PC Gaming Ain’t About the Graphics


(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. This week, Jim’s tying in nicely with our new enhanced PC gaming coverage.)

When most people think of PC gaming, they think only of one thing — high-end PCs that cost hundreds of dollars on a yearly basis due to an endless litany of graphics card updates and increasingly resource-hungry games. While a lot of the truth of that perception has died as graphical evolution slows down, it’s still a very common idea that PC gaming is defined by its ability to run games that consoles cannot, even among PC gamers themselves.

Naturally, I have a counter to this argument. While it is indeed true that the world of PC gaming welcomes ludicrously gorgeous games such as The Witcher 2 and Battlefield 3, I think it undermines the true benefit of PC gaming to think only in terms of raw horsepower. Indeed, the PC market is full of games that just can’t be done on consoles — but it’s not always due to their graphical demands. Sometimes, a PC game is visually unimpressive, with very ordinary or even sub-par graphics. They still can’t be done on consoles though, and they are truly what PC gaming means to me.

A game that’s caught attention lately is Dead Cyborg. For an indie game, it’s visually accomplished, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be handled on Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network. Will you ever see it on those platforms? No, because it is a first-person exploration game that is also a text adventure, and it rocks a “pay what you want” model that allows the user to name its own price. Sure, it won’t justify your $500 graphics card, but it will make you glad you’re a PC gamer, if only for the chance to try a game with balls. This is the stuff that captures my imagination more than something like Battlefield 3, which is certainly gorgeous, but nowhere near as intriguing.

It’s no secret that the indie market has a far better chance of thriving on PC. Just look at Cthulhu Saves The World. Despite getting some publicity surrounding its Xbox Live Indie Games release, the title didn’t sell all that hotly. When it hit Steam, however, it made more money than its console counterpart on a level one could only describe as humiliating, and it did so in six days. There’s more exposure on PC, especially given the “evergreen” nature of the market. You can throw a game up on your website or through a distributor and it will stay there, easily searchable and sensibly categorized. It’s quite unlike a console’s digital market, where games get buried by new titles in poorly organized storefronts designed to give exposure solely to the big names, or the retail space where smaller games are often not visible on shelves at all, and underperformers go straight to the bargain bins.

Then there’s the simple fact that publishers do not control the PC market, and thus games with unique concepts and themes running contrary to the mainstream have a chance to flourish. Titles like Cargo: The Quest For Gravity or The Void may be great or terrible depending on your mileage, but the fact is they have a chance to exist, and they remain around for as long as the developer decides. These projects aren’t at the mercy of a Bobby Kotick or Yves Guillemot. Developers can take as long as they need and charge as much as they want. Strictly tiered pricing doesn’t exist. There’s no expectation that a game must cost one of three predetermined prices. Total creative and financial freedom. That’s what PC gaming is all about.

Many of you may read this and think, “Yeah, I know all this. So what?” My point is, I only ever see people talking about graphics, graphics, graphics when it comes to PC. It’s all about bigger and badder rigs to play bigger and badder games. That’s all well and good — there’s certainly something rewarding about that — but I think we need to appreciate something far more important about PC gaming, something that should mean a lot more to real gamers. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing, and we should all highlight exactly how terrific it is that we get access to unique pricing models and ballsy games that you just won’t get anywhere else. Simply focusing on the likes of Crysis and Battlefield is a mere fraction of what PC gaming is about. There’s a huge amount of benefit to gaming on computers, and you don’t need an almighty machine full of the latest hardware to enjoy it.

You already knew all that? Then celebrate it more. Prosthelytize to the heathens not about the power of visuals, but the access to experiences unavailable anywhere else. Don’t consider yourself a PC gamer, or worry that your computer is rubbish? Then look at games like Cthulhu Saves The World, Dead Cyborg or Eversion. There are so many different types of PC games and only a comparative fraction of them require anything approaching a “gaming rig” to play. Let’s move away from this idea that PC gamers are all graphics-centric muscle-flexers, looking forward only to the next photorealistic FPS. The real world of PC gaming dwarfs that to such a degree it’s laughable.

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13 Comments on PC Gaming Ain’t About the Graphics

Dave Spaz

On July 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I agree with your assessment of PC gaming there is more to it than what a powerhouse GPU can offer.
I’m also a huge fan of digital distribution such as Steam.
The idea that my game purchases are all stored on a server somewhere and that I can re download all of them or back them up to a file is very appealing.

Another thing that you forgot to touch base on that I think is very important, is the Free to Play model that we are seeing emerge on PC, yes, you don’t get the complete game or all the bells and whistles but never the less very appealing and free and people like free.

Good Article :)

J Daniels

On July 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Steam has been amazing about pushing the indy titles to the for front. Love them. Great article Jim, well done.

Darkraidor

On July 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I play PC games for the mouse and keyboard,digital distribution from items such as steam, and the vast variety of F2P games on the market.

Its also fun just to build your own PC. Not just building a beast, but making a decent PC out of the budget I have. The feeling of turning an old PC into a gamng rig through small upgrades and OC’n is quite rewarding and also easy on the wallet.

Aids

On July 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Greatest RPG’s of all time compared to today’s games aren’t even graphical beasts and they are still reveled in honor for their depth in story and open ended stories/gameplay. Not Oblivion either you s. Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and so forth.

Graphics shouldn’t be on anyone’s list for what defines a game. Yeah a game can have pretty graphics but if the gameplay sucks or is overly buggy. You just wasted money on an over priced piece of .

Brandon J. Clark

On July 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm

“Graphics shouldn’t be on anyone’s list for what defines a game.”

Well, it’s a good thing YOU don’t make the rules:)

Graphics are an INTEGRAL part of most games and can truly make or break a mediocre title. Deal with it.

N. Barn

On July 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I agree whole heatedly, but I despise consoles for they are holding the PC world back about 6-7 years because too many game dev’s make their games for the out dated tech that’s on a console first, so we get tons of lack luster games ported to the PC were they can’t be glorified and they run like crap. A big thing about PC gaming for me is the graphics, if I can’t run it on max minus filters like AA and AF, then I look for driver updates, little tweaks that give performance boosts while keeping the graphics, etc. We wouldn’t have this problem if the games were made for the PC first then ported to the under powered consoles. I really don’t play all that many indie games, I mostly play big title games, and yes I do focus more on the gameplay than the graphics, but having great gameplay while having great graphics is a great bonus for PC users. This is all a random not consistent rant, but game dev’s need to turn themselves around and build the game ground up for the PC first, and consoles themselves need to have a damn update by now, I mean come on 2004 and the xbox is still as bad now as it was when it came out.

N. Barn

On July 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Wholeheartedly*

maxrob

On July 27, 2011 at 11:00 am

what a moron Of course cpu gaming aint Only about graphics, there graphics And mouse n keyboard, End of the line they are both Very important, keyboard = Way more buttons then a controller.Mouse= Way more accurate then a controller, damn consoles seem like they got Owned badly.

eXtine

On July 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Look at Team Fortress, a game which it’s graphics were initially quite slick, and quite up to par, but now continues to shine for every reason eXcept it’s graphics. That’s not to say that Team Fortress is easy to run, however as the base computer system increases in speed, more people will be able to play it smoothly.

MineCraft and other succesfull independent games also back up the author’s point.

I think you could make the same argument, but generalize it further. Gaming aint about the graphics.

Marketing Gaming is a whole different issue, whether it’s for PC or console.

Online TV

On July 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Don’t forget Plants vs. Zombies, World of Goo, Parappa the Rapper, Super Meat Boy and Angry Birds. All of those are commercial successes that have low res quality graphics in terms of all the 3d and bloom mapping that’s out there.

I think you’re wrong in terms of indie having a place just on pc. Indie games do well on the consoles and mobile devices (just look at some of the names I listed, none of them were originally released by the major game makers, but they all held their own).

I think it’s just that the major players have greater control over the consoles, so they can play gate keeper over what is released (for quality and to avoid any upsets from indie developers). The PC market on the other hand is open to all, so you get some incredible creations. Even Little Big World is pretty inventive for the consoles it was released on.

Feuerschale

On July 28, 2011 at 8:19 am

PC gaming is where it really is. Consoles are for non computer users who what to play computer games.

James

On August 5, 2011 at 8:37 am

Sorry Graphics is right behind gameplay. There has been many games i refuse to play because the graphics were so bad but the gameplay was decent. I.E RO and the upcoming RO2

bndctc

On December 13, 2011 at 2:35 am

Great article. PC gaming has never died and it never will.