Although there have been good times and bad times, the PC gaming market has always been a bit of a lurching monster. Since the early eighties, when some of the best games came in Ziploc bags with photocopied cover sheets, up through today where some of the most popular titles are fee social games that you play in a browser, PC games have never really managed to be the regimented market that the big publishers wish it was.
Even the retail boxes the popular titles came in were always changing from different sizes and shapes, from novelty boxes to mini boxes, to jewel cases, to CD cases and back again.
But illegal downloading was the final nail in the coffin for the PC market we once knew. And it was hammered in yet again by the fact that last year’s top big-budget PC title, Spore, not only was criticized for having draconian DRM, it was also the most pirated game ever. Try going into a Game Stop and buying a PC game… Try going into a Circuit City for that matter.
And while the old market is dead, PC games themselves adapt and thrive, not just despite the threat of copying and downloading, but because of it.
Casual Games managed to get some sales traction by undercutting illegal downloading through ignorance, selling their games to an audience that didn’t know how to pirate… yet. And now we have a new generation of PC games publishers that use the player relationship as a way to give players a genuine reason to pay for their software. Even pseudo-traditional online stores like Steam have recognized that people will pay for access to games if it’s not just the game people are paying for. They offer a suite of services like quality matchmaking, dedicated servers, and achievements attached to a profile.
Kongregate is another example of the socializing mentality, aggregating together flash content, and wrapping it up with community features that make it the go to place for cutting edge in-browser gaming.
And the venerable World of Warcraft has shown you can even build a gated community from the ground up, as long as you make it as much about the players as the game.
Social Platform Games are just the next logical step, wrapping the entire play experience deeply inside the social one. And as browser based games become richer and deeper, it allows for new ways to make money, and gives access to a more sophisticated, dedicated audience.
People have been lamenting the death of the PC gaming market for years, but that’s only because they’ve been using the wrong metaphor. It isn’t a single lumbering creature, it’s a living, growing environment. Sometimes there’s drought, and sometimes it rains. And even as new ideas grow and take root, a horde of hungry games will come and eat your market alive if you don’t pay attention, no matter how loudly you complain about it.
Andrew Mayer is a Social Gaming and User Experience Consultant with over seventeen years of experience in the games industry.