The Death of the PC as a Gaming Platform?
Evolving Hardware in a New Age of Gaming, and What
it Means for Publishers, Developers, and Vendors
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Published April 2009. © 2009 Interpret, LLC
The Death of the PC as a Gaming Platform?
Evolving Hardware in a New Age of Gaming, and What it Means for Publishers, Developers,
• What are the substantive differences between consoles and PCs that will form the foundation
for the success—or failure—of the PC as a gaming platform?
• Will the PC finally be replaced as a gaming platform by this—or the next—generation of console
• What can developers and PC vendors do to capitalize on the differences between the console
and PC platforms?
Dismissing the PC platform as inferior to the growing installed base of consoles disregards an important
and unique audience—23% of all gamers—that seeks gaming experiences that consoles cannot
effectively offer. The PC will remain a viable gaming platform, but to successfully exploit it developers
and publishers must be aware of the two fundamental differences between PCs and consoles:
connectivity and control inputs.
Consoles vs. PCs: Networking
Broadband connectivity and robust multiplayer experiences have made the current lineup of consoles
stronger than any previous generation of hardware. Consoles are also pioneering digital storefronts
with user-friendly graphical user interfaces, and will eventually rival the PC in bringing innovations in
digital distribution to market quickly and efficiently. As a result, select alternative business models,
particularly downloadable content (DLC) such as songs for Electronic Art’s Rock Band and full game
downloads like The Behemoth’s Castle Crashers, are likely to flourish and expand on consoles.
Publishers today can leverage the Xbox Live Marketplace and Playstation Network Store to easily
distribute game demos, patches, and additional content—paid or free—to a willing audience.
These network capabilities are increasingly rivaling those of PCs. However, it is critical to note that the
online storefronts and multiplayer services that Microsoft, Sony Computer Entertainment, and, to a
lesser extent, Nintendo are carefully cultivating have their limitations: available content and services are
judiciously selected, and strictly controlled.
By contrast, the “open platform” nature of the PC translates to a far more fertile ground for the
development and trial of new alternative methods of monetization. Free expansion content,
“freemium” games, virtual goods, and subscription-based massively-multiplayer-online games, for
example, all originally evolved—and still flourish—on the PC. While Internet-connected consoles (57%
of active current-generation console owners) now offer a growing breadth of full-purchase games and
expansion content, the platforms are not as conducive to experimentation as the PC. Console audiences
are also less willing to sample proof-of-concept independent games or unfinished, but promising, user-
made game modifications which, in the case of Counter-Strike (Half-Life modification) and Desert
Combat (Battlefield 1942 modification), have proven able to dramatically change the fortunes of the
publishers of the original games.
Furthermore, the fact that the PC increasingly delivers its key consumer benefits as a “connected”
device (communication tools, applications, and online communities) is a phenomenon that carries
through to its use as a gaming machine. In terms of “core” gaming, the PC caters to robust online
communities that are specific to the PC for reasons as simple as being able to type a chat message
quickly, and as nuanced as the existence of diverse online networks of gaming communities, guilds, and
leagues that date back to the advent of multiplayer computer gaming. In addition, the PC also retains a
critical advantage over consoles in casual gaming. Despite the strong growth of console casual offerings
like Xbox Live Arcade, the PC remains the principal device for a huge segment of the gaming population
due to the large installed base of Internet-connected PCs and to its accessibility; 13% of gamers in the
U.S. only play games on a comput