Next Gen Buries the Lede

Yesterday, Next Generation released a listing of the best-selling games over the last 12 months. (Note the detail here – these are the best-selling games released and sold during the arbitrary period March 1, 2007 to March 1, 2008.) Today, they published an analysis of the data, including a remarkable graph on platform exclusives.

Obviously, it is no surprise that Nintendo rules the roost here with exclusives as their platforms have such unique user interfaces. However, there is another platform up here with a completely unique interface and yet a tiny number of exclusives – the PC. Apparently, the PC had only one exclusive title released in the last twelve months which showed up in the top 100 sales list. This is so appalling that I need to write it again: only one non-port PC game released last year was among the top 100 in sales!*

I find it bizarre to even think of native PC games as “exclusives” as it’s a format without an owner but also one with such a long, storied history. The chart will probably looks significantly different next year with the release of Spore and whichever Blizzard product comes out next. If nothing else, this chart emphasizes that the middle of the PC retail industry has disappeared entirely. Franchises like Civilization and Age of Empires and StarCraft are still quite safe, but oft-kilter games from major publishers like Majesty and Sacrifice and Tropico are gone, gone, gone, and they are not coming back.

All of this is not to say that the PC market is doomed. In fact, quite the opposite is happening as today – right now! – is the most profitable time in history to be making games on the PC. From Blizzard earning literally billions from World of Warcraft to PopCap crossing the $100 million revenue barrier from selling casual games to the untold millions Steam and its games are making from direct distribution.

Furthermore, a stealth PC games industry is emerging that is only slowing beginning to receive mainstream recognition. Indies are experiencing significant success, such as Ironclad’s Sins of a Solar Empire or Vic Davis’s Armageddon Empires. More importantly, however, small teams which approach games as a service, not a product, are showing the real future of PC gaming: MapleStory, Habbo Hotel, Puzzle Pirates, and so on. The Gower brothers, creators of the web-based MMO Runescape, are now the 654th richest men in the UK, each worth over $200 million.

Many developers do not consider these products as part of the games industry proper – at GDC this year, Cryptic Studios’s Creative Director Jack Emmert revealed, shockingly, that he had never even heard of MapleStory – but this too will change. With the Web’s explosive and continued growth, people are certainly using their PC’s more than ever. Accordingly, the PC games market should dwarf all other games markets in the long run. The market, however, will never be the same as it was during PC gaming’s “golden days” of the late-90s.

PC Games are Dead! Love Live PC Games!

*OK, actually more than one. I certainly would not claim that The Orange Box is a console game ported to the PC. That product messes with categorization in so many ways! Also, as Tom points out below, C&C 3 and Football Manager (and a couple others) are certainly PC-focused also. By the way, anyone want to guess what the only PC-exclusive title was to show up on that list? Don’t cheat and look it up!

2 thoughts on “Next Gen Buries the Lede

  1. My guess was right. Disclaimer: I did look at the list yesterday, but I didn’t go back today.

    And for the record, there are a few others on there that are PC-centric titles (Football Manager, C&C3) which were ported onto consoles. Not that that invalidates your basic premise.

    I like your basic point – there are now many forms of videogames outside the traditional definitions. Does anyone consider the Leapster part of our industry? Does anyone know how their sales compare to DS/PSP sales? A quick google suggests they’re doing well. Does anyone have numbers on serious games? I get the sense it’s growing, too.

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