In 2013, the PC is arguably one of the strongest gaming platforms on the planet, blessed with a massive variety of games, the promise of virtual reality and a planned invasion of the living room imminent. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Before the release of the last generation of consoles, the PC as a mainstream gaming platform was in serious trouble. Many publishers and developers were abandoning it to seek the safety – and money – of a booming console market. Most dedicated PC games were playing to a niche audience, and those that weren’t would see their sales plundered by piracy.
By the middle of the last decade, you couldn’t open a gaming site (or open a magazine) without tripping over articles pondering the death of serious PC games entirely. It was never going to die completely of course, that was ridiculous fear-mongering, but it was certainly in danger of becoming a second-rate market.
Then something happened. The PC started filling the void. With…console games. Or the type of games that a PC owner would used to have called console games.
The main party to thank for this is Valve, who in 2005 began the process of courting third-party publishers and asking them to sell games on their Steam marketplace. By 2007, most of the industry’s biggest companies were onboard.
And many of the games they’d be selling would be ones you could also buy on Xbox 360 or PS3. Fighting games. Action games. Brawlers. Platformers.
What was once a curiosity, or even a cause for derision from hardcore PC gamers, is now a huge deal. Sure, the PC has long been the recipient of ports of certain console games. I played Final Fantasy VII and Grand Theft Auto III (itself a series that started on a computer!) on a PC. Sports games, too, have (until recently) long called the personal computer home. But for the most part, big console action titles would only be released on big consoles like the PS2 and Xbox, and on the rare occasion they did make it to PC, they’d often be terrible. Anyone who can remember Capcom’s port of Resident Evil 4 will attest to that. Then hate themselves for remembering it.
Steam has done two things for a market that was once sagging. It’s provided a form of copy protection, a problem that was driving publishers away from the PC. And it’s also provided a centralised marketplace which can take advantage of one of the PC’s strengths: the ability to digitally sell a title with ease, free from the controls of a platform holder like Microsoft or Sony.
A coming together of technology has helped, too. Where the PC was once a distinctly different beast to consoles like the PS2, the Xbox 360 was like the PC’s little brother, making the porting of code a much simpler affair than it had been in previous generations. Microsoft’s decision to make the Xbox 360 controller compatible with the PC was also a masterstroke: for the first time in its life, the platform has a standardised control pad.