Some day soon, Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang is going to walk on stage at some obscure electronics industry event and say these words: "We love PC gaming. Our heritage is in 3D gaming hardware. And that's why we're more excited than ever to announce we're never making another gaming video card again."
Sound like a doomsday scenario? Then you might be a PC game tinkerer.
There are two types of PC gamers. Firstly, there are people who love PC gaming because of all the fantastic things PC games have that their console or mobile games do not: a complex, precise interface; the ability to easily extend game experiences with modifications both official and otherwise; an incredible wealth of indie and experimental games; and the best graphics and sound experience a normal human being can buy.
Then there are the gamers who like the PC because they mistake tinkering with hardware from a couple of dozen of vendors—all of whom get their silicon from three giant corporations—as some sort of engineering, despite that it's more or less electric LEGO for masochists. These tinkerers are holding back PC gaming hardware—and that includes the very benchmark by which they gauge themselves: graphics performance.
PC gaming isn't going to die—but PC tinkering just might. And it's not heretical to be okay with that. I'm disappointed in the short-sighted, overly defensive members of the PC gaming community. Last week I wrote an effusive post about the Razer Blade gaming laptop, pointing out all of the laudable, intelligent things Razer (and its engineering partner, Intel) were doing with the new product line—as well as the thing they were screwing up. (The price.)
Instead of measured rebuttals, many of those that chose to comment on my piece trotted out arguments that have been in place since the original Nintendo hit the scene—arguments which are even less true in the modern gaming and technology landscape than they were two decades ago. (There were some polite, reasoned responses, as well, although they were the minority.)
It's all the old insults: "Go play your console." "If I wanted a dedicated gaming machine with fixed hardware specs than I'd buy a console." Or perhaps most tellingly: "Honestly, this is why I *Enjoy* PC gaming. Unless you have an amazing rig, you can't play games. This limits the people I game with to people at least as geeky as me (you have to be geeky to assemble these systems)."
Tinkering is a hobby, not the basis for a platform. The average person (the people who actually make up the "mass" of the mass market that drives technology forward) does not want to build a PC. They don't want to jailbreak their phone. They don't even want to know what jailbreaking is. They don't want to troubleshoot a broken computer to make a game work, even if it gets them a game with more impressive graphics.
Most people just want to play a game. Now, it's true that PC gamers are not most people. We're enthusiasts—the hot-rodders of PC hardware. There are a few million of us out there—and there's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying our hobby—but most PC gamers seem to have forgotten that we are a small offshoot of a much larger industry, one that built computers for spreadsheets and word processing, not gaming. The same industry that is currently moving away from the Windows PC as the default, mainstream computing platform.
So PC gamers got very upset upon my suggestion that, you know, maybe it'd be okay to let Intel and Nvidia (and perhaps AMD) standardize the PC platform a little bit so that programmers and operating system engineers could more readily access the kind of computational power that's inside our hot-rod PC hardware. And as I watched it unfold, I felt like I was watching a bunch of polo players quibble about saddle design next to a freeway.
It is absolutely asinine that our smoking-hot, electricity-slurping gaming towers and massive laptops aren't providing experiences so far beyond that available on consoles and mobile phones that even non-gamers could immediately see the difference. Sure, we can tell the difference between Infinity Blade running on an iPad and latest Unreal Engine game running on a $1,500 PC. But you know who can't? Millions upon millions of people who buy games.
And don't forget that the games will follow the money. And right now the money is moving into free-to-play, mobile, and hosted games, be they on Facebook or on streaming services like OnLive. Consoles aren't even the only, or indeed the largest threat to PC gaming! We've probably got one more generation of "hardcore" dedicated consoles like the Xbox before they, too, are obsolesced by streaming or mobile hardware.
Disagree all you want, but I'm not saying anything that PC gaming stalwarts like Valve and id Software aren't saying themselves.
"We're terrified by the future," [Valve's Gabe Newell] said. "You need to be looking at what's happening with Apple, Google Android and thinking that could impact the living room in a big way. You need to be looking at Onlive and how it is integrated with the television."
PC gaming isn't going to die. But it's going to change. And unless PC gamers embrace that change, we're going to find ourselves increasingly marginalized, with fewer games to experience that are unique to PC. I don't hate the tinkerers. But it's time they stopped pretending that they hold any real influence over where the future of gaming is going.