As multiplexes fully open up and film distributors reduce the hybrid streaming/theatre strategy, modern cinema is at a crossroads. Audiences don’t return to theaters in droves for a variety of reasons. From the rise in ticket prices and everything to do with the cinema experience to the rise of Oscar-worthy movies from streaming platforms like Netflix and AppleTV+, there’s little incentive right now.
It’s why movie studios are drawn to established franchises, remakes/reboots, and intellectual properties like comic book adaptations. Of course, legendary filmmakers such as Martin Scorese and Francis Ford Coppola have used the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to address the lack of original stories on sizable budgets. Modern console and PC games have also run into a similar argument, with even some of the best PC games sometimes telling the same stories for content.
Newer IPs with budgets close to AAA have been few and far between over the past decade. Just a look at the highest-grossing games of 2021, the top ten were literally exclusive to sequels and reboots. Original IPs don’t appear until number 13 with decades-old Minecraft next to Back 4 Blood (the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead) in 18th spot. In 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 was the only non-sequel to crack the top ten and that’s a pen-and-paper RPG reworking.
This year looks a little different for big budget AAA titles with the overwhelming success of Elden Ring alongside upcoming releases like Forspoken and Starfield (although Elden Ring, while full of original elements, is still a FromSoftware “Soulsborne” title ). However, these are more exceptions to the norm. When it comes to PC gaming specifically, big-budget AAA exclusives don’t make as much sense to developers as they used to. That’s because the platform has continued its reputation as an experimental playground for creators of all budgets.
PCs are great for indie developers with fresh ideas
Credit: Coffee Stain Studios
Outside of third-party AAA games, the first releases on Microsoft Game Pass, and more recent releases of Sony PlayStation exclusives, PC gaming still manages to exist in its own world.
This starts with indie developers at heart. With The Batman and Doctor Strange and The Multiverse of Madness becoming the big cinema events of the year so far, there’s still plenty of room for well-received indie films like Everything, Everywhere At Once.
For every Elden Ring, Horizon Forbidden West, and Halo Infinite, there are plenty of ultra-popular smaller budget games, from Sable to Loop Hero. On Steam alone, 90 percent of the games available on Steam come from indie developers, and just under half of the digital store sales are from indie titles, according to reports.
Interestingly enough, the data also showed that indie games currently only make up 30 percent of the active user base, so if . A recent study by YouGov also found that indie games for PC besides consoles are the only type of games showing year-over-year growth among casual and gaming enthusiasts.
PC is the only place to get high quality VR gaming
Credit: Valve Corporation
The freedom to develop on PC is why virtual reality eventually became mainstream. Before Facebook (now Meta) released the standalone Oculus Go and later the Quest line of VR headsets, the Rift was only a PC affair. Although the Rift line was discontinued, the Valve Index and HTV Vive headsets still exist for the niche market.
With Oculus Link, PC gamers can now even connect Quest headsets to their rigs. Some have now called VR a “heaven for indie developers.” Beat Saber creator Beat Games, now part of Meta, was an indie studio in the Czech Republic before the popular rhythm game took off.
On the AAA side, Half Life: Alyx is the current benchmark for budget VR experiences. EA even tried to revive the Medal of Honor franchise through a big budget PC VR game, but the reception was lackluster at best. While top developers have pretty much given up on VR or waited for what Sony has to offer with the PSVR2, indie experimentation has kept a consistent stream of releases going.
eSports is an overwhelming PC affair
(Image credit: Lenovo)
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons PC gaming doesn’t really need major tentpole releases the way consoles do, is because the platform effectively controls the entire esports industry.
With a continuously growing value of $1.8 billion, competitive gaming in its current form is largest on PC. With a clear focus on the multiplayer experience, these games receive constant updates that can last for years. Sure, the competitive aspect involving money will certainly encourage many participants, but there are also many who just want to enjoy the game.
PC gaming makes up the top ten games with the biggest prizes. Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, League of Legends, and Arena of Valor, among others, require a rig competitively.
To put things in perspective, last year’s International 10 tournament for Dota 2 had a prize pool of over $40 million. Reaching the finals in Fortnite World Cup brings in a minimum of $50,000 and the overall winner leaves with $3 million.
PC gaming has a historical sense that consoles just don’t have
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Besides esports, VR or the plethora of indie games available, PCs are better for preserving games by default.
For those who have the original multi-CD copy of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or original Doom on floppy, there is a lot that can be done with an external disk drive. Around the hype of The Matrix Resurrection last year, I felt like playing Enter The Matrix.
I found a ten dollar copy on Amazon and a cheap external DVD drive, and I was able to play it on my rig without any problem. This led to a rabbit hole of playing some old PC games I’d kept on the shelf from Need For Speed Underground 2 to the original Call of Duty. Not to mention emulation that preserves gaming history better than Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, albeit in its own pirated, homemade way.
The days of PC gaming with huge AAA exclusive moments are long gone and that’s totally fine. That’s because as gaming has become more mainstream, the reasons people play gaming on PC have changed. Some want to play the latest title that pushes their hardware to the limit – others want to practice for hours for the next Dota tournament.
Meanwhile, indie developers have found success creating games that don’t require a lot of dazzling – just unique gameplay or inventive storytelling. In recent decades, the gaming industry has attempted to legitimize video games as an art form that can rival cinema. When it comes to PC gaming, the desire for that artistic acceptance seems rather archaic.