PC gaming going down the road arcades did?

Taking a look at games that are going to release exclusively on the PC these days is quite depressing.  Chances are, almost every title you look up these days with the obvious exceptions of StarCraft II and the World of Warcraft franchise is also going to be releasing on the Xbox 360 if not also the PlayStation 3.  There are a few others possibly out there, but it’s literally a few and it is a depressing prospect.  It seems most game publishers have decided that consoles are far too profitable these days to release exclusively on PC, and there’s not much reason not to since the consoles these days can push just about as much polygons as the average PC can.

Now, I’m not saying that PC gaming is dying or anything, but take a moment to think about a startling comparison for a minute-

For those who grew up going to arcades…remember back to the 90’s (or gasp, the 80’s) when arcade games were the big thing?  You would see everyone from age 5 to their 20’s who was into games would go there for the latest Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or other fighting game, their favorite 4-player side-scrolling action game (like X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), shooting game (Terminator 2 or Time Crisis), etc.  You couldn’t even go to the convenience store without Jones’ing to play a round on whatever coin-op machine they had in the corner.  I remember making many long bike rides for a few rounds of some Mortal Kombat at the closest 7-11 to get my fix.  As we approached the new millennium, it seemed that the crowds thinned out more and more.

The original PlayStation had some very convincing arcade ports of games like Tekken and Soul Blade and that’s probably where the stake was driven through the heart.  Dance Dance Revolution might have been the last big stand, but even that didn’t last too long before it took over people’s living rooms.  Now days, it seems like arcades (apart from those at a restaurant/bar/entertainment franchise like Dave & Busters) are a perpetual ghost town compared to how they used to be.  I can’t even remember the last time I ever saw a coin-op machine in a convenience store.

There’s good reason why arcades have all but died out; console and PC games started gradually catching up in technological capability with what was available in cabinets to the point where gamers would rather stay at home and play for free, any time of day, as much as they wanted, than make a trip to throw their money down a black hole.  Over the years, game consoles have become more and more widespread while gaming itself has become so mainstream that the unthinkable has happened…a lot of the biggest games are now being developed primarily with casual gamers in mind.

What’s happening with PC games seems strikingly similar to what happened to arcade games (though for some different reasons, I imagine pirated arcade games weren’t a big problem).  PC profits are being lost to consoles and much of the same PC game experience is now available in a more convenient console format.  Developers have recognized and followed where their primary casual market is — the consoles.  Does that mean PC games are doomed to be abandoned like the empty arcades have?

PC gamers rest easy, we can take comfort in the fact that even though exclusive titles are becoming more a thing of the past, games are just easy to make for PC as they are for the Xbox 360.  Many developers seem to be continuing with plans to release games on both systems.  Another wild card is the question of what will become of consoles in 5-10 years?  Many speculate that it will be cost prohibitive to create another generation of consoles and that little separates consoles from PCs as it stands already.  Perhaps we will see a return in masse to PC games and it will ironically be consoles (as we know them) to die?  One can only speculate.

What is interesting is to watch as the landscape changes…many publishers and developers have not given up at all.  They are working on new business models for PC gaming.  Things like services with ad-sponsored free games for download or incremental pay-only-for-what-you-play or microtransaction game models are all being tossed around.  What lies ahead, we can only speculate.  Never mind the fact that games as we know them are likely to be turned on their head in the near future when polygons are phased out for things like ray-tracing, and we all know that such technology will be on PC long before any console, even if consoles don’t die out.  Or am I wrong?