Five Ways to Save the PC Gaming Alliance

Five Ways to Save the PC Gaming Alliance

Right now, the PC gaming environment cannot compete with those--dare I say--heathen console machines and their sack-fulls of fresh, original, and damned-fun content. And I'm not the only one who thinks, and fears, this growing problem.

It's a sad state that the industry is desperately trying to correct. You've surely heard the news about the PC Gaming Alliance--that big consortium of top-notch manufacturers, developers, bigwigs, and Microsoft, who are all trying to jump-start PC Gaming with a heavy pair of electric paddles and a handful of promises and dreams. I find it curious, albeit obvious, that Microsoft's taking part in this grand scheme. You could consider them the Judas of the bunch--perfectly willing to play along whilst, at the same time, destroying the industry from the inside under the guise of Games for Windows.

But I digress. The PC Gaming Alliance is doomed from the get-go. It'll never work, because I think the various talking heads will be too busy trying to squeeze their own initiatives into the picture to realize what's really needed in the modern-day PC gaming industry. And I'm not talking about some epic secret, the gaming industry's Tree of Life that's going to forever raise the PC as the champion platform. The decentralized PC community knows what's up. It's just grasping at the roots of solutions that the consoles have already figured out.

1) Multi-platform releases


Does World of Warcraft's 10-million-strong user base promote PC gaming goodness or pull away players that might invest in different genres and titles?

There's a good reason why I buy awesome games for my Xbox 360: because I can't get them on my computer. I'm not going to wait 8 months to play Gears of War, or God-knows-when to play Assassin's Creed. When I see a game, and it looks sweet, I buy it. The end.

So why don't developers recognize this fact and release all their "A++ would-play-again" titles across both platforms simultaneously? I'm way better at most games on the PC than the console, and I'd like to think that my home rig is superior to my Xbox 360. Give me the option to play killer titles on my PC--like The Orange Box--and it'll be a strong factor when I'm standing around in Best Buy, wondering if I should head to the console or the PC aisle in the ol' video game section.

And for the love of all that is holy, stop releasing ancient games on the PC. I'm talking to you, Microsoft. If it's retro, brand it as such. Stop giving us games that the Xbox has had for years, and worse yet, stop making these up to be awesome representations of the new "Games for Windows" initiative. I laugh at you.

2) Achievements


Shadowrun's achievements are perfect: you get the same accolades regardless of what platform you're playing on. Done and done.

I like achievements. I like them a lot. I don't care about putting my gamerscore/Valve name/whatever into six-digit territory, but I do like the ability for my friends to know exactly where I am and what I'm doing with the titles I play. The surest way for PCs to compete with consoles is to promote the notion of achievements--viewable by anyone who connects to a centralized platform--across all titles. Period. None of this "you do it one way, I'll do it another way" crap.

I hate seeing games with built-in achievements/accolades/marketingbuzzwordhere that are all proprietary. Valve has tapped the nail with this one, but I would hope that the PCGA can hammer this one into the ground. Otherwise, I'm going to buy all of my B-list titles (like Overlord) for my console, because even if the games are sub-par, at least my friends will be able to see what I'm up to.

Achievements are a free value proposition that invariably get gamers even more hooked on the games they're playing. At the same time, they give each and every game a level of competition that it might not otherwise exist given the game's format. For example, I like Peggle. But comparing my Peggle progress around Maximum PC's water cooler spurs me to play the game even when I don't really want to. Achievements let me do this on a far grander scale.

3) Cross-Platform Synchronicity


Why can't I play Gears of War PC against Xbox users? Why is this not built into the port of a game that came out a year after the original version hit consoles?

Jumping off #1, if a game comes out for the Xbox or the PS3 at the same time as its PC version, there's no reason the game shouldn't offer some kind of cross-platform experience. What better way to compete with the consoles than to allow gamers to, you know, compete with the consoles. Directly. Mano-a-Mouse. Why did I play Shadowrun so much? Not because it was a terribly immersive game at its core; I played it because I could play it against all my "noob" friends who refuse to acknowledge the PC as a gaming platform. Shadowrun was the whole new world that Games for Windows was alluding to, a welcome relief for those of us who swallowed the hype at the time.

But this idea doesn't have to die. Developers and platform-creators need to standardize (and dare I say, speed up) the method for updating cross-platform content: as I understand it, this is one of the reasons you don't see cross-platform gameplay on Unreal Tournament 3 right now. The game itself was rather feh, but I know I would have jumped on the PC version for quite awhile longer had I the ability to introduce my Xbox friends to a flak cannon. Unite the PC with the consoles and you'll build your audience. You'll build a ton of gamer respect as well. And the day a cross-platform MMO hits? Son, it's over.

4) Make Better Games


Instead of releasing a bevy of patches for The Witcher, its developers are coming out with an "Enhanced" edition. Thanks, but I like my polish with the original game, not as a ~$40 upgrade.

I realize this sounds a lot like a fourth-grader criticizing an Iron Chef because the little tyke doesn't like the taste of lunch, but hear me out. There are not enough high-quality, PC-exclusive titles on the market right now. There's no compelling reason keeping me on my PC, unlike the consoles, which have plenty of exclusive (or exclusive-for-a-number-of-months) titles.

Why is this the case? I fear it's because developers would rather sink $40 million dollars into a crappy game than sit back and understand the current gaming market. Right now, gamers want gameplay. They don't want sequels, nor should they be expected to buy sequels sans gameplay. A fun game will always be king, and you don't need to empty the vault to do it. Look at Sins of a Solar Empire--not a hugely hyped title, and not even the most innovative per se. That said, Stardock made a title that was pure fun, and that's it.

Right now, the PC gaming market suffers from a lack of good original titles. We're seeing too many high-in-promise, crap-in-production products flooding the airwaves right now. And it's a shame, because these titles had just as much hype and excitement going into development as any console game: Hellgate: London, Unreal Tournament 3, SimCity Societies, Tabula Rasa, et cetera. Ironically, the few quality titles I can think of to name (again, absent the "World" and "Warcraft" bits) are all cross-platform to begin with: The Orange Box, BioShock, etc.

Do consoles have crappy games? By the truckload. Do certain PC games make me question life, the universe, and everything? Absolutely. But blow-for-blow, the console is winning the war. Developers need to realize that a game has to be fun, and making a "fun" game isn't an equation that you can just sink a ton of money into and call it a day. They need focus more on what gamers truly want to play. And here's a hint: great gameplay will win out over next-generation graphics or pop-culture gimmicks every single time.

Consider Crysis: typical first-person shooter, right? To an extent, that's correct. Crysis ratchets up the "looks factor" pretty high, which is compelling reason number one for gamers to pick it up: the best graphical experience on a PC to date. But is that enough to make a game? Nope. So enter reason two: customizable gameplay that lets you alternate between any Dungeons and Dragons-style classes on a whim. The Fancysuit (whatever it's called) takes the "play it your way" concepts of more open-ended shooters and kicks it up a notch. Feel like being a sneaky thief? Want to punch tanks? How about absorbing damage like Ahh-nold? With but a cursory mouse movement, you're within the reach of three different playing styles.

I'm not going to belabor the point. But there's a reason Crysis is a blockbuster while Unreal Tournament 3... well... is a fine representation of the fourth anniversary of Unreal Tournament 2004. Gamers want original, fun experiences: while it's certainly possible for a sequel to work, it's not going to be a hit if it's just a reimaged version of the same ol' same ol'. The PC can be a cheaper, better gaming platform. Developers just have to stop thinking with their bank accounts and start thinking with their hearts--the kinds of experiences that made them turn to PC games when they were growing up. Hey, TIE Fighter didn't cost millions to make, but there's a reason it's still the greatest game ever created.*

*Disagree, and I will fight you.

5) Swallow Thy Pride


How many gamers, when faced with the draconian copy protection of 2K Games' BioShock, just stopped trying? How many stopped buying?

For this gaming alliance to have any chance of working, the various companies involved will need to approach the situation like it truly is: a gathering of visions, united on a common front. This can't be just another method for Microsoft injecting its marketing via another platform. Nor can this be any way for AMD to somehow leverage the playing field with Intel and Nvidia. Each company is going to have to take the high road on this one. It's a pill of poison for marketing departments, but it's exactly the kind of level-headed approach that's going to be required for this alliance to have any impact whatsoever.

Just imagine the possibilities! Instead of scrapping over copy protection schemes, perhaps these companies could use Microsoft's experience to leverage some sort of huge, open marketplace-type situation. Each member of the alliance would be free to set their own prices and such, with chunks of "featured content" dolled out according to a common calendar cycle. Obviously, it'd be a Steam knock-off. But the beauty of the service is that it eliminates the need for copy protection outright. Sign up, buy the game, and you can access it across any medium you want.

The PC Gaming Alliance could ensure that this service extends to box copies as well. Buy a copy at retail, and you'd be given the opportunity to register the game into this giant, online collective. It'd be your copy protection, and would also give you the ability to download and play the game in the same manner as before: across any medium you want.

These are all just brief thoughts. The PC Gaming Alliance has a long road ahead of itself, in terms of making the beloved ol' computer as important a platform as the consoles. And it needs more weight as well: where's EA? Where's Take-Two? Where are all the other publishers? Where are the industry heavyweights?

And what are the hardware vendors exactly hoping to accomplish? Graphics cards and fancy processors do not a gamer make; they're the means to an end. Gamers want better games, gamers want innovative games, and gamers want a compelling reason to choose a far-more-expensive, souped-up PC over that little $400 console machine in their living room. Hardware isn't the problem. In the end, it's all about the games.

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Comments

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Uther_Dark

Are you out of your mind? I've been playing games (both console and PC) since it was NES and DOS 2.11, let me pose something to you, why don't you get on your Xbox 360/PS3/Wii and do a search for PC games, heck, make it interesting, search for FREE PC games, then do a search for your respective system, or get a list of ALL console games, and put it side by side with a list of PC games...I promise you PC's game list will be quite daunting, I actually spent $1900 on my PC vs $400 or so for a 360 Elite, but I wanted to be able to play DX10 Games in HIGH RES, with my 7.1 EAX. I know I sound like I'm bashing on Console games...not so, I have been a HUGE fan of Nintendo and even Microsoft (not so much Sony, but I do still enjoy their games) I'm just saying you can't say that console games have PC games in 'a headlock' FAR from it.

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Uther_Dark

Also, your article only pertains to Iron Lore, not exactly one of the mainstays in PC gaming, and reasons given by only one man who seems to be pissed about his loss of work, it also quotes a FORUM POLL....wow...now those are some SERIOUS references....and ONE WHOLE ARTICLE, when do you find the time to do your research?

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althelas

I've said it to my friends for years, and I think it's still true... it's not about the box you play it on, it's about the play itself.

The WII is underpowered compared the the PS3 or the X-BOX or even a decent, new computer. But try to find one in the stores a year and half after its release.

In real estate, it's Location, Location, Location. In gaming, it's Gameplay, Gameplay, Gameplay... regardless of the interface. (How many more knock-offs of Tetris do we need to see to prove that point? Give the world a fun game, they'll want to play it.)

"Look! A Distraction!"

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Uther_Dark

Nintendo has always lead the way in innovation, and, lets face it, just making games downright fun. Their public view is that they produce games for children, not so, they make games for EVERYONE

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samduhman

PC gaming is fine. Look at this.

S.t.a.l.k.e.r. - has sold 1.65 million copies without advertising.

Sins of the Solar Empire has sold 100,000 copies in 3 weeks.

Whats that tell you. Devs of old are to blame. They don't want to create "fun" titles or try something new. They need to stop blaming pirates and realize they are the problem.

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hogkill

Just how is World of Warcraft doing for the pc what halo does for the xbox (btw im not saying halo is good)?

Nobody gets a new pc to play world of warcraft. Three years ago I got a new pc to play counter strike source. There is no point getting a new pc to play WOW because WOW looked like ass from launch. It has got to be the crappiest looking 3D game that people commonly play. Its not like there are any people out there who dont have a computer that can handle WOW.

That and the game is crap. You would have to be mentally challenged to pay a $15 monthly fee for a game you already bought. Blizzard is made of a bunch of greedy bastards making money off of stupid basement-dwellers. Arenanet made a much better playing, better looking and free game with Guild Wars. It takes a hell of a lot more skill to be successful in Guild Wars which is why theres such a deep pvp community. WOW is just a click simulator depending on levels and equipment. In GW you can start a character and be fully leveled with full equpipment in 20 hours and from then on your success depends entirely on how you adapt your gameplay. And you can make a fully leveled pvp area charcter in a matter of seconds if you want to jump right in and pwn some other players.

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_Jono_

"Does World of Warcraft's 10-million-strong user base promote PC gaming goodness or pull away players that might invest in different genres and titles?" Isn't this the point of any game out there? If I'm playing one game I'm not playing another. This war is more about content then anything else. Halo did it for the XBOX, Mario did it for Nintendo, and Blizzard is doing it for the PC, along with Valve. With a PC, you have an gaming system, an entertainment system, and a work horse for the job or for your creativity. Everything is going to become a part of the PC eventually... Who wouldn't want an entertainment system that does everything. The PC community just needs to get behind the gamers getting it right (valve and blizzard) and start seriously investing in and supporting their future content along with seeding new, quality companies.

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samduhman

If your going to blame someone, blame Microsoft for splitting the market by making a console. They should have invested in pc gaming and promoting it as a gaming platform instead of going console to begin with. Their borg mentality stinks. The 360 is nothing more than a snapshot of a pcs components. Consoles are hurting IMHO. The latest consoles (PS3/Xbox)are becoming plagued with what consolers used to poke fun at pcs for. Buggy games, issues connecting to networks, long installs (devil may cry 4 ps3). Wii is the only real console. PS3/Xbox 360 are dedicated gaming pcs. PCs have won if you want to be technical about it. Look how many features the PS3/360 have "borrowed" from the pc. They are pc wannabes.

PC gaming is fine. We just need devs to create fun games that we want to play and not continue to rehashed old ideas. The pc was/is where fresh gaming ideas used to come to fruition.

Devs/publishers have become greedy. They want to become rich off of one title instead of earning a living. So what do the longtime pc devs resort to. Leech onto the console cash cow and bad mouth the pc instead of making an awesome game for the pc like they used to do. The European devs know the deal they still make fun games for the pc (Witcher, Sins of Solar Empire) and Im buying them ;).

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Shalbatana

Let's see, we're going to develop this game. Should we first design it for a system with specs set in stone, or should we design for the PC, and have to deal with troubleshooting hardware specs, DMA conflicts, varied drivers, and the like, at the same time as building the game? If I were a developer, it would seem a foregone conclusion to me. Get the game out first, then use the initial returns to pay for porting, troubleshooting and expanding.

Also, understand, it's not about the games. It's about selling hardware. Console = every 4-6 years you buy a $400 avg. piece of equipment. PC = make a huge $1500 + initial investment, then upgrade over time for even more money. And then there's MS, who in their ingenious thoughts (got to admit, they may be uncaring and sloppy, but they're smart) said, "Wait...people will buy PC's. They will always buy PCs, for whatever reason. But what if we could get them to buy PC's AND consoles? Much more money for us."

The final issue is that for many the PC is in the office at home... the console is in the living room (or [insert common hang-out area here]). Where do you think most people would like to play? The slow and lackluster integration of PCs into home theater is also a major drawback. He who wins = he who partners with Yamaha, Polk, JVC and makes a media center PC to REPLACE the ENTIRE stereo system, not enhance it.

(((oh, and um, guys? Jumping on an editorial comment BB to say "my console is way better than your PC and long live such-and-such a game"...and vice/versa.... is for 4 year olds! Let's try and have something productive when you log on, leave the grandstanding for your high score list.)))

There's no time like the future.

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horzo

Shalbatana...

1) MS makes no direct profit from hardware sales. They lose money on every 360 they sell, in fact. Their cash comes from software on the PC side and licensing fees/game sales on the 360 side.
2) Why would anyone interested in media center PCs need the cooperation of the traditional audio gear vendors? If it weren't for the fact that I need an amplifier to drive speakers, I would have junked my stereo receiver long ago. The 360 is already a fully functional media center.
3) Thanks for the advice re: the content of my posts. I'll try my best to attain your stratospheric level of productivity in the future!

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Shalbatana

1) Initally, no. Lately, because of functionality issues, probably not. But I highly doubt they deliberately made the console and priced it's base unit at $3xx as a loss leader.

2) Media center PC's are not yet at the quality of the modern home stereo, neither in quality, or reliability. Home theater systems have been refining their craft for decades. HTPC's are infants, and constantly get it wrong. It's a simple matter of learning from those more educated. How great would it be to have a HTPC sound like a Yamaha system? Get them to provide the amp and other parts into the PC. Integration is key.

3) Don't take it so personally. I just feel that posting "yes it is", "no it isn't" is trivial without at least making an attempt to justify. And I never singled you out personally. I am more interested in reading your valid arguments, and a pointed basis for your opinion. Let's debate the topic. Grandstanding only takes up time and space. Anyway, didn't mean to start a flame war.

There's no time like the future.

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jeremy39

I think the problem also lies in the ever faster development of more powerful GPUs and CPUs. Every time a new game comes out it HAS to run on the best equipment available. But, what is available and what is affordable is often at opposite ends of the spectrum for the average user. And just because your PC meets the minimum specs doesn't necessarily mean it will actually run the game well enough to play it.

On the other hand, when games are developed for consoles the developers know that they have to have a product that will run on a specific console for 2 - 3 years or maybe more, rather than 2 - 3 months.

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Mithrith

If you already own the witcher you get the Enhanced content for free...

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horzo

Uhm...

Platformers are for 3 year olds and first person shooters are unplayable on console controllers. Strategy games? They don't exist. So...what's good on a console again?

Oh, right. Driving and sports games. Gotcha. I'll rush right and pick up a 360 so I can play the latest edition of Madden.

*yawn*

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hogkill

dude theres a lot of good stuff on consoles that just doesnt feel right on pc. also platformers are not for 3 year olds.

ALSO SSB BRAWL!
Pwning a friend in real life is so much more fun than pwning one over the net.

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hogkill

I'd love to be able to play Assasin's Creed on my PC. Since I'm going to buy an xbox I'll probably never get to play it. So there's some money ubisoft could have made but chose not to. Granted my current pc couldnt handle it. I actually have it opened up so I can hit the GPU fan with a pen every time it starts making noise.

But no pc game can compare to SSB Brawl, and releasing a PC version would be an unfathomable sin. Also to all WOW fans reading this GW>WOW m'kay.

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