If you were a PC gamer at PAX East, there were two really big reasons to be nervous: NVidia was nowhere near the PC gaming area, instead plugging its Shield handheld to anybody who’d listen, and Blizzard’s big reveal for PC gamers was a CCG; the booth was anchored by their Diablo III PS3 port.
Taken individually, it’s not such a big deal. Look at the forest, though, and it’s pretty clear that the foundations of PC gaming are abandoning the PC, and pronto. But why?
Many will take to the comments to protest, but it’s pretty simple: When one of the biggest graphics cards makers on the planet and the company responsible for the majority of digital distribution for PCs are both building consoles, it’s pretty clear they think there are some fundamental changes at work.
This isn’t just mindlessly following a fad, either. Granted, Valve’s vision for the Steambox is very, very different from the current major players, but it’s still a console, and Valve has been working on it or something like it for years. Meanwhile, NVidia is putting out a portable Android gaming device. If you’d said those words to any gaming journalist or developer a year ago, they’d laugh at you. But it was really all NVidia wanted to talk about at PAX East.
Yes, it can stream PC games, but anybody who insists that’s the primary function is kidding themselves. This thing is built to play Android games. The PC game streaming is just a bonus.
Similarly, Blizzard porting Diablo III is a warning shot across the bow. Blizzard hasn’t developed a console game since the Super Nintendo.
So What Happened?
Large companies only ever change because of one thing: The strong, factually demonstrable belief that they can make more money by doing so.
Diablo III is particularly jarring because this is an incredibly profitable game. It moved twelve million copies on PC, and that’s before any real-money auction house fees, which likely total in the millions as well. They don’t need to scramble to squeeze that eagle, so it’s fairly clear that it’s a test bed to port other games. Considering that Firaxis demonstrating RTS games could sell like gangbusters on a console, at the very least StarCraft ports are likely on the way.
NVidia, meanwhile, just ran some accounting numbers: It builds the Tegra, and the Tegra is what keeps NVidia in the black. NVidia has made it fairly clear that the Tegra is going to be what justifies the continued existence of their graphics cards… and there aren’t many PCs running a Tegra.
Finally, there’s Valve. Trying to read Gabe Newell’s mind is lunacy, but Valve protects Steam, and it’s fairly clear that at the very least Valve believes getting Steam into living rooms will make them more money.
Microsoft, it must be said, is not helping matters.
It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that Valve and Blizzard became keenly interested in consoles so soon after voicing… distaste for Windows 8. Newell called it a “giant sadness” and Blizzard quickly hushed up their real opinion after it leaked on Twitter.
PC gaming and Windows are fundamentally synonymous. So when the operating system you’ve built your business on decides it wants to be a tablet OS, you start looking for other options. Especially when desktops are rapidly becoming an endangered species, and the company you rely on to prop you up has a game console it very much would prefer people use over their PCs.
In short, market trends are forcing even the most stalwart PC gaming companies to go console. So don’t be surprised if in a year or two, things are very, very different in the PC gaming space.