The Rationalization of Consolization.

Any long time gamer (I’m talking about 10+ years here folks) will remember the time when the PC was the platform for all games to shoot for. It’s not that consoles weren’t good, by many standards the original Xbox and PS2 were quite capable machines at the time, it was more that PCs gave you the best experience and the limited input options for consoles made many games simply untenable on the platform. The next generation of consoles provided something different however, they were more than powerful enough to give a modern PC a run for its money at the time and the games on them were definitely a step up from their predecessors. What has followed is a massive boom in the world of console gaming and subsequently a decline in the world of PC gaming.

This is not to say that PC gaming is dead and buried, far from it. Whilst consoles might have taken the lion’s share of the gaming market there are still a great many titles that make their way onto the PC platform. For the most part however it is obvious that these games were developed with the console platform in mind first with paradigms that don’t necessarily make sense on the PC making their way into the final release. This process has become known as the consolization of PC gaming and it has been met with a lot of criticism by the PC gaming community. Whilst I don’t like what this means for PC gaming I do understand the reasons behind the shift away from the PC as being the primary platform.

Primarily it comes down to simple economics. Since the PC was the platform for so long many seem to think that it’s by far the biggest market. The truth is unfortunately that for the vast majority of the market the console reigns supreme with PCs making up a very small percentage of it. Take for instance one of the biggest recent retail releases, Call of Duty: Black Ops. Total units moved for this game in November last year were in the order of 8.4 million with only 400,000 of them being on the Wii, DS and PC platforms. Putting that in perspective that means that the PC release accounted for less than 5% of the total sales volume and data from previous years shows that this number is on the decline.

A single data point however isn’t enough to prove the theory and no one will argue that the Call of Duty series is a bit of an outlier in itself. However if you take a look at the sales charts for each platform it’s quite clear that PCs really are a niche market when it comes to games totaling around 3% of the total units moved. Of course 3% of a multi-billion dollar a year market is still a significant chunk of change but it’s comparable to say the difference in market share between Windows and Linux (and should provide some insight into why nearly no one bothers with developing games for Linux).

Just because PC gaming is becoming a niche market doesn’t mean it’s going to disappear anytime soon however. There are still many types of games, real time strategy being one of them, that just simply don’t work well in the console world no matter how much tweaking you do to the core game play. It does however mean that consolized games should be the expected norm for PC gamers and whilst that might mean a sub par experience it does have the added benefit of extending the life of our systems significantly, which I know is a small consolation. Still unless the PC somehow manages to draw crowds the size of any of the console platforms those of us who choose the PC as our platform will have to make do with what we’re given as the game developers of the world must give the crowd what they want.

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  1. You know what I think a lot of it comes down to? Piracy on the PC. I’d say there are a great deal more folk who play these PC games, but who don’t purchase them.

    Also, you have a guaranteed experience on the console. On a PC there are so many variables (graphics card, memory, CPU etc). I personally prefer playing games on the PC, mainly because I think that you just can’t beat a mouse for First Person Shooters…

  2. That’s definitely one factor although all major consoles now have quite healthy piracy scenes; it’s just not as easy as to pirate on the consoles as it is on the PC (although the PS3 gets pretty close).

    I think your second point is the real deciding factor though: it just plain works. You don’t have to worry about upgrading or anything past putting the disk in the slot and away you go. I’m the same, if I had to choose I’d prefer the PC, but there are some games I like playing on consoles (Heavy Rain for example). That could just be the massive TV I have though… ;D

  3. The real issue is development costs, larger team sizes and difficulty of executing a AAA game. Back in the mid 90’s cost of developing games was much much smaller then it is now. PC sales have been flagging because developers don’t know where to take gaming – they are out of ideas, or if not out of ideas they are beholden to clueless corporate executives. If you look at the console market – it’s all sequels and rehashes because console gamers like simple games, they can’t deal with complexity. Even console games have been significantly dumbed down from their forebears in previous era’s.

    What we’re really seeing here is the lower IQ half of the human population (being the most numerous) having their gaming needs catered to. Gaming in the NES and SNES era was associated with nerds. It really wasn’t until the PS2/Xbox that gaming became mainstream, as graphics power has advanced it has attracted new audiences who aren’t really gamers and who want cinematic experiences over deep gameplay. When I hear MMO players complain about interactivity and action oriented gameplay I shake my head.

    True gamers (there is such a thing) loathe the rise of MMO’s and more passive non-interactive gaming.

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