Can Nothing but Sequels and Remakes Keep PC Gaming Alive?

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?