PC Gaming is Big and Getting Bigger: Good Time to Be a Developer

A new report released this week from not-for-profit gaming industry watchdog PC Gaming Alliance announced that PC game sales are, to put it mildly, going through the roof. Over $20 billion in sales were made in 2012 for PC games alone, with no signs of slowing down even though mobile and social gaming are the most popular that they have ever been. Annual growth of the PC game market according to the report was 8%, with more than a billion PC gamers estimated around the world:

“The PC Gaming industry showed strong overall growth of 8% in 2012, partly as a result of the Chinese market gaining traction in the $20 billion global market with record revenues of $6.8 billion,” said DFC analyst David Cole. “In spite of media focus on mobile games and struggling social network games, there are now over 1 billion PC gamers worldwide and that number will continue to grow as more PCs connect online.”  - PC Gaming Alliance

These figures are expected to keep going up, especially in China, where PC game sales accounted for $6.8 billion of that overall figure. This was an improvement of 9% over the previous year, which makes it the fastest growing current market for PC gaming.

The report stated that 250 million gamers worldwide enjoy role-playing, action, and strategy-based core games. There seems to be a slowing interest in subscription-based MMO games, but it does seem interesting that World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria was one of 2012’s most successful games, along with Guild Wars, Diablo 3, and Minecraft (which was created by a lone Swedish developer).  According to Scott Steinberg, a video game industry consultant, this growth is greatly helped along by international markets:

"Growth isn't just in the U.S.," he told PCWorld. "It's Brazil, Russia, India, China, Turkey, Germany—across the board internationally, you're seeing massive growth in PC gaming. It's experiencing a renaissance that we haven't seen in many decades." – via PCWorld

The report predicts that the PC game industry will continue to grow, reaching projected sales numbers of $25.7 billion by 2016. This growth is going to be helped along by continual worldwide access to fast Internet connections, as well as growth in digital distribution and payment methods.

What platforms are developers creating games for?

According to the report, there are four primary form factors that PC gamers have available to them (and developers create games for):

  • Desktop. The traditional PC box is the most popular with high-end gamers because it accommodates high-end add-in graphics boards (AIBs), which are necessary for fast frame rates on high-resolution display(s). Some AIBs can drive up to six monitors.
  • Portable. Battery-powered portable computers, which are also known as laptops, notebooks, Ultrabooks, UltraThin, Hybrids, and MacBooks have recently become more popular as gaming systems with the inclusion of discrete GPUs (dGPUs) that can be turned off when not gaming. Portables vary in size from 11 to 17-inch displays and drive one or two external monitors.
  • All-in-one (AIO). The AIO desktop computer resembles a thick monitor, and can vary in size from 20- to 27-inches. Typically equipped with a touch screen the units can support one additional monitor.
  • Tablet. The latest generation of gaming devices is tablets that use an x86 processor.

Of course, along with the form factors, there are the customary input devices: mice, keyboards, speakers, headphones, touchpads, touchscreens, joysticks, pedals, motorized chairs, steering wheels, you name it. In addition, games focusing on head-tracking and gesture-driven input are starting to gain traction, much like the ones in the Intel® Perceptual Computing Challenge and the Ultimate Coder Challenge: Going Perceptual:

  • Sixense Studios: A team currently working on a freeform and creative experience that allows users to intuitively interact with virtual puppets using motion input; they’ve worked on console launches, 3D media enhancements, and develop immersive software for motion tracking tech
  • Code-Monkeys: Indie development team working on touch-based game, Stargate Gunship,  to be published on the Windows Store
  • Infrared5/Brass Monkey: Studio that has produced content for the likes of LucasFilm, Hasbro, and Match.com; currently working on a game that will combine console experiences like those available on the Nintendo Wii U and Microsoft’s Kinect

 Mobile gaming gives huge boost to PC games

One of the most intriguing takeaways from this report was about mobile gaming. Pundits have speculated that the rise of mobile gaming is going to cannibalize PC game sales; in fact, the opposite is actually true – they are helping multi-platform releases go viral on PCs from independent developers. Windows*8 and Ultrabook™ features also seem to be helping out with the PC game industry, as touchscreens, powerful processors, mobility, and AOAC (always on always connected) features are conducive to enjoyable game play.

With the help of Wifi and portable, mobile laptops, formerly bulky gaming systems are now mobile dashboards that make it easy for us get game play accomplished whether we’re on a train or in a cubicle or at home. Ten years ago, it would have been considered somewhat vulgar to have more than one computing device simply because they were so expensive and took up so much room; now, we think nothing of having a tablet for each person in our household along with at least one laptop, a desktop, and a few smartphones sprinkled around for good measure. Mobility is where the game industry is headed:

“We are experiencing a shift in the gaming industry.” Said Erik Noreke, executive director of the PCGA, “The power of the latest portable PC hardware is allowing gamers for the first time to bring the full gaming experience with them on the road. They are no longer confined to their home for game play. The traditional desktop is no longer the gaming platform of choice as we are seeing more and more laptops with powerful GPUs and high end audio systems. PC gaming is going mobile.” – PC Gaming Alliance

This outlook on anywhere, anytime mobile PC gaming is echoed by Forbes writer Jason Evangelho, who writes:

“I’ve grown to prefer gaming on PC simply because of the portability it affords. I can have SimCity installed on my desktop computer, Surface Pro, or any other compatible Windows device and pick up where I left off thanks to the built-in cloud saving. Being tethered to my living room just isn’t for me.” -  “Despite Mobile and Console Compeition, PC Gaming Industry Rakes In $20 Billion During 2012”, Forbes.com

 A recent survey conducted by the Game Developers Conference of more than 2500 North American game developers who attended the popular conference in 2012 or plan to attend in 2013 offered some intriguing insights on development practices that seem to bear out the insights offered in the PC gaming report, especially when it comes to independent game developers and mobile games/PC games:

 Independent game development and smaller indie teams are making steady gains. 53% of respondents identified themselves as “indie developers”, and 51% of these had been developing games for less than two years.

  • 46% of the respondents work with organizations of ten people or less. Around half of those worked with an established publisher on their last project.
  • Smartphones and tablets are what most developers are working on, with 55% of respondents currently creating games on these platforms. 58% plan to release their next projects for smartphones and tablets.
  • Don’t count out the PC: 48% of developers are developing current games for this platform, and 49% are planning their next games for the PC.
  • Overall, tablets and smartphones are grabbing most developers’ time and interest, with 58% and 56% (respectively) interested in developing games for these platforms.

Continued growth opportunities for developers

This week’s PC games report is an encouraging word for developers who are creating games for any platform, especially the PC, as well as a revitalized emphasis on game mobility, independent developers, and form factor progress. What do you think of these stats as a developer? Share your thoughts in the comments.





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