My body was sore today after all those boxes I moved yesterday (though the work technically turned out to be more along the lines of weeding and yanking out parasitic kudzu vines, you know, yard work). So I decided to take a nice breather, wind down and play some Diablo 3. Diablo 3 is the biggest PC game release in a long time, and probably the only PC smash hit in years to not be:
1. a console port
2. an MMO
3. a free-to-play-with-micro transactions game
4. an indie game
Most PC games these days are overshadowed by their console counterparts, even from game franchises that were formerly PC-focused (Call of Duty, Crysis, The Elder Scrolls, Battlefield). Furthermore, PC releases of games developed for consoles therefore end up being less optimized as a result of the transition from a restrictive unflexible medium to the customizable PC. Thus the branding of “console port”.
MMO’s are pretty much the only genre left that can only truly live on the PC, or at least can only be successful on the PC. Why? I don’t know, I guess a console’s playerbase is uncomfortable with subscription-based games (especially Xbox players who already have to pay a subscription just to play online). Also, action bars and other typical staples of MMO’s that require a lot of buttons are probably pretty difficult to emulate on a console controller. Nevertheless, even though MMO’s are still successful on PC, many are beginning to pursue a free-to-play model of service, rather than the upfront price+subscription of tradition.
The Free-to-Play model, or more accurately the Free-to-Play-with-Micro Transactions model, is a rapidly evolving paradigm in the PC world, and it’s not just restricted to MMO’s. The idea is that the game is free, but it also carries an in-game store with which to purchase virtual in-game items and perks with real cash. This “cash shop” is how the Free-to-Play model makes its revenue. The boons offered by the “cash shops” vary from game to game, some offer experience boosts, some offer weapons and items that you would otherwise have to find or grind for, some give you vanity stuff that make you stand out from the free-playing riff-raff, and others outright give you exclusive stuff that gives you blatant advantage over those who choose not to throw precious real money at pixels. Those PC gamers who don’t like paying for “cash shop” crap would probably rather spend that real money on something of greater worth, like a different kind of game with a lot of heart made by a single person or a small development team.
The indie game, a game that is usually produced by a person or small development team not associated with a publisher, is also a rapidly growing trend in PC gaming. The poster boy of the indie phenomenon as of late would most likely be Minecraft. Minecraft, which was developed by one man in JAVA in his spare time has grown to accumulate more dollars than many big-budget titles released these days, and it showcases the communicative power of the internet and word-of-mouth, seeing as indie games almost never have an advertising campaign.
Given these examples, PC-exclusive non-MMO non-free non-indie games like the Witcher 2 and Diablo 3 have become a rarity. Of course, Diablo 3 has its own slew of problems associated with today’s PC gaming climate, but that rant is for another blog post. In this context, however, it’s one of the only remnants of a PC gaming legacy that thrived in the 90’s and early 2000’s that fell victim to console dominance. With how PC gaming is today, what will it be like in the future? Will it ever be the same as it was like in the past? Will the indie game be the salvation? Is everything going to be Free-to-Play? As a PC gamer myself, I just can’t help but wonder.