Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Whipping out the Crystal Ball

The government is spending too much! The solution is clearly to pair that spending with reduced income. Thatll get rid of our national debt.

The government is spending too much! The solution is clearly to pair that spending with reduced income. That'll get rid of our national debt.

Today I read a solid dozen news and opinion articles on the economy, partially out of curiosity and partially out of a faint sense of despair. The long and short of it is that as usual for the past year or so, the economy is sucking it up more than we previously thought. Some, like Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, think the Democrats aren’t doing nearly enough, and should be reacting faster than they are. On the other hand, you’ve got the Republicans, who are even more useless than the current administration, insisting over and over for tax cuts. That’s like standing on the deck of an already-sinking Titanic and calling for greater compartmentalization of the ship’s bulkheads.

What’s a PC gamer to do? There are a lot of problems facing the market we love so dearly, and most of them are only going to get worse. Here’s what we’re looking at:

  • Thats right, a shiny new 8400 GS. I know you all want one.

    That's right, a shiny new 8400 GS. I know you all want one. (Joke).

    Less Upgrading: We’re already a limited segment, due to the higher average cost for PC hardware than for console gaming. As the economy worsens, fewer people will be willing (or able, for that matter) to shell out more cash to update their rigs. Economy of scale will come into play, yielding fewer choices and higher prices for those who can still afford to upgrade their hardware.

  • Fewer Titles: Gaming as a whole already suffers from this, as graphically-intense titles cost more and more to develop. Those developers without much capital, or without smaller margins will get squeezed out of the market.
  • More Delays: We’ll see more vaporware as games never materialize, making a lot of PC gamers cry softly into their pillows at night. Those games that do come to market will take even longer as studios are forced to drop employees and tighten their virtual belts. While multi-platform games will still be around, we’ll probably have to deal with even longer wait times between games getting released for console and then eventually for PC (Halo 2, anyone?).

It’s not all bad news, though. Similar to how the depression is forcing our economy to change (albeit painfully), the PC gaming industry will likely undergo a similar transformation, emerging leaner and wiser. Check it out:

  • Rise of Casual Gaming: Like it or not, casual gaming is here to stay, and it’ll likely grow. People won’t stop gaming just because they can’t run the latest releases; they’ll just be gaming differently. Ad-supported online games will probably get even more popular, and in doing so become a bit more creative/complicated/generally palatable for your average PC gamer. Standard casual gaming genres will be reinvented, a la Defense Grid: Awakening.
Steam Weekend Sale (this one was really awesome)

Steam Weekend Sale (this one was really awesome)

  • Pricing Evolves: As evidenced by market-giant Steam, reducing the price of games after the initial offering is a great way to increase sales and make fans out of previously indifferent gamers. Steam, Impulse, and others have shown that tactics like weekend sales are a win-win situation for both developers and gamers.
  • More Value: Games like Team Fortress 2 which deliver a regular stream of updates and additional content after launch will become a regular convention. Value-added gaming, as it is known, increases the sales and lifetime of a given product. Additionally, look for more studios to release content episodically, like the upcoming Starcraft 2.
  • Smarter Graphics: Studios will come up with sneaky ways to create effects that look the same to the naked eye, but are less demanding on graphics hardware. The end result is that we can all go around happily thinking that graphics looks really great, while conveniently overlooking the fact that it can’t be that great if it’s running on a three-year-old graphics card. As an added bonus, the question/meme “but will it run Crysis?” will completely drop from public memory. Those that insist on bringing it up will be flogged mercilessly.

It’s not a perfect situation, but what can you do? It’s a dog-eat-dog industry (I’m looking glaring at you, Activision), and everyone has to do what they can to survive. These changes are better than the alternative of the industry disappearing completely. I for one am looking forward to seeing what sort of creativity ensues from the economic restrictions everyone will be working under. Who knows, maybe a game will finally achieve that elusive quality that elevates it to Art instead of merely being a game.


March 10, 2009 - Posted by | Gaming | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I personally think PC gaming should have already been trying to do its best to make things look the same. I mean, in all truth, Crysis could have been done on a much lower end PC were it not for the fact that they said “Hey, we don’t have to do that! We can appeal to the hardcore crowd!” and promptly sold a full 40k units first week. Wow!

    Seriously, I think big companies should already have had code optimizers and tricks, and not counted on PC gamers upgrading rigs for their games. They should make games for the good rig of two years ago with a couple of nice little options for the top of the line rig today.

    *Catches breath*

    I think I’ll stop myself there. Though I’ll add that casual games are nice but I think they’ll never really mingle with the hardcore crowd as much as their devs would hope. I, for one, will continue to play my indy games til the cows come home in addition to my pretty AAA titles.

    Comment by Zach | March 10, 2009 | Reply

  2. Of course they should have, but they don’t. Such is life. When they’re forced to work within tighter constraints, I’m thinking most developers will come up with some really great stuff.

    As for Crysis, that was a borderline lose-lose situation they set up for themselves. The game’s biggest selling point was how insanely high-end the graphics were… they didn’t think about the fact that most gamers would never actually see those visuals in all their intended glory.

    Comment by Brian | March 11, 2009 | Reply

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