Weekend Reading: What’s the deal with PC games?

In the attempts at coming up with a title for this week’s column, my mind kept coming back to Seinfeld. I suppose it’s because the question kept popping up in my mind after I was trying to kill some time in my local GameStop. I’d peruse the aisles, looking at games and making mental notes as to what I’d consider checking out on Goozex to see if the prices were cheaper.

I needed to kill some more time, though. So, my journey into the PC gaming section of the store began. While I was going through these games, my thoughts weren’t, “which ones should I buy” — rather, they were “which ones should I pirate?”

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m strongly against pirating console games and movies. I’m even going so far as to search eBay and elsewhere for a cheap Japanese PS2 so that I can play import games, and not be tempted by the ability to play burned discs. Why is it, then, that I felt absolutely no compunction about pirating these PC games?

I certainly don’t disrespect PC games — I realize it’s a rather viable platform for all different areas of gaming. Personally, my interest in PC games was only with real time strategy and some first person shooter games. As time went on, I drifted away from FPS games, and eventually, I gave up RTS and computer games all together. There wasn’t anything about the computer games that turned me off, it just happened naturally.

Part of this was because of the need to repeatedly upgrade my computer in order to play most any game. Well, not so much that, as the fact that I was running off of a Dell. The bastard of the Dell Latitude line, no less. So, I ended up missing out on games like Half-Life, Diablo, and Age of Empires III, simply because I didn’t have the right specs to run the games. Really, the computer was that shitty that it had some problems running Half-Life. I’ve always wanted to get back into PC gaming, but I feel this urge to have something that’s top of the line, and I know I just can’t afford that to play PC games.

It’s that idea of a variable experience that always gets me with a PC game. On a console, the system I got at launch will run games just as well as one bought today. This sort of accessibility is what has caused so many people to flock to console games. Console makers have strong relationships with the developers and publishers, helping to guide what comes out for each console. On the PC, it’s pretty much the Wild West. While this does allow some really cool budget titles and free mods to be made, it makes it hard for people to justify buying any mid-level titles that sit between those cool budget games and the AAA titles.

What draws me to PC games is the genres that fit best on there. Like I mentioned before, RTS games certainly are only at home on the PC — and I don’t want any complaining from you Starcraft 64 fans. Besides that, I’m certainly a fan of FPS games on the PC as well. The thing is, there aren’t a ton of genres that are a draw for PC gaming. We’ve seen the effect Halo has had on the market, drawing millions of frat boys to their Xboxes all across the country. The PC versions were considered inferior to their original versions — which brings me to another point.

While Microsoft’s Games for Windows initiative has been nice, as of yet, I don’t believe it’s doing much for PC gamers. I cite the Games for Windows magazine crew on this one, actually. They were talking about the differences in Shadowrun between online play for the PC gamer and the console gamer. Most of their complaintes revolved around there being a greater amount of penalization for PC gamers due to how they play with a keyboard and mouse. Sure, this is just one example, but it’s certainly a less-than-stellar start for launching something to bridge the gap between console and PC players.

While it allows for a larger install base for a title, the Games for Windows initiative doesn’t provide PC gaming with what it needs most right now — someone to actively work with developers to create unique titles for the PC only, and have enough of a marketing push to keep them there. As of right now, it feels like PC gaming is too closed off of a society, and I’d be intruding on this elitist territory if I came in, all newb-like. I’m sure this isn’t the case, but it’s the sentiment that I feel, at least. I’m sure others feel the same way.

By it’s nature, the PC crowd is completely hardcore. What I would suggest to Microsoft is that they work with developers to come out with more casual or introductory titles for people to pick up and play. I’m afraid to ever jump into online multiplayer for Half-Life 2 or any Battlefield game, simply because I’ll surely “destroy the team’s entire strategy” or some crap like that. Games that allow for a strong mix of newer and hardcore users without creating something very clique-y, like how Warcraft 3 can get, are the best bet for turning the tides on the number of people actually picking up PC games.

So, to get back to my original question, why is it that I felt no qualms with pirating those PC games? The gap between console and PC games feels so vast that even my morals don’t stretch across it. I think that a big problem for me is that there’s no coordination in the world of PCs. There are hundreds of different brands for full computers and for individual parts, that the information quickly becomes overwhelming — before I’ve even gone and bought a game.

Much like with the music world, there are so few things that appeal to my tastes, that I manage to justify pirating these games by saying that “it’s not really hurting the industry” and cry myself to sleep at night. Now, how can I stop this behavior? Getting myself more actively involved in PC gaming is pretty much the only solution to this that I can think of. If people have a more vested interest in an area, then they’re less likely to sabotage it. I’m looking forward to the Half Life box set, and hopefully I’ll pick up Age of Empires III and Rome: Total War, and it’ll force me out of this mindset.

We here at Destructoid have been wondering: how many of you readers are actively involved with PC gaming? I mean, above and beyond WoW, do we have many people who spend too much time on their computer, playing those things called games?