Back in 2008 or so I read some studies showing that the PC gaming market had dwindled. I don’t remember what those studies were, who did them, or where I read about them, but the idea stuck in my head that the PC was no longer a major concern to the big publishers.
This certainly explained their behavior at the time. In 2008, gaming was plagued by horrible ports, ghastly PC performance, and burdensome DRM. And that’s when publishers could be bothered to port a game to the PC in the first place. It very much felt like PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii were where the bulk of hardcore gamers were at, and the PC was sitting at the kid’s table.
I have to be careful here to avoid having people accuse me of gatekeeping. I know the terms of “hardcore” and “casual” are badly defined and often misused. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re interested in people who buy dedicated gaming hardware and use it to play a lot of games. Yes, smartphone games are huge and they make a ton of money. Those gamers are lovely people I’m not saying their gaming is any less valid than mine, I’m just saying that their concerns are mostly orthogonal to the stuff I write about on this site.
I’m sorry the nomenclature is so messed up, but I can’t fix it from where I’m sitting. Ideally we’d come up with a new word that properly communicates what we’re trying to say, but making up new terms is difficult and dangerous business. If I draw a line and say that “dedicated gaming hardware” is our dividing line between groups A and B, then I’ll end up dragged into grey-area arguments. “What about this laptop, Shamus? It’s ten years old and only runs Minecraft! Is that really ‘dedicated gaming hardware’? Your nomenclature is bullshit!” If we make our dividing line based on hours spent playing, then you wind up with stupid situations where the “hardcore” gamer only plays Madden 201* and Call of Duty at launch and their console gathers dust for the rest of the year, while the supposedly “casual” gamer plays games on their cell phone and clocks thousands of hours of play annually. We run into similar problems if we try to sort people by money spent or favored game genres.
We can make AAA vs. indie games the dividing line, but then we wind up in a sub-argument about how you demarcate those two ideas. Is the industry-shattering blockbuster Minecraft really “indie”? Is Child of Light really “AAA” because it was developed by publishing behemoth Ubisoft? What about smash hit Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds? What about the TellTale games stuff?
This is annoying because we want to talk about gaming enthusiasts but we can’t because we end up dragged into side-arguments over definitions. Normally that would be fine. Nerds love to argue over definitions and that’s a perfectly valid way to waste your time. We can argue about what makes something a shooter, what games count as an RPG, or what comics qualify as “superhero” stories. That’s fine. The problem is that the argument over “hardcore” gamers drags us into these awful gatekeeping arguments that boil down to “You don’t play games the way I do, therefore you’re not a gamer and your games don’t matter.”
I’m kind of partial to “gaming enthusiast” rather than “hardcore gamer”, even though it conceptually suffers from all of the same problems. “What, are those people playing smartphone games just not enthusiastic enough for you Shamus?“
I know “hardcore” is a stupid term because it implies one person is “more” of a gamer than another. That’s annoying, but I’m going to continue using the term “hardcore” for the rest of this article, only for lack of a better term. Just understand that “hardcore” should have half a dozen qualifying asterisks beside it.
Anyway. Let’s get on with it already…
For the last ten years I’ve been carrying around this idea that the PC was small and unimportant to the publishers and the consoles were what the likes of EA, Ubisoft, Activision, 2k Games, and Epic cared about. That was true ten years ago, but is it still true now?
I bring this up because I recently ran into this two year old article linking to a six year old study by the ESA claiming that the PC dominates the market. You’ll find this information on page 7 of the study, where it says that frequent gamersI’m pretty sure “frequent” gamers is their dodge for getting around the “hardcore” problem I talked about above. play on the following devices:
- Personal computer: 62%
- Dedicated console: 56%
- Smartphone: 35%
- Wireless device: 31%
- Dedicated handheld system: 21%
Obviously these percentages don’t add up to 100%. This makes sense, since lots of people play games on multiple platforms.
I get that “dedicated handheld” is talking about stuff like the Nintendo DS and PS Vita, but I can’t imagine what “wireless device” could be that isn’t included in smartphone or handheld categories. Wouldn’t a laptop be a wireless device? Technically, isn’t a Playstation 4 wireless these days? Heck, what devices aren’t wireless at this point?
In any case, I don’t know how to interpret this data. Like I said last month, there are about 150 million Steam accounts. But not all of those accounts represent active players. And even the ones that are active might not keep their PC upgraded enough to play current games.
I honestly wonder if that huge showing for the PC isn’t simply the Minecraft effect. Lots of peopleAnecdotally. I have no numbers. play games on consoles but keep a battered laptop around for Minecraft.
I’d love to believe that the PC is now ahead of the consoles, but this study isn’t convincing me. These charts are pretty, but short on depth and detail.
The study is too old to include the current console generation, but currently there are around 82 million PlayStation 4 units, 40 million Xbox Ones, and 20 million Nintendo Switches in circulation. I’m sure the number of viable gaming PCs is enough to keep up with these other devices as a gaming platform. I could even believe it was in the same weight class as the mighty PlayStation 4. But I just don’t see how the PC could be dominant.
I’m sure the PC is better off now than it was 10 years ago, but I’m not convinced this study is being interpreted correctly.
 I’m pretty sure “frequent” gamers is their dodge for getting around the “hardcore” problem I talked about above.
 Anecdotally. I have no numbers.
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