When the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were first being shown off, a lot of people got the impression (as people tend to do around the time of new console releases) that PC gaming was in its last throes. Consoles are mighty powerful these days, and considering how much cheaper they are than a gaming PC it seemed like there wasn't much reason to go to choose PC gaming. Speaking personally, I was a strict console gamer my whole life (aside from a little Mac gaming here and there). This past May, I decided to pass on the Xbox 360, and instead I did something I'd always wanted to do: I built a high-end gaming PC.
I have found that I enjoy PC gaming much more than I ever enjoyed console gaming. There are more games, better and more innovative games, more customizations, user mods, better graphics, higher resolutions, better controls, and the list goes on. PC gaming has a lot to offer. But with the console releases overshadowing the PC industry, some pundits are counting the PC out.
People certainly do have short memories. People said the same things when the Xbox and PlayStation 2 were released, but PC gaming had a marquee year in 2004 with games like Half-Life 2, Rome: Total War, World of Warcraft, Doom 3, and Far Cry. PC technology moves very quickly; it's possible to build a machine faster than a PS3 or 360 relatively inexpensively. Part of the problem falls back on the PC industry, with things like Intel's "Extreme" processors; they're advertised as gaming processors, and they cost upwards of $1000. Then you have expensive memory, like Corsair "Dominator" that can fetch over $500 for 2GB. Toss in a $250 motherboard and a $600 graphics card (or two) and PC gaming can sound prohibitively expensive.
What most people don't realize is that what really matters is the graphics card. The processor and memory make virtually zero difference in game performance. And even with regards to graphics cards, you certainly don't need a $600 card to get a great gaming experience. And considering that everyone these days can use a good PC for a multitude of tasks, PC gaming need not be prohibitively expensive. I'll be publishing a PC gaming buyer's guide very soon to help people cut through the hype and get a great system without breaking the bank.
But on a larger scale, Microsoft thinks they are going to bring PC gaming back into the limelight with a few big releases and a new marketing concept. The marketing concept is already in place; it's the "Games for Windows" branding you see on all PC games now. You don't see the huge, cumbersome boxes anymore either; games now come in svelte boxes that have replaced the huge, bulky boxes of yore. It's not just packaging though; Microsoft has a lot of new stuff on their website extolling the fun of PC gaming, and gaming will be a big part of Windows Vista marketing.
Windows Vista will introduce DirectX 10, and with it a significant leap in graphical realism. We've already seen screenshots of Crytek's forthcoming shooter Crysis, which has been making waves in the press for some time. Crysis will be one of the first games to utilize DirectX 10, but many others are on the way; by the end of 2007, all new games will be primarily using DirectX 10. This will require some upgrades for a lot of folks; DirectX 10 will work only with Vista, and only with a dedicated DirectX 10 card. Currently there are only two DirectX 10 cards on the market: the nVidia 8800GTX and 8800GTS. Fortunately by the time Vista becomes widely adopted, consumers can expect to see more DirectX 10 cards for less money. As with all platforms, the early adopters will pay more, but prices have a tendency to come down quickly.
Pair the release of Vista and games like Crysis with the rapid price drops of fantastic wide-screen LCD monitors, and Microsoft believes that PC gaming can remain a competitive platform. Can it all work? I think it can. Developers still love the PC, and PC games can still draw a huge crowd – 8 million World of Warcraft players, anyone? With powerful new technology and innovative games on the horizon, Microsoft is poised to ensure that PC gaming isn't forgotten in the new generation.