The numbers don't lie
With the Xbox One and PS4 approaching their third birthdays, one would think every game developer is lining up to create new titles for consoles – and this is true, partially.
The latest GDC State of the Industry report, issued on January 15, shows the number of videogame developers working on Xbox One and PS4 roughly doubled in 2014 to 22% and 26%, respectively, since 2013. However, going further into the numbers tabulated from over 2,000 industry attendees who attended the GDC 2014 reveal PC development is still holding a long lead over consoles at 56%.
The number of PC games is not only greater than the percentage of titles currently in development for both the Xbox One and PS4 combined, it's still growing by 3% compared to last year.
PC is king
Despite multiple proclamations of its death, PC gaming is in the midst of an ongoing renaissance. There are more games, and a diverse selection at that, then ever arriving for computers.
Consoles still play a big role in gaming, it's just not the leading one. Of the same block of 2,000 survey takers only 29% expect to bring their next game to the PS4 while 24% of respondents expected it to land on Xbox One.
Mobile also still factors in a major way, even if its numbers are slipping a bit. Fifty-size percent of survey respondents said their current project will release on smartphones or tablets, down from the 52% confirmed a year prior.
Whether the PC is stacked against consoles or smartphones, it's still the reigning platform as the survey reports 56% of the survey respondents said their current game will be released on PC. Here's why this is a great thing for all players and video games as an art form.
Diversity in games
The PC has easily become the biggest home for games thanks to established digital marketplaces like Steam, EA's Origin and Good Old Games. More recently a surge of crowdfunded titles have appeared with the help of Patreon and KickStarter as well as Steam's Greenlight initiative.
This freedom has helped turned the PC into a fertile creative platform for many more games that would never have found a home on consoles. We saw a litany of experimental games last year on the PC, from the mind-bending adventure of Jazzpunk to the dancing-roguelike hybrid, Crypt of the Necrodancer. Hearthstone and DoTA (as well as other MOBAs) turned into incredibly popular phenomena that started first on PC, sparked a resurgence in the e-Sports world and now is spreading to mobile gaming.
The laissez-faire nature of the PC platform has allowed for the creation of more thought-provoking games. There are few console games that touch on serious subject matter while PC titles such as That Dragon, Cancer, which tells the story of a father with a terminally ill child; and Gone Home, which touches on homosexuality. Likewise deeply effecting games such as This War of Mine explores morality with civilians caught in the middle of a war.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. The PC has become the ideal home for a litany of interesting titles including Goat Simulator, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Kerbal Space Program and 2013's Papers Please.
PC pushing the medium forward
For the survival of a genre
But before anyone says indies are the only games that are big on PCs, the core franchises aren't going anywhere. Most of the major console titles, from Call of Duty Advanced Warfare to Metal Gear Ground Zeros and now even Grand Theft Auto V, have all come to the PC without a hitch. If anything, ports are more plentiful than they've ever been and often of much better quality than the old days of Games for Windows, when controller support was a rarity.
More importantly, PC gaming has become a haven for niche genres long considered extinct. Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous are both space exploration games whose existence wouldn't have been possible without computers as a gaming platform.
Similarly, the survival horror genre has seen a revival through PC game development. 2015 is due for nearly a dozen chilling experiences like SOMA and Until Dawn. Meanwhile, there's finally a new and very real Silent Hill game co-directed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro in the works.
With this latest generation, consoles and PCs have become nearly identical in terms of hardware. Gone are the days of Xbox 360's Xenon architecture or PlayStation 3's core processor. Now the new consoles share an AMD chipset very similar to computer hardware; in fact we've reviewed the Lenovo G505, which came powered with the very same APU chip as the Xbox One and PS4.
Ultimately what hardware comes running in consoles won't really matter to most people. However, for video game programmers it's a huge relief because they can develop one version of a game and then optimize it for similar systems rather than four or more distinct architectures.
That said, Xbox One and PS4 are practically stand-ins for a mid- to low-range gaming computer. As such PC game developers will have to ride on the backs of extreme gaming PC when they try to truly push the edge of how far graphics can go with titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
In the long twilight years of the Xbox 360 and PS3, the PC was always the system to look to for the best graphics. So far this trend is continuing even with these new, more powerful consoles.
It's fair to say digital releases are a revolution that started on the PC. So it's no surprise to see Sony and Microsoft tailor their digital marketspaces after Steam and other virtual services from Day One releases to preloading software.
The proliferation of digital games is only getting stronger. Of the gaming industry community the GDC surveyed, 29% agreed that their digital sales and microtransactions outpaced the revenue they got from retail stores.
Thanks to more digital sales, the video games medium as a whole is healthier. According to the same report, over 40% of developers saw profits rise while staff expanded with greater numbers compared to 2013.
The PC has undoubtedly played a large role in helping to make the game industry healthier and stronger, evidence when over half of the titles in development are destined for computers. Though all game development is going through a renaissance, which is a great thing for all gamers and all systems, I can safely point to PCs as the platform that sparked the movement
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