Riders on the Storm • Page 2

There's a crisis on the way for console core gaming, but this cloud has a thick silver lining.

I'm not talking here about the growth in mobile and social gaming. That's undoubtedly a hugely important feature of the gaming landscape in recent years, even if there's definitely some truth to Denis Dyack's assertion that a bubble mentality has emerged. However, it's a little far-fetched to claim that any great number of former core games consumers have started playing social games instead, or that any of the would-be core gamers who would normally now be growing the market organically have decided to stick to casual titles exclusively.

No, those people are finding their entertainment elsewhere, certainly, but it's happening in sections of the market that's still recognisably "core gaming" - even if it doesn't involve 40 game purchases from high street retail.

It's the PC and its burgeoning indie scene which is benefiting from the battening down of hatches in the console market

Where is the benefit being felt? Well, subscription gaming is definitely one part of it, even if right now World of Warcraft remains about the only show in town in terms of sheer numbers. Other publishers, however, have games on the market whose size pales in comparison to WoW, but whose subscriber bases are comfortably large enough to support continued development on the product. Yet others are experimenting with business models that eschew subscriptions in favour of paid-for content updates.

Handheld gaming is another area that's booming, and likely to keep doing so for some time. iOS is a hugely exciting platform, and one that's very gradually earning its stripes even among core gamers, but the DS, 3DS and PSP are also obvious beneficiaries of the current upheaval in the market. Coverage of the 3DS in particular has focused on how hard it's going to be for Nintendo to duplicate the success of the original DS in much tougher market conditions - which is entirely reasonable.

However, that assumes that the lower end of the market is more likely to keep playing smartphone games than to buy a new dedicated console - a fair assumption - and ignores the possibility of a major influx of developers and consumers alike who are fleeing the risky, high-priced home console market. Handheld games are vastly cheaper to develop, and as a rule priced much more competitively than home console titles - they are essentially the mid-priced mid-range of gaming which console fans so often lament the lack of. Expect many core gamers to find more and more of their gaming expenditure going on handheld rather than home console software in the coming years.

The final boom market? The trusty PC - a platform whose death has been predicted countless times in the past decade, but which actually finds itself better equipped than almost any other to capitalise upon the market conditions in which we find ourselves.

Ironically, the PC's death has been predicted so many times precisely because the platform is so open and so network-friendly. As such, piracy has always been rife on the PC - so much so that plenty of publishers have hinted darkly about abandoning the platform entirely. Yet it's those same factors which now make the PC into one of the most exciting and dynamic games platforms on earth - now that bright developers have seen past the increasingly tired market for monolithic, 40 boxed games - a market which is so easy for piracy to destroy.

The PC's openness, its easy access to digital distribution services and its limitless potential for experimentation with new business models has led to a new breed of indie developers, creating some of the most fascinating games of recent years and increasingly joined by veteran studios and developers who find themselves energised by the possibilities of this resurgent platform. It's easy to get carried away, though - this is still a movement in its infancy - but more than any other platform, it's the PC and its burgeoning indie scene which is benefiting from the battening down of hatches in the console market. For the first time in years, the boy has stopped crying wolf over the death of the PC. Instead, everyone is watching this platform intently for a glimpse of what is almost certainly the future of the core games market.

If you work in the games industry and want more views, and up-to-date news relevant to your business, read our sister website GamesIndustry.biz, where you can find this weekly editorial column as soon as it is posted.

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