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Is PC Gaming Doomed?

Every once in a while I get an incredulous email from a reader. "Come on, man, you grew up on PC gaming," they say. "How could you possibly be an Xbox 360 guy now?" But my transition to console gaming is so complete I have a hard time remembering how it even happened. Back in 2005, I didn't think a shooter fan like myself could ever transition effectively to the less precise world of console gaming. But to my surprise, and aided by tremendous first-generation 360 shooters like Call of Duty 2, I was on my way. Now I don't think I could ever go back.

Stepping back a bit, it almost requires an advanced degree in psychiatry to understand the success of the Xbox 360 and its hold over its users. Like Apple fans, Xbox 360 users are capable of overlooking tremendous abuse from the company that makes the products we love so much. But I've never seen a product bite its users as bad as the Xbox 360, and we just keep coming back for more. The console reliability issues. The mysteriously disc scratching that renders games unplayable. The incessant and never-punished childish behavior on Xbox Live. Offensive gamertags. The cheating. It goes on and on and on.

Why do we put up with this? Quite simply, the Xbox 360 is so good at what it does--and I'm not talking about the lame, non-gaming stuff it does quite horribly, I'm talking about the actual point of the console here--that everything else is simply excused. Xbox 360 users share a lot of black humor with each other. But we just keep playing.

Of course, PC gaming has certainly evolved over the years too, and things are much improved from the days of DOOM multiplayer. (Ah the good ol' days. Back then, you needed a Novell-type IPX/SPX network to play online.) But I get the sense that many of the PC's recent gaming innovations, such as they are, are simply reactions to the fact that console-based gaming is getting more popular all the time.

For me, the jump the shark moment came with Crysis. This was--and still is, in many ways--the game by which all games are measured. Well, strike that: It's the game by which all game systems are measured. Crysis was so advanced, so thoroughly next generation, that its maker (Crytek) claimed it could never be ported to a console. Instead, Crysis would be PC only.

So I bought it. Crysis proved to be too next-generation for my PC at the time, too, so what I was left with was a pretty boring game that didn't even look as good as its spiritual and technological predecessor, Far Cry. (Which was, and still is, an excellent, excellent game.)

Crysis was (and still is) everything that's wrong with PC gaming. Because game makers cannot rely on a single, standardized system, they must program their titles to work on a wide range of system types, all with different graphics, sound, and input types. The result is a mess.

The consoles, by contrast, offer a consistent platform that, if successful, lasts for several years. And contrary to the complaints from PC gamers--who insist that their favorite platform's ability to evolve and improve over time is somehow an advantage--modern consoles offer what I feel to be the superior model. That's because games to indeed get better--look better and perform better--over the life of the console. Don't believe me? Compare Call of Duty 2 (2005) with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) on the Xbox 360. Both are great games that were made by the same team. But the huge technical improvements are obvious in the newer title. The point being that consoles don't actually stand still.

Anyway, I don't intend for this to turn into a polemic argument against PC gaming. And I know there are readers out there as confused by my attachment to the Xbox 360 as I am to their similar attachment to a PC. What I'd like to do instead is pop my head out of the hole for a moment and see what's going on in the PC side of things. Use my years of console experience to see whether the PC offers anything like the cohesive coolness of Xbox Live. And determine whether--in my opinion--PC gaming is dead. Or simply on life support.

And for what I assume are obvious reasons, I'll start in the most obvious place of all, with the company that has done more to single handedly kill PC gaming than any other firm on earth.

Yep. I'm talking about Microsoft.

Continue to Part 2: PC Gaming Resources...


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