PC is the dominant gaming platform claims PAX East panel

PAX East PC panel

We all know better than anyone that the PC is a vibrant, diverse, and very-much-alive gaming platform. But it’s not just living, claims a panel of PC experts at PAX East this weekend, but the dominant platform for games. 

The PC Gamer-hosted panel, made up of game designers and hardware gurus, dispelled the myth of falling hardware sales signalling the PC games apocalypse, and pointed to massively strong growth for the PC. Yes, yet again it’s clarified that the PC is the one platform to rule them all. Just incase you needed reminding. 

Taking their place at the table were Oculus’ founder Palmer Luckey, Planetside 2 creative director Matt Higby, Star Citizen creator and general space god Chris Roberts, Nvidia director of technical marketing Tom Petersen, and editor-in-chief of PC Gamer Evan Lahti acting as moderator.

Petersen pointed out that despite reported dwindling figures in PC hardware, the Nvidia’s sales were seeing notable boosts, especially in GTX-level video cards: the choice of many PC gamers. Clearly whilst many non-gaming PC users are moving away from traditional desktops in favour of tablets and other post-PC hardware, the market for enthusiast PC users in search of powerful rig additions is growing.

The power granted by video cards was what essentially forced Roberts into developing Star Citizen as a PC-only title. His vision for the game is entirely in 4K, and to produce a game with such capabilities requires the hardware that only a PC can provide. Star Citizen requires the ”perfect platform”, and that is the PC.

Petersen noted that the price of 4K equipment is falling all the time. Whilst there may be only a few early adopters at the moment, falling prices could see the PC become the dominant 4K gaming platform within a few years. Considering the news coming out of console land regarding the Xbox One’s stumbling capabilities with 1080p, we could well be massively far ahead of consoles before they’ve even settled into their current generation.

Such a high set of requirements for Star Citizen makes Roberts concerned for cloud gaming though. During the research stage for Star Citizen, he found that online video streaming suffered from latency too much to be a viable product, and that he couldn’t imagine that problem being fixed any time soon.

With so much going for the PC there had to be some kind of challenge, and Planetside 2’s Matt Higby was the one to bring it to the table. Interestingly he noted that the biggest challenge to developers on the PC was also the platform’s greatest strength: diversity. An almost infinite amount of different specifications exist in the PC community, and when developing a game for PC you have to make sure that your software will run on almost every configuration imaginable. There’s no ‘norm’ or standard as in console development, and whilst that should be celebrated, it is the biggest challenge facing developers. The issues is made even more important by the fact that the most bizarre combinations of hardware and software are very likely to be owned by the exact same enthusiasts who will buy cutting-edge games.

This fractured market, made up of home-builds, store-bought, and a mix of the two, is probably why PC gaming hasn’t hit the headlines as hard as consoles have in the past. The launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were big news; their marketing was singularly focussed on a sole system. The PC as a platform is absolutely massive note Roberts and Petersen, but doesn’t see those headlines because of a lack of marketing and publicity.

Piracy was naturally a key issue to be brought up, and everyone on the panel agreed that illegal software theft was starting to decline, in no small part thanks to digital distribution. Luckey Palmer explained that the easier it was to buy games and the fewer restrictions on them, the more attractive method it was for acquiring games. With simple electronic store fronts, purchasing games is now easier than having to jump through the many hurdles required to make pirated games work. Higby explicitly stated that piracy was an availability and distribution problem, and that digital was the right way forward. Roberts agreed, also noting that whilst digital helps solve the piracy problem, it also cuts out publishers and retailers from the chain, granting the developer a better slice of the profits.

Petersen pointed out that the PC games industry is worth $24 billion (sales, in-game microtransactions, subscriptions, and everything else) and that that money will be gained by the developers that provide gamers with the best products purchased through the easiest methods. Those that mess around with complicated unlock codes and DMR are destined to fall foul of piracy.

Microsoft were also in for a little praise, with Roberts praising the multithreading capabilities of DX12 for taking a burden off developers. He did warn though that the company needs to stop focussing on the Xbox as their primary gaming outlet, especially since the company makes much more money out of PC gaming as a whole. Microsoft needs to embrace the PC community. “Consumers might try to abandon Microsoft for Linux because they’re afraid of being pushed to the MS app store,” he said. He also noted that Star Citizen will be Windows-led, but that Linux support would definitely be made available.

Finishing up with a look at our close future, Luckey explained the hurdles in creating sci-fi style VR, explaining how framerate was a real issue to contend with. Whilst framerates have certainly gone up, this doesn’t necessarily mean that framerates are actually faster. All manner of software set-ups can inflict hundreds of milliseconds of latency to a frame, and that affects VR. Combined with the latency issues VR hardware can inflict, super-smooth VR images are still a little while away. Destroy the latency, and VR becomes perfected.

Thanks, Ars Technica.