being traded back to them at set prices rather than between end-users.

This is all obviously just a glimpse into my crystal ball. I know that my hopes are fairly high for PC gaming but I do believe it is the best platform for gaming and there's a good chance for increased availability to the average casual user as opposed to the 'hardcore' system builders/hobbyists like myself. Give me your thoughts and suggestions in the comments, what do you expect or want to see from PC gaming in the future?

1 comment:

Ian Stewart said...

The past 10 years have seen video games trending toward less flexibility for users and more control for publishers/developers. It started when Microsoft showed that you can monetize anything as long as you own the end-to-end solution. Point: Xbox Live. Free multiplayer over the internet since the days of Quake suddenly started costing $50/year. By removing any semblance of consumer choice, they forced users to play by their rules.

Mod tools and map creation kits that were given away free years prior were no longer offered. Why give creative control to the consumer? You can't monetize that. Games started coming with activation codes to try and kill the used game market. Then digital content delivery services started binding purchases to accounts or devices permanently. No trading whatsoever. Then of course there's piracy to account for. Fix? Require intrusive DRM software and an internet connect to play singleplayer.

The point is that freedom is the enemy and control is the goal.

That said, as far as restrictive DRM content delivery services go, I think everyone can agree that Steam is king. Not just for publishers and developers but also for consumers. Valve has done a tremendous job of opening the platform for innovation. There's a guy in the U.S. that makes tens of thousands of dollars a year making and selling hats for Team Fortress 2. I mean holy crap. Not only are they giving creative control to the consumer, they're allowing the consumer to monetize it! That's the complete opposite of Microsoft, Ubisoft, Apple, EA, etc.!

Also of note is that there are a number of game developers keeping the tradition of giving the consumer creative control alive and well. Bethesda released mod tools for Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim. Minecraft has been moddable for years. People are still making Half-Life 2 mods, hell, some of them are even becoming standalone games.

So yes, while consumer control in video games is probably the weakest it's ever been, it's also flourishing in places. Best of all, the consumers are taking notice and shying away from more restrictive games. I am one of many gamers that won't buy another Ubisoft game until they get rid of their DRM. Their DRM policy is bad and they should feel bad.

And Steam on Linux. Holy crap that is fantastic! Linux and Mac have been left beaten and neglected by the video game community mainly because of how terrible OpenGL is compared to DirectX. The good news is that id Software has made some significant contributions to OpenGL and now Valve is doing the same. In a few years, we may see full-fledged gaming computers running Ubuntu as the primary OS.

Of course Microsoft isn't on board with all of this openness. Windows 8 app marketplace will give Microsoft control over who's allowed to publish what on their platform, and allowing them to take a nice chunk of the sales in the process. Windows is going to turn into a (more) closed system akin to Mac OSX.

All that said, given the current state of PC gaming, if I had to make a prediction of where things will go, I see Windows 8 successfully strengthening Microsoft's control over who and what is allowed on their platform. Not all Windows users are power users or gamers, and the simplicity of an app store is attractive to a lot of people. Just look at the Mac and iPhone App Stores. They're controlled to the point of sterility for developers trying to get on them, but for users they're convenient and simple.

But along with that control, I also see Linux gaming taking off. It will take 10 years or more but it will happen. And with every advance toward open systems becoming mainstream, Microsoft and Apple will have to relent to maintain market share.

I guess my point is that right now is a bad time for PC gaming, but it's going to get better. We have a long way to go, and we're going to lose a lot more battles before we start winning any. But with the help of Valve, Linux is going to fundamentally change the face of PC gaming for the better.