I went to a few panels at PAX Australia this year, but one of my personal favourites was "What's Driving The Future Of PC Gaming", which featured an all-star cast including the man behind Star Citizen, Chris Roberts. Listening to a number of smart people discuss the future of the PC as a gaming device was a pleasure. Here were some of my favourite insights from the panel.
1. Alienware Believes The Living Room Is The Future
In fact, they're banking on it, to the point where one of their living room focused devices comes packed with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard, because it suits lounge room gaming.
"There are thousands of games on Steam," said Joe Olmsted, a Product Development Manager at Alienware, "and hundreds of those are playable with a controller.
"Since we've started this project we've seen so many devs come out with multiple person 'couch' games."
One of the games referenced was the Australian-made Screencheat. A game that works best with four people in the same space, using controllers in a living room situation. We're seeing more and more of these kind of games being released on PC, says Olmstead.
2. Oculus Thinks Virtual Reality Is The "Final Platform"
What does that mean exactly? Well, it doesn't mean that virtual reality is for everyone, or that virtual reality will be the only platform on PC. Callum Underwood, the Developer Relations Manager at Oculus VR was adamant that other ways of using PC gaming will continue to exist long after the commercial release of the Oculus Rift. He even acknowledged that not everyone will enjoy virtual reality.
When Callum said that Oculus expects virtual reality to be the final platform, I'd suggest he's referring to the fact that it is about as far as we can go in terms of an actual platform. Virtual reality is, for want of a better term, as immersive as gaming can get, particularly as it solves all the problems that come with it over the coming years.
3. But Mouse And Keyboard Still Has A Future (Obviously)
But for all the talk of controllers and VR, the panellists were convinced that the (not-so) humble mouse and keyboard still has a place in PC gaming. Of course it does. Callum Underwood, from Oculus VR made the point that Oculus tends to demo games using a controller because firstly, controller literacy is high and, secondly, you often need to look at a keyboard whilst playing. That doesn't really fly with the Oculus Rift. Experienced players will very rarely need to look at a controller whilst playing.
But, of course, the mouse and keyboard is still absolutely the best and most efficient input for many games. Civilization was an example brought up by the panel. No-one could ever imagine playing that without a mouse and keyboard.
A general theme from the panel dialled in on the ability of PC gaming to evolve in multiple different directions at once. One of the key strengths of PC gaming is its ability to shape itself for the user. People want different things from video games, and PC gaming is able to provide that kind of choice. It's easily the most malleable platform in gaming.
4. PC Is A Breeding Ground For New Ideas
The idea of PC gaming as a breeding ground for new innovative ideas was a powerful one for the panel. This comes almost directly from the ability of small teams to create, build and release games relatively cheaply and easily. This allows for innovative ideas to transform what we imagine gaming is capable of.
It's about digital distribution and the barriers this removes. Chris Roberts made reference to the removal of middle-men. This means that certain developers don't have to sell as many games to be successful, allowing creators to take bigger risks with their games.
Games on consoles tend to be strangled with the cost of production, especially on the AAA side, which sometimes leads to certain niche genres not being catered for. This isn't the case with PC gaming, and as it continues to grow in scope we'll continue to see more interesting games and interesting ideas.
5. PC's Future Is Also About Its Past
"A huge advantage of the PC platform is not just its future, but its past," explained Aidan Scanlan, the Assistant Director of Design at Bioware.
By this, Scanlan is referring to how easy it is for gamers to buy and keep the old games they loved on the PC platform — especially compared to consoles where generational leaps often mean the old games you own are redundant and unplayable on your new box. The ability to build and maintain a library of games for years, and have them work on new operating systems is a huge boon for PC gaming and a pretty solid reason for gaming on a PC.
Services like Good Old Games are a part of that, helping make older games playable on new PCs.
I think my key takeaway from the conference was this: PC gaming as a platform is more relevant than ever, and it will stay relevant because of its ability to remain flexible and malleable. It evolves quickly and it evolves very specifically to each player's own unique needs. You can make PC gaming work for you and what you want. The same cannot be said of more rigid console platforms.
I walked out of the theatre with one thought on my mind: "I really need to build myself a new desktop PC".