Under the hood
The biggest effect on PC gaming might have nothing to do with computers becoming more streamlined or showing up in the living room, though. Instead, the biggest shock to rock the PC gaming ecosystem may come from the increased computerization of consoles.
As we've discussed in depth before, Sony's upcoming PlayStation 4 console packs an eight-core AMD APU at its heart, and Microsoft's upcoming Xbox 720 (for lack of a better name) is said to sport a similar chip. If that's true, all the major home consoles will share the same x86 backbone as traditional PCs.
That could be good, or it could be bad. Theoretically, the shift could put an end to shoddy console ports, as developers will use the same base-level tools to create console and computer games alike. AMD hardware may enjoy a surge in popularity as many new games are optimized for the APUs at the core of the consoles. Heck, one could even envision a proliferation of games designed for a shared multiplayer experience across multiple platforms, à la the recent Skulls of the Shogun game.
"I think what we're going to see is a convergence of triple-A, 3D PC games and triple-A, 3D console games, so that more games will be released on multiple platforms going forward," IDC's Ward says. "The back end will be more like PC game development. Converting a game to the right executable format or a specific UI will be relatively painless, so it'll make sense to release titles on as many platforms as possible."
One could also envision a few nightmare scenarios related to that. What if, for example, more PC games start sporting streamlined (read: dumbed down) interfaces for easier console portability? Or what about the possibility of face-melting graphics becoming less face-melting in future software generations as more games are built with console hardware in mind?
Ward says not to worry--precisely because premiere Crysis 3-style PC blockbusters are already a rarity.
"There are a lot of low-end gaming laptops and desktops out there that are nowhere near as powerful as consoles or high-end gaming PCs," he says. "So you've already got a range of computers that have been out there for five or so years, with a wide range of technical capabilities, and game developers and publishers already try to hit a sweet spot in the install base of active users.
"Most developers already don't really go up to the real ceiling [of PC gaming technology], since it'll inherently limit their market," says Ward
I tried contacting several cross-platform game developers--from the biggest of the big companies to the popular little guys--to get a feel for their perspective, but no one would speak on the record. The few people I managed to even get on the phone clammed up once they realized the thrust of my questions.
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