When I started gaming it was PC all the way. The first real “gaming rig” I ever purchased was a 386/33 with a VGA card. I was looking for something that could play Wing Commander in all it’s 256 color glory,and it cost me $3K in actual 1989 dollars. Finding a joystick that wouldn’t break ended up being the hardest part, although I eventually got a hold of a CH Flightstick that managed to keep working for half a decade until it gave up the ghost during a particularly heated battle in Mechwarrior.
But somewhere around the turn of the century I lost interest in the PC as my primary platform. And it wasn’t just the fact that console games had gotten easier. When I finished Metal Gear Solid I had a new feeling: I could have just as much fun playing a game on my console, but with a lot less hassle.
So over the next few years I stopped trying to keep my machine “up to speed” and upgraded to my next gen-console when I could afford one. Meanwhile When I did have a RTS of RPG itch to scratch I just played older games.
But from the number of developers and players who have made the jump with me, I’m guessing I’m not alone dropping the cutting-edge PC as a gaming platform. Sure, I was paying a price in graphics for the first few years. But things have changed a lot since the PS1. The kinds of differences in display we’re talking about these days are vanishingly small; nothing an average consumer can recognize without having them pointed to them. And yet AAA PC titles still try to eek out that obscure bit of power that you can only get with the newest graphics card and a liquid cooled processor. I’m just not sure who they’re doing it for.
I’m guessing a big part of that is that the video card manufacturers still wish it was seven years ago, when they could engage in soft collusion with the developers to make sure that new games demanded a $500 card to “get the full experience”. Anything less and you would watch your virtual world chop by at 15 frames a second. But once you hop off that merry-go-round you can’t go back without facing a herd of obscurely named cards at different price points by different manufacturers. I wouldn’t know what to buy even if I wanted to.
But the explosion in casual gaming has proven that a PC game doesn’t have to be a slave to the hardware to find an audience. Exploiting the untapped power that’s in any machine five years or younger seems like the best path to success. Otherwise the message continues to be that PC gaming is about graphics and not gameplay. Ultimately that’s going to drive more and more hardcore gamers on a one way trip to console land. And with the budgets and technology that’s being thrown at these games it’s not a bad place to go.