For a while there, I’d say the PC as a gaming platform was on the ropes. Post mid-nineties glory days, and before Steam came along to revolutionise the way we buy games, the personal computer was a platform for the gaming elite only.
If you were harder than hardcore, you had a rig that could play the latest games and would maintain the machine do so at great personal expense. You struggled through the graphics card compatibility issues, the random crashes caused by system-level settings on your machine, and you savoured the twenty minutes spent tweaking the settings of each game to get the maximum performance out of everything.
Not that the releases were all that memorable, exclusive, or easy to obtain. At least I don’t remember them being as such, I kind of phased out from around ’94 until a few years back.
Because that’s when I got my laptop, and I started buying up games via the wonderful hole for my money that is Steam, and the assorted indie bundles (independently produced games sold as part of a ‘bundle’, at a discount).
I’d come to find out that my new laptop couldn’t play many of them, as its graphics card was the equivalent of a small child shouting “work harder!” at my computer’s CPU and RAM, but I enjoyed a few PC dalliances while my Steam library gradually expanded. Machinarium for one, VVVVVV for another, Trauma too, as well as the expansions to the first Half Life.
Now with a newer beast of a machine humming quietly away next to me, I’m coming to appreciate the near-150 games in my digital collection a lot more. For a start, I can run them all, and the presence of a mouse over a track pad is handy too. I’ve also got a nice sound system and a decent monitor mere inches away from my face.
There’s easy to access online multiplayer, and since it’s by far and away the best service on the PC, everyone I know that plays computer games is on my Steam Friends list. I can record video of my adventures if I want, and grab screenshots at will, posting them to social platforms with ease.
A platform that’s convenient, powerful, full of great games, and the content itself is cheap? It’s a match made in heaven.
I’m still a console and portable gamer at heart though: I definitely prefer to play on the couch rather than my desk chair, but it’s another avenue for me to enjoy a different kind of gaming experience. Usually it’s a more indie-focused one, where the kinds of games I’m experiencing simply never make it to my PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.
I’m starting to wonder how the PS4 and the next Xbox will respond to this looming threat, spearheaded by Gabe Newell and his team at Valve. Will they court indies more aggressively? Will they hold more content sales? Will they open up their platforms a little more?
I couldn’t possibly say, but it’ll be interesting to find out in the months ahead.