If you dig into the stats behind the latest IDC report into PC shipments, there’s some startling data and a stark situation. PC shipments (i.e. PC’s delivered to retailers worldwide) declined at their fastest rate ever. In the first three months of 2013, they dropped by 13.9%. That’s way more than the 7.7% predicted, and the fourth consecutive quarter they’ve declined.
That’s pretty dismal news. So what’s going on? And should we PC gamers start sweating?
The first question is relatively easy to answer. The PCs sold by the main manufacturers; Acer, Dell, Leonovo and the rest just aren’t very good or interesting. Customers now face a choice: buy a laptop or desktop, or consider a tablet. Tablets are a viable alternative.
Windows 8 hasn’t helped. In fact, it might have contributed to the decline. As IDC point out in their report, "While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."
Tough words. And true. Windows 8 has been a disaster for Microsoft from the moment it was revealed. Consumers just aren’t interested. And businesses aren’t going to take the risk and overheads on training and supporting a new touch interface.
Should PC gamers be worried?
In the short term, this isn’t going to affect us. Businesses not adopting Windows 8 shouldn’t hamper PC gaming’s growth.
The hardcore gamer is going to continue to upgrade their PC. The 60 million plus Steam accounts aren’t going away any time soon. We’re still a massive market for games.
But there are two problems that have to be addressed. Microsoft’s insistence on welding a touch interface to a mouse and keyboard is increasingly ridiculous. It’s unnecessary, and it’s clearly putting people off buying new computers*.
But more importantly, PC manufacturers are not making or marketing products that people want. Touchscreen laptop and convertibles are failing. These PCs aren’t desirable, and don’t fulfill a purpose. The PC hardware market is rudderless.
I think, quietly, games are the answer.
Most PCs can do most jobs asked of them now. There’s very little reason to upgrade or buy a new computer. Increasingly, the only reason to upgrade your PC is to play something new, or improve your experience. Games drive hardware adoption, yet very few of PC manufacturers really understand and consider what gamers want when building and marketing machines.
What I wish is that PC manufacturers could see this.
PCs are amazing. They let you do anything, and play practically anything. But PC manufacturers are awful at telling the world this. Until they step up, I think we’re going to see further and faster declines. And that’s going to damage PC gaming in the long run.
*It should be pointed out that Apple also suffered declining computer sales.