PC gaming gets no respect? - The numbers show otherwise

Posted: 11.10.08

Game consoles, especially the vaunted Wii, have captured the imagination of game developers, pundits, and the channel. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you console games and consoles are way, like WAY bigger market than that lowly PC gaming market. Hmmm, always be cautious of the common wisdom.

If you add up all the shipments of the recent big recent-generation consoles (includes PS3, Wii, and Xbox360, excludes DS and PSP, PS2, and all others) you get something close to 74.7 million units. That seems like a lot.

The PS3 and Wii came out in November 2006, and the Xbox 360 was introduced in May 2005, so the 74.7 million is over several years.

From Q3 2005 till Q3 2008, 196 million gaming PCs shipped, and 10 million of them were in the Mainstream Enthusiast class—and if we include mainstream desktop and High-end high-end notebook, we could add another 187 million units—now that really is a lot.

In our latest series of reports, The PC Gaming Market, where we talk about the three classes of PC gaming machines and their market, what we found was that it’s a huge market. And the tie-ratio for PC gamers is higher than consoles.

So I get a little tired of hearing about what a superior market the three-to-four-year-old consoles are when more PC gaming machines with the latest technologies are being sold every day.

Figure 1: PC Gaming market worldwide in billions of $US dollars.
(Source: Jon Peddie Research PC Game Market report)

Now, the question is, why doesn’t PC gaming get more respect? Why isn’t it recognized as the viable, growing, and huge market it is?

Part of the problem is that PC gaming has been associated with first-person shooters, and the PC gamer has been depicted as some fat white boy with zits and an enlarged right hand wrist muscle from either mousing or personal dating. Whereas the console gamer is depicted as a family member who may zap a few bad guys in Halo, but is really more interested in dancing with her mom and dad in front of the Wii—image is everything.

Also, the game developers, the ISVs, and distributors prefer to write a game once and have it play for three to five years on a stable (i.e., dead-end) piece of hardware. That’s how they get the most ROI.

Developing a new game for a PC, even if it is just another sequel to the last game, is hard work. And who really cares about that cinematic-quality crap anyway, you’re just going to look at it on a TV set right? What can you see on that?

Thankfully HD TVs are sneaking into the living room bringing 720p and, in some cases, 1080i capability. Imagine, 720p almost as good as 1024 x 768—old XGA resolution introduced by IBM in 1988—wow.

The average PC gamer has a 17-inch screen with at least 1280 x 1024, most serious gamers have 21-inch screens with 1680 x 1050, and a few of us extreme players have 30-inch screens with 2580 x 1600—almost 2x the best 1080p HD TV and with comparable screen size.

Yeah but, the lazy developers yell, a console sells for a few hundred dollars, and a PC sells for a couple of thousand.

Horsefeathers. Let’s compare. There’s two ways to do it. We could do 2008 to 2005 dollar comparisons (i.e., what would $250 2008 dollars buy in a 2005 PC), or we can do it on a MIPS/FLOPS/screen res comparison. And, when you’re not using your PC for gaming, you can watch a DVD just like you can with an Xbox 360 or PS3 but, oh, sorry, not a Wii. Or you can do real work, not just some feeble web browsing in a closed garden.

Fact is the PC Gaming Market is bigger, worth more money, growing faster, and has better technology than the console market. How come no one but us seems to know that?