"Certainly PC gaming is in retreat in most areas," Simon Bradbury, co-founder of Firefly Studios and designer on the PC exclusive Stronghold series and upcoming PC and Xbox 360 third-person action game Dungeon Hero, told me recently. "But for us, clearly a third person game would have to be multiplatform, absolutely no bones about it. But a first person shooter game, Crysis? That game was a very expensive big game and piracy hits them quite hard. It's a short shelf life title that flies off the shelf.
"Strategy games are probably the last bastion of the PC because they're games that suit the PC really well. The mouse and keyboard control, the fact that you load and save half a dozen billion of them. They're involved games, they need a lot of patching, upgrades, DLC, the Internet, all of those things still work well on PC. Strategy games have never been a brilliant one on consoles. It's just not suited to it. Especially builder games. We're safe. God only knows if we'll still be safe five years down the line, but right now strategy games are safe, partly through the interface and partly through the people who like to play them and the nature of the game. Anything else beyond that I think you're right, it's a bit scarier and you've got to really put it on consoles."
Simon's words will worry many PC enthusiasts, but he's just being realistic. As a PC-only developer for many years, Simon's been one of the standard bearers for the platform. But even he realises things change. The fact that Dungeon Hero is coming to the Xbox 360 as well as the PC, that it has to, is evidence of that. So, PC gaming is changing. But that doesn't mean that it's dying.
"In some ways the market is getting so big that there's going to always be room for PC," reassured Simon. "Perhaps it will become the scruffy relative of the gaming world, which has got these nice, big shiny cheerleaders out in the console world! But the PC will be the nerdy guy in the corner, as it always was, and there's still that place for them I think. Perhaps the delivery method will change. If you get to the point where as a developer you can put stuff out on the web yourself you could get a lot of garage developers going back to those smaller bedroom coder things. So I see that as a really positive thing. It's just the big blockbuster epics will probably not be on the PC."
"The big blockbuster epics will probably not be on the PC." Ouch. Well, not exclusively anyway. Look at Epic with Gears of War and Bioware with Mass Effect, these games come to console first and then to the PC, not the other way around. You might say Valve is as much an Xbox 360 developer as it is a PC developer. Who knows? Perhaps the next Crysis will come to console before it comes to PC. PC gaming isn't dying. It simply has to get used to its new, readjusted, place in the world.
There are market conditions at play here, but there are also other, more obvious reasons for going multiplatform, especially when it comes to releasing games on PC and Xbox 360 - they're just so similar.
This is exactly why Valve's upcoming cooperative zombie-fest Left 4 Dead is coming to the Xbox 360 as well as the PC, because, as Chet Faliszek, project manager and writer at the studio told me recently, "it would just be stupid if we ever don't do a 360 version of one of our games".
When I asked him why they weren't doing a PS3 version of the game, he said: "It just really comes down to the 360 is really easy for us to do. We developed the PC and 360 version almost simultaneously. They're like a day off kind of thing where we build the next stage of the 360 version, but the Source Engine lets us just develop at the same time both the games. It just makes it really easy and simple, to the point where it would just be stupid if we ever don't do a 360 version of one of our games."
So, we shouldn't take this multiplatform approach as a sign that PC gaming is going down the toilet. For me, there's no reason why the two cannot coexist in a happy happy joy joy video gaming utopia. And, when you think about it, most PC versions of multiplatform games are the best. Both Epic and Bioware have admitted as much regarding Gears of War and Mass Effect respectively. PC gamers might have to wait a little longer these days, but, if they have decent hardware, they'll always get the best experience.
Having dug a little deeper I'm somewhat reassured, cautiously optimistic, you might say, that PC gaming is not dead. But on this journey of discovery I have happened upon a surprise realisation: what we should be concerned about is not that games are coming to consoles as well as PC, we should be concerned that the that developers will no longer view the PC as a viable platform for innovation and the place where they can push graphical boundaries. I don't believe that this has happened yet. But if it does, then we really will have something to worry about.