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Despite the problems with PC gaming we explored in our previous article, PC gaming culture has exploded over the last decade. We take a look at why.

Nowadays, there are very few big-time retail games released exclusively on the PC. Even genres that were previously inconceivable on consoles have made the jump. Major game developers seem to be focusing primarily on consoles, with PC versions generally thrown in as an afterthought. Sure, they have better graphics, but the interface in most games today feel very much like they were designed for consoles.  Given these and other challenges, why has PC gaming culture exploded over the last decade?

Digital Distribution

Digital distribution services like gog.com and Steam have played a HUGE role in building PC gaming’s popularity. Steam offers hundreds of games in one place, and allows you to redownload/reinstall everything you have bought with just a couple of clicks. Granted, Steam has some DRM associated with it, but in my opinion it stays out of the way of my gaming experience, and the perks of using Steam far outweigh the negatives. Steam also enables smaller developers to get their products out to more people than if they just offered the game up on a website. Microsoft and Nintendo have something similar going on with XNA and WiiWare, but Steam (and digital distribution in general) really opens up a huge world to gamers. Sites like gog.com offer impossible to find games, guaranteeing their compatibility with Windows XP/Windows Vista (and, by extension, Windows 7) while keeping prices low and DRM nonexistent. The exponentially larger amount of storage space on a PC compared to consoles allows 100% digital distribution to be a legit business model, one which the PC gaming market is shifting towards much faster than the console business.  By using these digital distribution services, gamers are offered up more choices than ever…it’s just that those choices are frequently something other than a big-time retail release.

Digital distribution has played a big role, but connectivity options for meeting up with your fellow gamers have their place as well.

Social Networking

Social networking isn’t just the buzzword du jour…it is also essential to word-of-mouth campaigns that indie developers rely on to get their game out into the world. Being able to easily communicate with fellow gamers has enabled a situation similar to the music industry: an independent producer can have their product out there being bought by consumers without having to rely on a big publishing house to reach the masses. Social networking options for gamers aren’t restricted to just forums anymore…places like Facebook and Twitter make sharing and discussing games possible with everyone in your circle of friends and family, not just the forum dwellers. Also, as best evidenced by Facebook, gaming on social networking platforms has reached an all-time high.

Social Networks also act as another option to spread the word about various game mods and maps.  The ability to create and implement user-created maps and mods has been a staple of PC gaming for decades, and games like Civilization IV, Spore, and Starcraft II are keeping the tradition alive. However, being able to reach your fellow gamers doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the hardware to run the actual game.

Cost of hardware

Building a gaming-capable rig is cheaper than ever. $600 will give you a system capable of playing any game on the market today, plus provide you with all the advantages that come along with a fully-featured PC. The sky’s the limit on how much to spend on PC hardware, but unless you are pushing an Eyefinity setup (another reason why PC gaming is still strong), you can obtain a full-blown gaming system for only three figures. The costs associated with gaming capable laptops have dropped considerably as well, although if you want to play modern games on medium or higher with a laptop you will still have to drop a fair chunk of change. Still, laptop prices are rock-bottom compared to where they once were, enabling budget hardcore gaming on the go, with the added benefit of less crowded LAN parties.

There are countless other reasons why PC gaming culture is still alive and strong, but I felt these were the biggest reasons.  There will always be a hardcore group of dedicated PC gamers, but people on all sides of the industry need to work together in order to keep it alive.  Join us tomorrow for a look at what can be done to help bring major release sales figures in line with the growth that the culture has seen recently.