• A brief history of the death of PC gaming

    “Computer games will be our decades (sic) 8 track tape or beta max

    Based on original art & concept from Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw of ZeroPunctuation.

    Oakstout, 2009

    When did PC gaming die? Almost every year it has existed. At least, as long as it has been a well-established market. The story of the perennial non-death of PC gaming is a great lesson in critical thinking and a case study in popular nonsense. I’ve played PC games since the 80’s, so I can speak to what it’s like to be a PC gamer, and how gaming has changed over the years.

    PC Gaming has gotten so much better, in almost every way. Every year. The market has expanded consistently, from a tiny niche in the 80’s, to a massive global powerhouse that made 24.4 billion dollars in 2014 and is projected to make 30 billion by 2017.

    Everything is easier, better, and cheaper than ever before. Younger people will not know how painful PC gaming was in the early-to-mid 90’s. Without standardized hardware or gaming program interfaces, you sometimes had to have just the right brand and model of video card and/or sound card to play a game, or play it well. There was no such thing as a software patch. There was no such thing as a digital download or, for the most part, online multiplayer. An upper-end gaming PC cost at least $2000 in 1992. In 2015 dollars, that’s $3400. Today, a great gaming PC can be had for under $500, that’s almost 7 times cheaper. And this is to say nothing of software. Every game used to be $40-70 (in 2015 dollars). Today there are crazy Steam sales with AAA titles at slashed prices. You can click a button and be playing in a few minutes. This barely scratches the surface of how gaming has gotten better for gamers over the years.

    This is not to say there has been nothing to complain about. There have been problems with draconian digital rights management, piracy, regressive visual standards due to the influence of console gaming, and other quality problems. But in the big picture, these are minor gripes, and usually temporary ones.

    Also, in no years documented below was there are trend toward failure of the PC market. There are slow years, as there is for almost any product on the market, but one slow year is not a pattern. Consoles rose to take a large share of the gaming market, but this is evidence of a larger gaming market maturing and growing, not pruning off PC gaming. The trend has always been upward, and it still is today.

    Why do we salivate for destruction?

    The idea of the dying of the PC game market is so wrong-headed, contradicted by virtually every kind of evidence available. Why was everyone so quick to believe it, and re-believe it post-deconstruction? Why has it been so hard for the facts to halt the madness? I won’t answer that in this post, but it is the question I want you to think about. It’s why I am writing this.


    IGN: Is PC Gaming Dying?

    According to this IGN article which is still online, the PC market will “continue to decline” because of the heterogeneity of PCs, related development costs, and larger sales of console games. This article might be seen as a rebuttal to… IGN’s staff article from several months earlier  about the best-selling games at the time, four of which were PC games, and how this bade well for PC gaming. Good call IGN, your prescience continues to amaze us.


    Mobygames: Is PC gaming dead?

    The writer is arguing the contrary, but why?

    Over the last couple of years, many pundits and supporters alike have called the PC game industry dead. Even publications like PC Gamer have started to talk more and more about console platforms like the upcoming Microsoft X-Box. But is PC gaming really dead, or is this nothing more than another media scare? Does the X-Box signal the end of games on PCs?

    Apparently, by February 2002, the idea of the dying PC gaming industry, because consoles, was already widespread.


    PC Magazine: Doom 4: End of the Game Industry? “Am I the only one who expects a collapse of the gaming business soon?”

    …and people wonder why PC gaming is dying.

    /insert *rolls eyes* icon here

    A moderator rolls their eyes at a griper. Even laughing at doom-sayers is over a decade old, at the least. The griper has decided PC gaming is dying because one game from a small developer shipped with a bug while a patch was forthcoming. Seems reasonable.

    Ubi forums

    I am affraid pc gaming is dying due to cost.

    Hang in there, deadlyfireww2. You’ll one day see a console that costs $500 and is weaker than a PC of the same price.


    Gamershell.com: PC Gaming is Dying

    PC Gaming is dying. How’s that for an opening line from a die-hard PC gamer?

    No more pussyfooting around. Anthony Brock isn’t asking the question, he’s answering it. Again, the blame here is consoles and defection of developers to consoles, but he also mixes in some good ol’ elitism, writing, Perhaps it’s the same reason I hate reality TV, nu-metal, and heroin: The enjoyment of each requires you to have the IQ of a glass of water. Anthony is deep and smart, and needs the highfalutin stimulation you can only get from War Shooter with Guns and Sewers Part 7. Maybe he’s the first member of the Glorious PC Master Race.

    There are a slew of forum comments expressing the idea in 2005 as well, like this one from Elegnaim blaming piracy or this one where a forum-goer said Microsoft admitted PC gaming was dying (because the MS games division was not showing growth.)


    IGN Blizzard interview

    When asked why Blizzard was so successful as a PC developer when so many industry analyst claim that PC gaming is dying, Sams replied, “I think it’s because we try to be as accommodating and reach as broad of an audience as possible.”

    Perhaps citing the same “industry analysts” from 5 years before (but without providing any actual citation or references), IGN once again implied the death of the PC gaming industry as if it were common knowledge. They refrained from speculating on why the death from 5 years before didn’t stick.

    Attack of the Show: The Loop: Is PC Gaming Dead? “When it comes to PC, what is it more than World of Warcraft at this point?”

    : Analyze This: The Current State of the PC Game Business

    Ultimately, I think that the PC games market stays about the same size, while console/handheld game sales grow by around 50%. -Michael Pachter

    Retail spending on packaged PC games will decline to 2010 for a host of factors which have combined to erode the appeal of PC gaming to consumers. -Ed Barton

    Tom’s Hardware forums

    I was browsing news articles online and saw one about pc gaming and how it has been seeing a steady decline since 1999. I know that the next gen consoles are out and they do kick ass, I would like to know why pc gaming is dying.


    SlashdotPC Gaming is dying,” the analysts tell us.
    Those mysterious unnamed, unsourced analysts again. Since it’s 2007, the blogs are gaining numbers and influence. Here are a few.

    I have been reading for quite a while about the decline of PCs as a gaming platform. It never really made sense to me… until Angry Overeducated Catholic bought me “Warhammer”… The PC gaming market deserves to fail. –12 Angry Men Blog

    PC gaming is dying. While unfortunate, it makes sense. 5 years ago, at least for me, PC gaming was where the serious gaming was at.-Joe Monti

    Videogamer.com: PC gaming is dead

    And of course comments on popular websites, among others.

    Now you know why PC gaming is dying! –Penny Arcade

    PC gaming is dying anyway. Even though PC game sales rose by 1% last year, it is clear that console gaming is here to stay and that PC gaming is on the decline. –Geek.com

    No wonder PC gaming is dying! …I truly despair of PC gaming. –Gamingtruth

    THIS is the main reason PC Gaming is dying. Companies used to actually care about the product they released. Not as much now. Now, it’s about profit. –ttlg forums


    NBC News: Is PC gaming dying? Or thriving?

    Just 7 years on, mainstream media catches wind of the story and treats it with their usual care and sensibility.

    CliffyB of Epic Games:

    The PC is just in disarray… What’s driving the PC right now is Sims-type games and WoW and a lot of stuff that’s in a web-based interface.  …So for me, the PC is kind of the secondary part of what we’re doing. It’s important for us, but right now making AAA games on consoles is where we’re at.”


    It’s not just dying, it’s already dead. Totally. In fact…all game developers that feel that way should quickly flee to the, um … console market, right now. -Brad Wardell CEO of Stardock

    By this time, opposition to the myth is finally mounting.

    Slashgear: Online gaming subscriptions hit over $1 billion a year
    Tweakguides: Let me make one thing clear: PC gaming is not dying.


    IGN changes its mind. After just 8 years of getting it completely wrong, IGN decided (direct quote), it was high time we took a look at the health of the PC platform from as objective a viewpoint as possible. I guess even IGN thinks that IGN’s articles are not objective. Still, the writer clung to a diagnosis of substantial problems. It’s almost as if IGN hates PC gaming and wishes them to die.

    Oakstout: The life support. “Computer games will be our decades 8 track tape or beta max.” (sic)


    The Escapist forum has a poll: Is PC gaming going to die? 538 forum-goers responded. Just 3.3% said yes and 85% said no. Gamers, at least in this one internet forum, soundly reject the idea.  On the other hand…
    Gamesbrief.com: Five reasons why Steam will destroy the PC games industry
    HotHardware.com: Kinect Developer Declares PC FPS Gamers A Dying Breed
    Slashdot: Digital Distribution Numbers Speak to Health of PC Game Industry
    PSXOBS.com Report Shows Annual PC Hardware Sales Doubling Console Sales


    On Reddit.com, the satirical subreddit  “Glorious PC Master Race” was created based on Ben Croshaw’s pejorative description of elitist PC gamers. Read more about /r/pcmasterrace. The forum has humor, but it is also a place for PC enthusiasts rebelling against popular dumb.

    The Escapist: Skip to 00:18. “PC Gaming is Dead”

    ZDNet: Forget the gaming PC, buy a console
    Destructoid: The decline in PC gaming. “PC is now an afterthought when it comes to big releases for games”
    Terminally Incoherent: So PC Gaming is Really Dying, Eh? (author argues yes, yes it is.)
    Giantbomb forum: Here’s why PC Gaming is Dying.
    TGDaily.com: PC gaming is dead, even id says so

    Arguing for the negative:

    Technically Easy
    : PC Gaming to Surpass Console Gaming in Revenue by 2015
    RockPaperShotgun: PC IS STRONG: PC Games Revenue Up 19%.


    In 2012 Roccat created a website and marketing campaign “isn’t PC gaming dead?” to sell its mobile app for controlling PC games and computers.

    HotHardware.com: ESA Figures Prove What We’ve Suspected For Years: Classic PC Gaming is Dying

    In 2012, it’s hard to find reputable outlets making the claim outright. We start to see more qualified statements like “true”, “classic”, or “traditional” PC gaming is dead. But this just seems like face-saving after years of embarrassingly wrong predictions. We also still see articles written as if its heard frequently, like Darkstation.com‘s Jonathan Miley. he argued against the myth, but nonetheless wrote, These days, it’s common to hear that PC gaming is dying, and depending on who is saying it, it may seem completely true.

    Blogs and forums are holding fast to the myth, yet.

    The Escapist. The AAA Gaming Industry Is Going To Crash.
    Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer: This is How PC Gaming Ends… Not with a Bang, but with a Whimper


    GameSkinny.com: “Piracy is Killing the PC” – Game Devs Predict a Grim Future for PC Gaming
    This post is not about piracy, but at this point I really wonder why nobody notices rampant piracy of TV, movies, and music doesn’t kill those industries.
    RockPaperShotgun: PC Gaming In Still Not Dead Shocker.
    RPS stays on the straight and narrow.


    The Gadget Show: Death of the Desktop PC


    TechBuffalo: PC Gaming Dead? Hardware Market Size Doubles Console Gaming
    Dualshockers: Steam Passes 8 Million Concurrent Users.
    Eurogamer: Dean Hall: “So much for the death of PC gaming” as DayZ hits 1m sales in one month


    This year, at last, the myth is officially dead and repeated only by random individuals around the internet with the same relative frequency as those who argue Obama is a space reptile.

    Kotaku: PC Gaming Is Growing Dramatically In Australia
    Steam: 10.8 million concurrent users today (September 6th)

    This seems like a happy ending, at least, until you google “consoles are dying” and see the whole process repeating itself, exactly as before.


    On Consoles vs. PC and being a “gamer”

    This post is not an argument that PC is better for games or that game consoles are bad. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. I love my Wii U as much as my PC. I don’t care about those debates. This post isn’t about those, it is about how readily large numbers of people will buy a story with no evidence and bountiful counter-evidence, and that this can go on for decades.

    I don’t identify as a “gamer” because that doesn’t seem like a coherent identity to me. Today, everyone under 60 has or does play some video games. Gamers are almost everyone. So saying “I’m a gamer” is pretty empty, like saying “I’m a reader,” or “I’m a film watcher.” It says almost nothing about you, and if you think there is some genre or platform that makes you a “real” gamer, you’re one of the elitist snobs Yahtzee was ridiculing as the GPCMR. And you deserve it.

    Category: Critical ThinkingfeaturedFeatured Incskepticism

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is an evolutionary psychologist, co-founder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.