Jun 21 2012

Can Nothing but Sequels and Remakes Keep PC Gaming Alive?

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Video Games

Oddly fitting these days. 

Last week saw the release of May’s gaming sales numbers which, except for Blizzard’s Diablo 3 and Nintendo’s 3DS, was pretty much all bad news across the board. Hardware sales were down over 30% from last year, while software sales were down roughly the same at 28%. The hardware numbers aren’t that bad though because, as we all know, we’re due for a few new console releases soon that should give hardware sales the boost it needs, like it always does.

But wow, look at those PC numbers, up 230% from last year, woo-hoo way to go Diablo 3! For the first time since July 2010 a PC game has topped the market in game sales. The PC gaming market is doing fine, nothing to see here, move along. Ah yes, another Blizzard release has managed to keep PC game sales alive, and while this is good news for the short term, the reality is the PC market is now pretty much dependant on the sequels and remakes from older IPs to keep itself alive.

Literally a cash cow. 

The PC as a device has never really had a marketing strategy more robust than “we’re a PC, you already have one.” The PC gaming market relied on the fact that everyone owned a PC already. Consoles never really challenged this as most people either owned a PC and a console, or just a PC. PCs were too handy and you couldn’t use a Nintendo as a word processor. It was a simple formula for a long time, as PC sales rose so too did game sales and everyone was happy. Then handhelds came and ruined it all.

For a while there it looked like social games were going to save the PC Gaming market. PC game sales were pretty bad in 2008, dropping 23%. Then social games happened and the market saw an increase in sales totaling $13.1 billion in 2009, $16.2 billion in 2010, and a whopping $18.6 billion in 2011. Most of these gains were attributed to an increase in the sale of digital items, you know, the shiny digital goodies you could buy in Farmville or dozens of other social games. There were probably a few League of Legends skins in there as well, but the vast majority of the increase seems to have come from micro transactions within social games. Either way, social games, Facebook, and Zynga, all of it was good for the PC gaming market, at least in 2011 it was.

Digital crops are worth as much as real ones, apparently. 

Its 2012 now and so far Facebook has seen a lackluster IPO, Zynga stocks have sank, and most think that the social games market is dwindling. This is all bad news for PC gaming, and it gets worse. Remember when I said handhelds came and ruined everything? Well while social games called the PC home for the past few years, there is mounting evidence that more and more people are choosing smart phones and tablets for this these types of games. In a few years social games and mobile games will most likely just be one big mobile market; most games are already.

Don’t feel bad, you’re bringing Social games with you. 

So with social games hurting and handhelds stealing the rest of the business, will the PC market be able to find a new cash cow? Perhaps, but right now they seem to be relying simply on staying alive with sequels and remakes. Not to say that some of these games don’t look fantastic or that they aren’t good, but there is a very distinct lack of new IPs in the PC market. Here’s a list of a few upcoming “big releases.” By no means is this list all inclusive, but there are a few worth mentioning;

Diablo 3 – Obviously we’re covered this already, but it will most likely give the PC market a boost for the next few months if not more, and probably already saved the first half of 2012. It’s a 16 year old franchise.

X-Com: Enemy Unknown – Remake of the PC classic. The game looks amazing but is also being released on consoles which good news for the game and good for Firaxis, but lack of exclusivity on the PC will lessen the impact on PC sales. It’s a 17 year old franchise.

SimCity 2013 – Remake of yet another PC classic. It also looks amazing and is exclusive to PC but requires online only single player, which is made worse because it’s from EA the worst company in America. This game will be probably successful because everyone likes a SimCity, but we most likely won’t be able to hear it over all of the EA backlash. It’s a 23 year old franchise.

Civilization V: Gods & Kings – Released this week to pretty good reviews, but it’s mostly a niche market, albeit a big one. Even though the expansion is great (I spent the last few days sending inquisitors after some digitally godless heathens so I should know) It’s an expansion to the fifth game in the franchise, It’s really only good because they’ve gotten so good at making content for Civilization. It’s a 21 year old franchise.

I could go on and on, but for brevity’s sake I’ll stop here. Feel free to take a look at this list though, with the exception of a few like Dishonored or The Secret World, pretty much everything on there is a sequel or a remake of some sort.

Even that whole Kickstarter boom we saw a few months earlier relied on the success of older franchises marketed to a new audience. It’s great to see that some games can get made without publishers; but they’re all remakes or sequels as well. Games like Wasteland 2, Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest, and Shadowrun are all built off of existing IPs. They may see some success, I hope they do, but their success depends on a small niche market, I doubt these games will generate revenue in the same way that social games have over the past few years.

Don’t worry, Larry’s here to save PC gaming. 

This isn’t a matter of game quality which is something I tend to harp on, some of these games look great, probably improvements on the originals, and I’ll most likely play a few of them, but there is something sad about watching the PC market continuously recycle old content. Sure, the PC market will never really “die” because the PC isn’t going anywhere, but the game market could become a fraction of itself if a replacement for social games isn’t found, and I don’t think any amount of old dug-up IPs is going to help. Social games became popular because they were new, sure they were easy and anyone could try them so that helps, but really it was the novelty of the concept that created the market.

Valve’s Steam service is really the last remaining gem in PC gaming’s crown. It’s the first and last place a PC gamer can go to look for newer titles or just to do some bargain hunting. But, when it comes to games even the all powerful Valve has to rely on existing IPs; Dota 2, Team Fortress 2, and Half Life 3 (eventually). Portal, which was really one of the last good original PC IPs, is already five years old, past that everything else is a sequel.

Already 5 years old. 

But Valve has earned their place in PC gaming history for creating content, so has Blizzard for that matter, so if they wish to strictly rely on sequels and remakes they’ve earned the right. At some point however, someone has to do something original. I didn’t really spend much time with social games because I generally think of them as a scam, but at least they were a new concept.

Hopefully Steam will continue to grow and Kickstarter will continue to be a place for developers to raise revenue, perhaps the PC market will be saved by an army of smaller indie “Davids” instead of a handful of social “Goliaths.” But one thing is for sure, the PC game market needs something new to revitalize it now that social games can’t be trusted. I really don’t want to spend the next decade playing re-mastered versions of the games I played as a kid.  Doesn’t anyone have any fresh ideas?





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7 responses so far

  • JZ89

    It works for hollywood …

  • Draugr

    This article fails.
    It’s strange, as it takes something the entire industry is doing, and then tries to attribute to soley one platform.

    If we looked at the exclusivity list (non-multi-platform titles,) of the ps3/Xbox you’d also notice it was almost all sequels and remakes…. In fact, with a new console release the first games out of the gate are guaranteed to be sequels (Mario, Zelda, Halo, etc.) Because established IPs are safe investment.

    This is a crutch the enitre industry uses.
    When it comes to the ballooning costs of development we’re seeing, as with Hollywood, they stick with the safe bets (generally speaking.)

    Why you’re willing to say this is only happening to one platform is beyond me.. If this is going to ‘do in’ PC’s then it will be doing in consoles as well …Seems to me like the real article you should be writing is how the gaming industry is starting to fall victim/to the same problems the film industry has.

  • Schiapu

    Was about to post how this articled failed on so many levels, but Draugr has already explained. If anything, PC has become the main plataform for indie games, games which are bursting with innovation that consoles and the AAA industry are lacking nowadays.

  • Draugr

    Forgot to add,

    Let’s also keep in mind the PC numbers from the NPD (like the numbers the ESA published in 2009 you cited) are garbage, as most transactions for PC titles are done digitally (as you pointed out) and the NPD doesn’t track those numbers, so when it comes to PC they are pretty worthless. If we followed the NPD the PC gaming industry would look to be in decline when in fact that isn’t really the case.

    Speaking of exclusives, those who are looking for some old school dungeon crawling, might I recommend Legend of Grimrock…it’s classic!

  • Korky

    Yeah, what they said.

  • Rob J

    *Knock Knock*

    Who’s there?

    Thousands of original indie games selling like hotcakes!

    I dislike this article

  • negative 1

    Yeah…
    Here’s the thing. Those indie games aren’t making much money in the scheme of things, so eventually any developing talent is going to drift over to where there is money (handhelds, consoles, etc.). It’s another form of brain drain, and it’s very real.
    What else hurts PC gaming? I’d argue the entry cost to getting a good system. I’m in my mid-30’s, good job, kids, house, etc. I have a limited amount of time to game, although I do really enjoy it. However, $1,200 is what I paid for my fridge. Or my sofa. I don’t want to have to drop it in order to buy a PC. Especially when I will most likely be able to get the next gen console for about 1/3 of that, and my XBox cost 1/4 of that. If you’re in your 20’s, have lots of disposable income, good on you. But there are a lot of gamers like me and that kind of thing just hurts the industry.

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