Civilization 5 and StarCraft 2 Save PC Gaming From Extinction

Cloudy days have befallen the PC as a gaming platform. Yet it wasn’t so long ago when things were different; A-list games were released for the PC on what seemed to be a monthly basis — consoles were second class. But now the world has their Xbox 360s, PS3s, PSPs, Wiis, and DSs. Subsequently, the PC had lost its touch with the gaming community and was in dire need of help. Could it be saved?

Bland, mediocre, unimaginative, stagnant — these are all words that could have been used to describe the PC gaming industry as it stood in the past few years. Ironically, the same technology that helped create a massive community of PC gamers is the same technology that has caused almost everyone to forget about it. The game console had taken over.

Left Behind

The power of game consoles is growing along with the amount of gamers who are switching to them. They offer all-in-one solutions to gaming: it’s a box, a controller, and a disc. It is simple. It is what the consumers want these days. As a result, everyone receives the same experience, and no one has to complain about incompatible hardware, piracy (well, it’s still a bit of a problem), and lack of multiplayer unification. Also, we can’t forget about those gamer trophies!

The growth of the Internet has also proven to be detrimental to the PC gaming industry as well. With troves of free games readily available, today’s younger generations have now turned to the likes of Facebook, Miniclip, and various other free-to-play games and websites. Farmville, anyone? And it makes sense; why would today’s youth pay for complex and expensive games (and with what money?) when they could enjoy simple and free ones instead? (Note: the entire game industry, not just PC gaming, is suffering from these trends.)

Another issue is that purchasing the latest and greatest desktop hardware isn’t as big of a deal as it once was. Times have changed: we all live in an ultra-mobile world, where technology has to keep up with our lifestyle. It’s very difficult to imagine the average consumer going out of their way to upgrade their PC just to play Crysis, let alone purchasing a beefed-up PC rig for bragging rights. Sure, the tech geeks of the world are into it, but the typical consumer doesn’t have a clue.

It gets worse, unfortunately. The only A-list title I can remember being released for the PC platform in the past two years is The Sims 3, which, after a quick search on Google, was released in June of ’09. So, in the past 15 months, I could only recall a single memorable A-list title that was (almost) exclusive to the PC. Oh wait… even The Sims series has games developed for most console and mobile platforms. D’oh!

Of course, the PC has had a few great titles over the past few years, but the problem is that many of them were afterthoughts/ports of console versions. Many were ports from the console to the PC. Few were developed in conjunction with the console. And only a handful were developed exclusively with the PC in mind. But, as we know, the PC and console are two completely different beasts. A game for a console might have to be heavily modified or completely rewritten for a platform like the PC (the keyboard and game controller are, in a word, different). With that in mind, it’s clear that developing and publishing an A-list title exclusively for the PC is a very brave action, indeed.

But, still, it wasn’t enough to restore PC gaming to its former greatness. Those creative and innovative titles that once came so regularly and such astounding quality had all but disappeared.

Fortunately, for those in an a niche that had all but been forgotten, help was on the way. But the surprising part was that it was more than anyone could have bargained for.

Help Has Arrived

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is the successor to one of the most memorable PC titles ever developed: StarCraft. Rushing Zerg bases until mere hours before school started in 1999 was a common theme for me (this game also caused me to receive a ‘D’ in a middle school science class, but I don’t regret it). How great it is that the sequel can continue the degradation of student’s grades. It had big expectations to live up to.

Surprisingly, in only two months after being released into the wild, StarCraft II has managed to rack up well over three-million sales, a number that is guaranteed to increase. It has been receiving rave reviews and currently has an astounding 93 (out of 100) rating on Metacritic. It’s been described as “perfect” and “amazing” and even “revolutionary.” In other words, it not only lived up to expectation, but it exceeded them, which couldn’t have come at a better time.

Not to be outdone, Civilization — which is yet another series that kept me up late at night and is nearly 20 years old (almost as old as I am) — also received an overhaul in the form of Civilization V. While the Civ series has never been known for the in-your-face-heart-racing-adrenaline-pumping action that StarCraft procured, it offers gamers an incredibly rich, in-depth empire-building simulation that would make any Grandmaster chess player wet their pants. Players take turns making economic, diplomatic, and strategic decisions all for the sake of creating the ultimate civilization.

Civ 5 — while only being released on September 21, 2010 — has an impressive score of 91 on Metacritic. The latest in the series is noted as being the best experience yet for those who are unfamiliar and veterans to the series. While it does have a few bugs in the system, they will surely be ironed out as time goes on. But it’s great to see that Sid Meier’s Civilization has performed so well; civilization, as we know it, will not come to an end, after all.

It can’t be stressed enough how much PC gaming really needed these two titles deliver, and certainly have delivered beyond expectation.

Never Forget

Together, they have managed to reinvigorate the PC gaming industry. They could open the doors for the bigger development studios to revisit the once-forgotten PC. They could drive more sales to digital distribution services like GamersGate, Direct2Drive, and Steam. They could give indie developers hope that their efforts will still have potential to grow. They could spur on sales of the latest and greatest PC hardware. Essentially, the effects are far reaching and could be felt throughout the entire tech industry.

But, while StarCraft II and Civilization V have all the attention now, you can bet that the industry will also have its eyes on Portal 2 and Crysis 2 in the future, which are expected in early 2011 (granted, these titles will also be released on console platforms, but they are known primarily for their success on the PC). They will continue where SC2 and Civ 5 have left off. So things are looking up, after all.

But this article wasn’t written to simply highlight two great games. It wasn’t written to analyze an industry on the edge. No. Instead, it was written to pay homage to one special group that had long been forgotten: PC gamers. This is a bunch who has always remained loyal to the PC platform; they have no reason to complain. They have no reason to start a typical console war, arguing whether or not the PS3 stands a chance or if the Wii is a kids toy. In fact, they have all the reasons in the world to celebrate — because, at least for this one moment, they can be assured that they now have greatest gaming platform of all.

This is for the players who spend countless hours sniping foes on dedicated servers. This is for the players who get engrossed over a game where the main point is to shoot portals at walls. The is for the players who can’t resist stop pressing that “turn” button just one more time. This is for the players who can’t stop the endless battles with alien intergalactic empires. This is for all of them.

Remember this moment! Remember how great it is that we PC gamers have this moment to ourselves. This is the moment when we can remember what felt like like to be in the golden era of PC gaming. It’s a great feeling; it’s one that I hope never ends.

By James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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