As the late Steve Jobs was once misquoted, we are living in the post-PC era. Jobs was actually responding to an interviewer’s leading question about our future, and of the personal computer’s place in it, to which Jobs offered a rambling analogy involving trucks, cars, farming, urban sprawl, and a little about personal computers. I think. It has now been seven years since the iPad ‘changed everything’, and tablets – because tablets other than the iPad exist, though most are not very good – have yet to change the world (even though they have become a very nice way to watch Netflix or Funimation in bed). Somewhere along the way, when a multi-touch slab was going to replace the need for a dedicated PC desktop or laptop, really good software was required; software so good that we just could not live without it. That software never came, and even though just about everything can be done poorly on a tablet, very few things can be done well enough to eliminate the need for a PC. I know this is shocking news if you have not paid attention to tech headlines since 2010. It turns out, and you may believe this or not, that tablets did not kill the PC, and they certainly did not replace game consoles. Console gaming is thriving, and PC gaming is certainly not dead. Such headlines were also popular during the brief obsession the ‘tech press’ had with the iPad.
The soon to be, just wait for it, here it comes, eventually, post-PC future.
I agree that we will not be using PCs as we currently know them at some point in the future, but I am also aware that I will die and my body will become dust. Eventualities seem nice enough for a cheap editorial headline meant to generate additional, often mandated, page-views, but let us return to reality and discuss the matter at hand, as this digression is as useful as reading websites like The Verge for anything besides self-congratulatory wank. Hipsters: retreat. We are about to have an adult discussion.
The PC and console gaming markets are as healthy as ever, with 23.5 billion in sales recorded over 2015 and 30 billion in 2016. (I discussed some of these numbers in my expose of mobile ‘gaming’.) For this editorial I decided to focus on the PC, given the failure of tablets to topple this longstanding method of gaming; but it is difficult to analyze the health of this segment with the resources at hand. Or I just do not know where to look. Either way. NPD Group – you know, the adorably-named organization (seriously, National Purchase Diary?) that still thinks PC games are purchased in big cardboard boxes at CompUSA and this thing called AOL is totally a big deal? Yes, THAT company shows us that PC games are but a sliver of the pie – but also indicates that digital games have eclipsed physical sales in all of game software, which only serves to demonstrate how useless their PC/console breakdown is considering they only track physical, retail PC sales in their reporting, with Steam game sales lumped under “other”. Omitting the truly insane smartphone app spending that lazy non-gaming simpletons are guilty of on their quest for financial ruin and eventual homelessness – a.k.a. mobile in-app purchases (or, ‘microtransactions’, if you prefer, as I do) – there is still a lot of room for legitimate gaming within the tens of billions in annual spending by the casual and enthusiast segments. But this is all academic, and it would take better data (and better research) to understand buying habits. Essentially, a look at Steam digital game sales alone paints a very promising picture of the PC gaming market’s future.
(Begin computer processor discussion.)
Another aspect of PC gaming that must be addressed, and in truth, the one which prompted this editorial, is simply one of enthusiast hardware. There was a time when an enthusiast gaming system was powered by AMD. Very fast processors could be purchased for much less than a competing Intel part – which was often slower, and for gaming there was really no contest. AMD was just faster back then, and Intel struggled. Those cheap processors – and a very different graphics card landscape in the mid-2000s – ensured that cost would not be the deciding factor if gaming on a PC was your goal. But all of that changed when Intel introduced a new processor design in 2006 and AMD did not have an answer. Five painful years later, AMD entered 2011 with the promise of a return to glory, but their new ‘Bulldozer’ processor design was flawed and it never reached its theoretical performance level, falling far short of Intel’s products at the time. And nothing has changed until now, six years later still, with the next design from AMD called ‘Ryzen’ now available, and nearly as fast as Intel parts for gaming. Why does this matter? AMD is synonymous with PC enthusiasts and PC gaming, and these enthusiast/gamers have grown to resent Intel (quite strongly, if you check the comment sections of the various hardware review websites) for pricing their products as they do; as Intel finds that even $1000 is a price some are willing to pay for the fastest chip in a market with no true competition. With competitive processors and lower-cost graphics cards on the market this year, PC gaming will do very well.
(End computer processor discussion.)
Certainly, a market rich with affordable PC hardware can help rekindle interest in the platform, and spur users to upgrade, and thus PC gaming will grow again – and not just survive. But there is a huge obstacle in the way, and it is a greater threat to the PC as a gaming platform than every console and tablet combined: Microsoft Windows 10. I do not have the time to explain all the ways that Windows 10 is pure evil, but I find it amusing now to look back on the hatred of Windows 8, which brought a tablet-first ‘tiled’ home screen layout and was, in its first iteration, piss poor. Most of the problems were ironed out with subsequent updates (Windows 8.1 is a rock-solid operating system with many of the user interface guff minimized), but the public image of Windows after Win8 was lower than even Windows Vista levels. People were actually talking about ditching the disasterous Windows 8 and moving to Linux, even for gaming (right, Gabe?). But in the end Microsoft can do as they please, because virtually every new PC out there will come with Windows on it unless you visit an Apple store. (Or if you hate yourself and choose a Chromebook.) Windows 10, unlike its predecessor (they skipped the number 9), continues to get worse over time, with less and less user control, and more big brother-level access to everything you do, baked right in! And even if you do not care about privacy, the inability to stop Windows from updating itself (often at the worst possible time, and at the slowest imaginable speed) will eventually cause you to lose your mind, and destroy your PC. And then you really will be living in a post-PC world.