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No the PC Isn’t Dead

It’s hip to kill things off and the PC has been killed off a lot of times. The new story is that the mobile star killed the Desktop PC. It didn’t. And it won’t be dead no matter how many stories run about the number of devices running iOS and Android.

The Desktop PC expanded into the dominant hardware platform and lives and dies by business usage. Businesses are not about to dead pchand iPads to their employees. Mobile devices are fine as point of sale and in any line of work where mobility helps. Park rangers, yes. Any business where you come in, sit at a desk and use a computer isn’t going to go mobile.

Workplace culture alone is a reason. Most companies don’t want employees randomly wandering around. Not unless there are customers in view.

Unless you can picture customer service, civil service and financial services going mobile, the Desktop PC isn’t dead. And that’s not all.

Any job that requires serious hardware, video editing, graphic design and audio processing is mostly going to stay with the PC. Mobile devices will go quad core and eight core, but programs get more resource hungry with each incarnation. Anything high-end will still need a desktop.

Gaming? Nope. PC Gaming is alive and well and mobile devices are never going to be able to do what PC games can. PC gaming graphics improve faster and consume more resources than its professional art and video pros. No matter how much mobile devices can do, the desktop PC will be able to do more, even with NVIDIA and Intel shifting resources to mobile device designs.

High-end mobile devices use more power. Even power saving chips still mean that any intensive applications are going to eat through power faster than trying to play three movies at the same time on your netbook.

The number of mobile devices will increase and the number of PC’s will drop. But there’s a hard limit to both and most people will eventually end up owning desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and a tablet. The PC isn’t being replaced, it’s becoming the core of a domestic cloud.

Mobile devices and game consoles can do some of what the Desktop PC does, but they can’t do all of it and they can’t do it better. Their advantage is that they free you from the chair and the desk.

Apple vs Google

Apple vs Google isn’t really a battle between tech titans. It’s a struggle between two flailing companies. Google is desperately looking for a way to hang on to its outdated search business and Apple is looking for a way to leverage its early, but now fading lead, in mobile devices. This is a struggle between two companies that are already dinosaurs.

Apple’s big news amounted to nothing. IO6 has nothing deserving all that hype, not the minor interface and features tinkering or the google vs appleFacebook integration. The big news, swapping out Google Maps means nothing to consumers, which says everything about how little Apple has to offer.

The Business Insider story about Apple going for Google’s jugular would amount to more if Google hadn’t already gone much more effectively for Apple’s jugular. Cutting Google Maps out of the iPhone default may hurt Google, but not as much as Android devices are hurting Apple. And Google’s strength is its integration between services that people already use all the time. Apple’s lack of reach within the PC ecosystem locks it out of being able to compete with Google’s ability to integrate desktop and mobile users together.

Siri is a failure. An attention-getting gimmick. It’s not going to kill Google. Not now, not after a few more versions. But Apple doesn’t need to kill Google, because Google will kill Google. And Apple will kill Apple. Dinosaurs fighting over the mobile marketplace aren’t fighting for the future, they’re fighting to protect their business models.

Apple is upset because Google made the mobile experience possible without Apple’s expensive hardware. Google is upset because Apple is shoving aside its intrusive and buggy search business. Both companies are giant dinosaurs crashing together, but the real competition is going to come from new companies that change the marketplace, the way that Facebook did. Apple and Google, while fighting each other, will make alliances against each other with the companies that will replace them.

 

The Two Types of Games that will define Gaming

The split has been coming for a while, but it looks like it’s almost here. I’m not talking about RPG vs FPS or casual vs hardcore gaming. This isn’t a gameplay split, this is a design philosophy and business plan split.

One is polished and heavily locked down. A game that’s practically on rails in its gameplay, high end graphics and little user agency, and plans to monetize players outside of the purchase price with DLC and in game purchases. Its designers like consoles and apps better than the PC, and if they do publish it on a PC, they include crippling DRM and always on connections. They’re pushed into the social with user accounts and co-op and multiplayer.

The other is troubled, but ambitious. It has big ideas, big bugs and room for users to explore, expand and transform the game world. The flaws get fixed by mods, the mods expand the game beyond what it is. This type of game is PC oriented. Sometimes marketplace realities mean it’s a port, but it’s the type of game that only really makes sense and fulfills its promise on a PC.

There are plenty of examples of the first type of game. Diablo III, which is really Diablo as reimagined by Zynga, or the latest AAA FPS shooter, practically on rails, with amazing graphics, and a game where you don’t do much except push a button to make something cool happen, and then dive for cover, while your real or AI teammates yell things at you. Or something really silly like Assassin’s Creed.

On the other side, there’s Skyrim, a shambling grand mess of snowy peaks, bugs and mods that make the game something else. There’s Minecraft, which is ridiculous and ridiculously appealing. And the newest Game of Thrones game. And there’s a hundred obscurer and smaller games coming in through the cracks.

The marketplace, wedged into a handful of big companies, is aiming for the first type of game. Spend a fortune on marketing it, roll it out the door, brag that you sold more copies this hour than the entire GDP of Thailand, bribe and wow the game jornos, and pick up that bonus from the board.

The PC is being abandoned, not because it isn’t a huge profitable marketplace, but because it doesn’t fit into this business model. It’s not secure, its hardware is unpredictable, its players want more, its hardware is capable of more, it has too much piracy and too much chaos. Easier to just plan for the day when everyone who matters has an XBOX 720 or a Playstation 4 or a Nintendo DooWop or an iPad or something equally gated and shut in.

Microsoft doesn’t know what to do with PC gaming because it’s not in the business model. Neither do most companies. All they can do is tell us that the future is consoles, apps, cloud gaming, always on connections, crippled games with lots of user accounts that are always going down, no used games, lots of fees and no fun. And we better get used to it.

They have a point. If Microsoft, Activision, EA and Ubisoft want it this way, what choice do we have? What are we going to do, make our own marketplace? Invest in games that we like? Nuts. Go buy Diablo III and learn to enjoy it. Go play Frontierville and Angry Birds and Medal of Battlefields and all the rest.

But users have voted with their dollars at Kickstarter, funding the games they want to play. Forget the lame player boycotts of Mass Effect 3 or Diablo 3 that can never quantified and never get taken seriously. Boycotts don’t accomplish anything. Supporting an alternative marketplace does.

Kickstarter isn’t the solution, but it’s part of the solution, along with Skyrim mods, the whole indie game scene and an entire user created and often user managed marketplace. There’s no point in berating Activision for turning Diablo III into a Zynga game or complaining that Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 are crap that were rushed out to cash in on the goodwill from earlier games.

The marketplace is splitting into two types of games. The AAA title that costs a ton to make and needs to hit the broadest and lowest common denominator target. And a range of games from big to small that are creative and unpredictable, that need work, but that open up worlds. Some are released by the big boys, but quite a few are coming in from the margins.

PC gaming isn’t dead, but it’s going to be defined by the second kind of game, more than the rest. The big boys will still dump Diablo XXXVI’s and Battlefield 61’s on the PC, while making it as miserable an experience as possible, but PC gaming will be a different place that will be defined by a different kind of game that values user agency, that is built for user modification from the ground up and that taps into the culture of PC gaming and its past.

It’s not hard to believe because it’s already here.

Is Microsoft Trying to Kill PC Gaming?

It’s not exactly an original question. When Microsoft got on board the console express, one of the first things they did was try to begin drawing away PC game makers into developing for the the XBox, that was actually one of the supposed selling points for developers. Microsoft has an obvious financial incentive to drive gamers from the PC to the XBox 360, because it doesn’t profit from PC games, it does profit from XBox 360 games. Microsoft needs PC gaming only when it releases a new OS to try and sell gamers on the idea that this OS will be good for them. And Microsoft has a history of trying to pull gamers into a new OS by making it exclusive. Microsoft deployed that in a big way with Windows 95 working with developers to create Windows 95 only games. Microsoft has done the same thing with its own games, buying up developers and insuring that they develop only for the XBox 360 and not for the PC. That’s why you won’t find Gears of War 2 or Fable II on the PC. Microsoft however has to walk a fine line between shoving gamers out the door, or destroying the whole idea that the PC is a credible gaming platform.

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