The State Of PC Gaming In 2015

The State of PC Gaming in 2015

Unlike the other gaming platforms we've been evaluating here at the end of the year, the PC's been around for decades. Recently, the PC's long legacy of openness and customisation has come into conflict with a mainstream that's finally -- finally -- realised just how big of a deal PC gaming actually is.

This is part of our 2015 "State of" series, a look at how the five major consoles (and PC) are doing this year.

By and large, the PC is in a great place. More PC games are coming out than ever, and most of them are even coming out at the same time as their console counterparts. As a result, the PC offers a front row seat to the industry's heaviest hitters and cleverest indies. On top of that, the PC's back catalogue is a formidable beast, a leviathan that even the most voracious players will never truly slay. New companies are polishing up and re-releasing classics like System Shock 2 and Baldur's Gate as well, so incompatibility issues -- while still present -- are becoming less of a problem. (However, nobody's been able to do that for No One Lives Forever yet, so actually I changed my mind; PC gaming is garbage.) You've also got more options than ever as to where you buy your games digitally, though Steam is pretty much a must.

The State of PC Gaming in 2015

"More," as a concept, is among the sharpest double-edged swords. This year saw more games released on Steam -- the biggest PC gaming service by a mile -- than ever, many of which were… not super great. It's a reflection of PC's renewed relevance in the eyes of game-makers: everybody wants their game on services like Steam. While Valve has worked to improve tools that help people discover new games, plenty of high-quality stuff is still slipping through the cracks.

Moreover, programs like Steam Early Access see unfinished games make their way onto the service. Some, like dinosaur survival hit Ark: Survival Evolved, are great, but others launch in shoddy states and end up abandoned.

The State of PC Gaming in 2015

A handful of smaller games have still managed to rise to the top and become marquee PC attractions. In 2015, PC-first games like Ark: Survival Evolved, Cities: Skylines, Besiege, Undertale, and Darkest Dungeon go from relative obscurity to the top of the charts. They're all must-plays, and many of them continue to grow and evolve thanks to updates and dedicated communities.

The PC modding scene both flourished and faltered in 2015. User-created additions transformed big releases like Fallout 4, Grand Theft Auto V, The Witcher 3, and even Star Wars Battlefront. They also added fascinating flavour to smaller games like Cities: Skylines, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Besiege. Oh, and they continued to keep all-but-abandoned games like Left 4 Dead 2 from completely going under.

The State of PC Gaming in 2015

Unable to ignore the longevity user-created mods can provide, Valve and Bethesda teamed up to try to create a standardised system that would have users pay for some mods in Skyrim. The way Valve rolled out the system put the mod community into a state of uproar, and Valve ultimately sent the system back to the drawing board. While many breathed a sigh of relief, that false start has left the mod scene in an awkward place: mods are hard work, and some creators simply can't devote their free time -- emphasis on free -- to making them. This goes double for games like Grand Theft Auto V and The Witcher 3, which have some amazing mods but don't provide players with much in the way of decent tools to create or manage them. More than ever, modding is a key piece of the PC puzzle, but it's currently in a bit of an awkward stage.

Several big game companies forged ahead with their own games/services separate from Steam's (almost) all-consuming Galactus ecosystem. DRM-free store GOG launched a full-blown Steam-like client called GOG Galaxy, and it fixed a lot of Steam's problems while still letting users play with their Steam friends. Mega-mum-'n'-pop indie shop Itch.io also quietly released its own client and continued to amass a collection of creative games. Blizzard's standalone games ecosystem had good success with games like Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and the Overwatch beta, even as World of Warcraft's subscriber numbers continued to decline. Oh, and a little company called Riot continued to improve their little biggest game on the planet, League of Legends.

The State of PC Gaming in 2015

Games technically came out on EA's Origin and Ubisoft's Uplay, but everyone mostly just held their noses and only used those services when they absolutely had to. (Uplay even shifted to a more Steam-centric way of doing things, linking directly to Steam accounts and letting players import friends -- perhaps a concession to the fact that Steam users want to interact with Uplay as little as possible.)

Games like League of Legends also led the eSports charge, one of the most exciting, consistently evolving portions of the PC gaming world. Events for games like LoL, DOTA 2, Counter-Strike, Heroes of the Storm, and even lesser-known games like SMITE continued to grow and become more inextricably tied to their games of origin. Counter-Strike, for instance, offers special in-game items that are directly tied to eSports events and teams. These games and their cultures are becoming more and more sport-like -- often in good ways, but that's also brought things like cheating and, er, drug scandals. Given these games' overall success, though, there's a good chance the upward trend will continue in 2016.

The State of PC Gaming in 2015

As ever, PC gaming is where you should go if you want power beyond power and 4K sight beyond 4K sight. The flipside of that hardware coin, however, is potential compatibility problems. While hardware manufacturers like Nvidia, Logitech, and AMD offer programs that keep your hardware updated with minimal muss and fuss, you still run the risk of finding the odd game that simply won't play nice with your rig. Nvidia has also continued to add (technically optional) GameWorks features to many of the biggest PC games, which is nice for Nvidia card owners but can be a headache for anyone who went with a different brand.

The frustrating side of PC gaming was epitomized by the Batman: Arkham Knight fiasco, in which Warner released a port so shoddily optimised that -- after days of justified outrage from players -- they ended up yanking it from Steam altogether. When they re-released it months later, it was still far from "fixed." On the upside, however, Valve finally implemented Steam refunds this year, a system that got its first big test (and justification) in the wake of Arkham Knight's botched release.

The State of PC Gaming in 2015

The future of PC gaming seems inextricably tied to hardware -- and not just bigger and better graphics cards and monitors. Valve is pushing hard into the living room with Steam Machines and Steam Controllers, devices that aim to bridge the divide between pick-up-and-play console experiences and hyper-customisable PCs. I've tried out a Steam Machine and a Steam Controller -- both show promise, but both still need lots of additional work.

According to most of the biggest #brands in gaming, 2016 will also be the year that virtual reality finally becomes a proper Thing. Barring delays or humanity collectively embracing a goggle-free outdoorsman lifestyle, both the Oculus Rift and Valve/HTC's Vive should release sometime next year. I've used both, and they're pretty cool. Are they so cool that people will shell out large sums of money and deal with slight head/neck discomfort, though? That's the big question, and next year will start (but probably not finish) answering it. Maybe VR will change gaming as we know it, or maybe we'll all just end up using it for porn.

In 2015, the PC is at the forefront of gaming. It's got the lead in terms of raw power, fresh new games, and experimental hardware. With all that newness, some growing pains are inevitable. The PC is a gaming platform in constant flux, and that's what makes it both exciting and occasionally frustrating.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.


Comments

    Exciting yes... but when SW Battlefront only has 8k players... to the Playstation networks 40ish thousand on at any given time. I am beginning to think maybe i should be buying multiplayer games on the console instead. :S

      I definitely understand that pain. The beauty (and the curse) of the PC, as a platform, is that there isn't a cadre of marketing monoliths firing salvo's at your wallet like on the console platforms. As a result, the PC has a much smaller player base, which can make online components a little more frustrating to get into.

      On the flip-side, a smaller player-base also means a generally higher competency at the game. 40,000 players means that "noobs" can drop into the environment and have fun without improving much at all. At 8,000, it's much more likely you'll be playing against well-skilled opponents, which in turn makes you a better player as well.

      It was like that with BF4 and BF3, and will always be like that with a cross-platform game for some time to come

      This is why I think cross-platform multiplayer is more important than ever. Players aren't completely free to choose which platform they can play on, you'll have to go where your friends or majority of public go. In cases like me, I don't buy PC multiplayer games partly because I know the player base doesn't last long. Garden Warfare on PC for example died well before I was ready to stop playing, while console gamers were still going strong.

        cross-platform multiplayer unfortunately really only benefits the consumer, and therefore will never happen.

        having to purchase the same console as your friends, in order to play with them, is a pretty big selling point that can outweigh almost all other selling points for a particular platform.

        although maybe microsoft in the future could allow xbox users/owners to play their games on their PC as well - I'd be pretty happy with that.

          BF3 and BF4 had good PC numbers - BF3 in particular PC had more than PC and about equal to X360. What you need to account for is the PC market move on from a game quicker so soon you'll see a more steep decline in player numbers. As for SWBF I would say the PC market just wasn't interested after dissatisfaction with previous BF games and the beta weekend showing SWBF having lack lustre game play.

          Cross platform gaming won't happen for fps games until consoles allow for mouse/keyboard. The controller disadvantage really is that great (using the BF games as an example controllers have aim assist and 25% increased weapon damage and they were still behind mouse and keyboard).

          If a game is to retain a PC player base it needs something special about it. The right mixture of competitive gaming, game play depth, new comer accessibility and other things to really hook the market. That's how you get giants like dota 2 that dwarf so many games (F2P is another variable which can make more money than P2P). Get it right though on the PC and you can laugh at console devs on the way to the bank. Get it wrong and the PC market are more willing to punish; you'll be crying your way to the bank.

      when a game is made for console and has no server browser and casual gameplay elements such as lock on homing missiles etc, most pc gamers give it a miss.

      But the real problem with star wars battlefront for many people including myself is not even being able to get on a server in less than 10 minutes, then when it happens its in japan or the usa.......

        Yep. You can definitely feel that 250ms+++ latency. Urrrrggghhh.

    good read definitely sums up my feelings as well. Curse you steam backlog! Also the wonders of uplay annoyed me earlier this month when I tried to play far cry 3 (iv played 4 but 3 was on my backlog). One thing to mention about gameworks is it also effect people with slightly older nvidia cards so it isnt just people with amd graphics cards which are being screwed over

    Since returning to PC (since 2011) I've enjoyed not having that pressure to buy so many AAA games on day 1. All I've bought in the last few months is Fallout 4 and Witcher 3; SWB and Just Cause 3 look great and while I want to play them, I'm more than happy to hold off until I finish what I've got.

    When I was on console, a lot of was about jumping online and instantly joining the party chat in my friendslist, loading up whatever game was being played and hitting the MP together. I miss this, but I can tell you my wallet doesn't!

    So this is where I'm at. Building as I type this.

    CPU: i7 6700 (not K)
    MB: Asus Z170 AR-LGA1151
    RAM: 8GB DDR4 RipJaw 3000 Mhz
    GFX Card: Asus GTX 970 Turbo

    I know from here I have probably future-proofed my computer for the short term, I hope to learn more and keep learning as the research, sourcing, and construction has been very......interesting.

    I _will not_ worry about 4K-worthy performance now, and purposely wanted to hit a ceiling before I got my sea legs and really started down the path of the enthusiast, to see if I was going to enjoy it.

    I don't want to overclock either at this time.

    Say I wanted to throw some of those AAA heavyweights mentioned above at my machine, what issues would a first-time build encounter or what would I have to look at first in terms of customised settings?

    Currently, some of my previous 'show-off' games were:

    Skyrim
    Witcher 2
    Sleeping Dogs
    Batman Arkham games

    These will be the first few I test with the new components.

    Thanks in advance.

      That's pretty nice. Try and run Skyrim with the RealVision ENB and see if you get above 60fps out of it, that's what I'll be doing when I finally complete my build, whenever that is

      Before my 980Ti, I had a 970 and ran Witcher 3 at full detail except for the Nvidia hair. It was nothing short of beautiful. Once I got my 980Ti It was pretty much the same settings except my resolution was higher.

      With a 970 at 1080p you can pretty much run everything at full. Only game i found wanting at times was the Total War series, but i feel that is more of an optimization issue.

      Arkham Knight is just all over the place even with the update, but you should still be running it okay and it does look impressive watching the rain stream down his armor.

      Far Cry 4, Metro Last Light, GTA V, and MGSV all look stunning at full detail.

      Rest easy, your 970 should be able to carry you for quite some time. :D

        Dual 970s will allow for max everything at 1440p in every game I have come across, so if your board supports SLI and your performance is starting to wane, look for a similar card second hand and you will be good as gold again.

    I have a ps4 and a PC and I must say this generation in particular they are quite close. Obviously PC reins supreme but not as much as it used to. And what is becoming really disappointing is the amount of awful ports PC tends to get these days. I've only just gone back to pc gaming recently, after playing ps4 since its inception, and while games look better, they aren't THAT much better. Very torn at this stage. All depends on what people play I guess. A lot of variables.

      Even with PC ports that aren't fully optimized, worse case scenarios are usually at least twice the frame rate, at least some graphical detail options (which provides scalability), and better anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering support ... so I'd say that qualifies it as being more than 'quite close'. In fact, even if twice the frame rate was the only difference between the two, it would still justify the platform in my opinion. It's unfortunate that companies who develop games for consoles seem to always prioritize pretty graphics over stability and frame pacing.

      30 FPS and below (which is often the case with consoles) just takes too much away from the experience. Once I got used to a minimum of 60 FPS, going back to 30 FPS games was almost maddeningly unbearable. That's not just having an elitist attitude, it comes from the most basic level of how we perceive things. Imagine only ever being able to do everything in life at half the speed that you normally do it at? I'm sure if someone forced that upon you, you wouldn't think that wanting to go back to your old way of living was taking on a superior attitude.

      Putting the control in your own hands in how something looks and plays is always going to be better. The only real barrier I've seemed to notice in my time is that people just don't want to spend the time getting to know their way around a computer. Sure it can take time to get used to the platform, to know it's intricacies, but the payoff is so much more worth it.

      BTW - this wasn't a dig at you personally, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion ... but seeing people make the comment that PC and current gen console as so close just feels very inaccurate to me, so I always feel obliged to throw my two cents in (sorry :P).

    I sat out this generation of consoles for a long time with my last console being a ps3. After getting a chunk of cash I decided to go all out and get not just an xbox one but also a "killer" pc. So...dual 980ti cards in sli, 40 inch 4k monitor etc etc. My xbox is hooked up to a 65 inch plasma.

    PC gaming is great...and frustrating at the same time. Some games look fantastic. Others though look only SLIGHTLY better than their console equivalents. The pc is obviously far more powerful. But due to economics pc gaming will always in general be held back by developers having to cater for the lowest common denominator i.e. the consoles. Also pc gaming will always be an arseache compared to the plug and play nature of consoles.

    I don't regret getting a pc...witcher 3 at 60fps is totally worth it. But with hindsight I shouldn't have wasted money on a crazy spec system...1 980ti and a 2k monitor would have saved me loads of money and still provided a better than console experience.

    I'm surprised the author didn't mention the advent of freesync and gsync. Personally, buying a gsync monitor was the same as buying an ssd for the first time. It's the best reason to get a pc because it makes games look better, feel more responsive and the experience is much more enjoyable. It's been called the songbird of its generation... it's that good!

    It's such a good time to be a gamer whether it's on consoles or the pc you really can't lose.

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