The Future of PC Gaming: Developments and Issues
PCs are no longer just for work or productivity and are now full blown entertainment machines within their own right. Computers have come a long way since basic word processing apps and simple games, such as the classic Minesweeper. In fact, the PC gaming market is now worth millions of dollars each year, attracting an array of dedicated followers.
There are many ways in which a gamer can entertain themselves on a Windows, Mac or Linux based machine. There are tonnes of options, including addictive browser games and gorgeous GPU intensive games that will put your system to the test. All of these require varying amounts of horsepower from your PC.
Desktop gaming has always been for the most serious of gamers. Sure, lots of people will dabble with playing simple flash games every so often, or may even have a punt on igaming sites where you can test your luck on markets like horse racing, but because of the grunt that the more demanding games take to play, PC gaming tends to attract a more hands on, dedicated type of gamer.
The highly customisable nature of PC gaming means any component can be tweaked and upgraded to allow for the best performance, which includes PC hardware, as well as 3D rendering and graphics settings within the games themselves.
This offers a range of customisation that isn’t possible with console gaming. Due to the mass manufacture of consoles, every product ships with the exact same specs, making them pretty much impossible to upgrade to increase performance.
This is what makes console gaming popular; being able to jump into a game, with no previous tech knowledge and without knowing the different components is useful for the mass market, but it limits the quality that can be achieved.
Consoles are designed with have life cycles and are released in generations. This limits the innovation of game developers as they are restricted by the limitations of the technology. This is not the case with desktop or PC gaming as the technology is constantly evolving. New specs of CPU, GPU, hard drives and RAM are continually released, with each of these upgrades capable of increasing performance.
by William Hook
Take, for example, Far Cry 3. Despite being nearly 3 years old, it is still one of the most demanding games on the market. It takes a serious amount of clout to get the title to run at a desirable rate with all of the settings cranked up to max.
The sequel to the title, Far Cry 4, is due to launch this November, and if it’s anything like its predecessors, it will be a power hungry monster that’s out to make GPUs earn their money.
With all of the buzz and excitement surrounding this title, the world of PC gaming received a blow with the announcement that Batman: Arkham Knight has been pulled from sale amidst an array of performance issues. This was a massive blow for Warner Bros and DC, as the game was one of the most hyped of the year, especially as the console version of the game received very good reviews.
This isn’t the only big game that has had to be pulled
Ensuring games can successfully play on multiple platforms is a tricky task, as the developers of the Mac version of Final Fantasy XIV recently found out. The game, which was adapted from the Windows version of the game, is another instance of a high profile game that had to be pulled because the end product was unplayable.
This highlights the difficulties developers face when porting or developing multi-platform games. Different platforms require different coding patterns, which is the main reason the Mac Final Fantasy port failed: It proved too different for the Mac platform to read code intended for Windows and perform at an acceptable rate.
But it appears that more and more PC games are hitting the headlines lately due to poor performance on PC, whilst playing fine on their console counterparts. Codemasters’ F1 2015 is another example of a game suffering dramatic playability issues, which could end up hurting sales if a patch isn’t released quickly to fix the issues.
This could be a worrying trend if it continues, especially with the release of the hotly tipped Steam Machines rapidly approaching, which operates on a custom Linux based operating system.
The problem that this concept faces is that not all games are optimised to run on SteamOS. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that, with the release of a more accessible ‘console’ that runs Steam, which is aiming to capture some of the casual gaming market, that more and more developers will be looking to port their games to run on SteamOS.
There are still steep divides between console and PC gamers, as emphasised at this year’s E3. However, the gap may be closing, as Phil Spencer gave a tongue in cheek nod towards the possibility of cross platform gaming amongst Windows 10 devices. In practice, this should be easier than porting a game to SteamOS, as the Xbox One is due to receive the Windows 10 update, along with all tablets, phones, PCs and laptops that currently run on Windows 7 or higher, as well as Windows Phone.
This will bring a new level of flexibility to console and PC gaming as it will blur the lines between the two. The update will allow Xbox One games to be streamed to Windows 10 devices on the same local network, meaning Xbox games can be played on desktops, laptops, or even tablets.
PC prices are continuing to fall
As the cost of PC components tumbles, it is now possible to grab some impressive tech for a modest amount of money. In fact, Gizmodo recently ran a feature which outlined how to build a relatively decent gaming rig for just £300.
To put that into perspective, that’s around the same price as an Xbox One, which also comes with the additional bonus of being able to run a huge catalogues of apps, as well as a vast library of games.
Some concerns have been raised about what the actual performance of such a machine would be. It certainly wouldn’t be enough to get the best out of the most recent games, but for playing older games, or newer games on lower settings, then the rig should be able to hold its own.
Virtual Reality is the future
There’s a large buzz around VR technology, mainly thanks to the progress being made by the Oculus Rift which is whipping up a frenzy within the gaming community.
The Oculus Rift promises to bring a new level of an immersive nature to gaming, with Oculus stating:
The Rift is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Whether you’re stepping into your favorite game, watching an immersive VR movie, jumping to a destination on the other side of the world, or just spending time with friends in VR, you’ll feel like you’re really there.
Furthermore, the Rift will be compatible with PC and Xbox One right out of the box, which is great, as the device is gaining attention from both sides of the gaming market.
Although, to run an Oculus Rift on a PC capable of carrying out the required leg work, you will need a fairly high spec machine, with it being rumoured that a bundle including the VR headset and a suitable PC could set you back around $1,500.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t such a bad price. Considering the amount and quality of tech involved, it’s actually quite modest, especially when it’s considered that it wasn’t too long ago that most PC gamers had to shell out this much for a decent PC alone.
The advancement that Oculus is pushing with its VR technology is impressive. Not only is the Rift headset in the pipeline, but also the Oculus Touch controller system, which was previewed at E3.
The motion tracking of the device gives a level of realism that hasn’t been seen before within the consumer gaming market. The Oculus Touch is much more responsive than the Wii nunchucks that brought the concept of motion gaming to the masses almost 9 years ago.
Since then, all of the gaming giants have jumped on board: Sony with the PlayStation Move, Microsoft with the Kinect, and Steam with its own take on the VR concept (with the release date for this tech still not finalised).
In fact, it look like developers are so heavily invested in the concept of motion gaming in VR nowadays, that it looks set to even branch out into the mainstream consumer electronics market outside of gaming circles.
Samsung have thrown their hat into the ring with the Samsung Gear VR (which is actually just an Oculus VR headset with Samsung branding). This device works exclusively with the Galaxy S6 and Note 4 mobile phones.
The idea about this premise is that it will turn these powerful smartphones into full blown VR powered suites that will allow you to watch movies and play games as if you were truly ‘in the moment’.
The idea of being able to watch a movie from your phone on a display that replicates the size of a movie theatre, whilst being only a fraction of the size in reality, is definitely an appealing one.
The Samsung Gear VR also has powerful gaming capabilities, transforming the two aforementioned Samsung devices into immersive games consoles. Games are being added to the Oculus store on the Samsung, so there will be a decent amount of choice for any consumer that decides to dive head first into Samsung and Oculus’ VR world.
If the pricing of the Samsung Gear VR is anything to go by, the lower end of the VR market could be surprisingly affordable. The Samsung Gear VR is currently shipping for $200, but it should be noted that it’s not the highest spec of Oculus’ VR tech – that accolade belongs to the Rift, which is the reason for the speculated difference in price between the two devices.
It’s interesting that Samsung has been so eager to jump on board with the mobile VR concept. It makes sense for desktop and console based devices, but we wonder how it will fare on a mobile platform.
In reality, using VR outside of the home does not make sense – so with that in mind, why focus energy on developing it for a mobile platform?
The Rift looks set to take the gaming world by storm upon its release. Oculus have had a long time to iron out any bugs, with the first development kits going on sale way back in 2012. That’s a long time to polish and refine the product, and there’s still time for any usability tweaks to be implemented before the product’s Q1 2016 release date.
PC gaming is at a crossroads
It’s at a point when it has never been closer to console gaming. The lines between Xbox and PC are being intentionally blurred by Microsoft, and it looks like that the tactic of uniting everything under the Windows 10 banner could pay off for them, but only if their game streaming service and the other developments they have in the pipeline work and remain stable.
The developments of recent months have shown why PC gaming remains a niche, and also why developers tend to focus their attention on console versions of the games. It’s very rare for a console version of a game to be released and rendered unplayable – yet, it is something that appears to happening with PC ports more frequently.
PC gaming needs to now decide whether it wants a slice of the casual gaming market, which should be relatively easy to achieve if game streaming on Windows 10 proves a success (and from what we’ve seen so far, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t), or whether it should go back to its roots and remain as terra firma for hardcore gamers.
Either way, there’s a whole slew of exciting games and developments in the works.
All we can do is hope that, performance wise, they are fit for purpose and avoid any launch nightmares