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Gaming is helping to keep the PC market alive, PC gaming panel says

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

During today's computer gaming panel at PAX East 2014, "The (Incredible) Future of PC Gaming," the topic at hand was — as you may have guessed — a contrarian viewpoint to the conventional wisdom that holds that the PC is on the decline. At the same time, it's not as if the panelists, who came from a wide spectrum of the PC gaming industry, were blind to the realities of the market. They just focused on the gaming segment of the platform. Gaming, they said, will keep the PC relevant for the foreseeable future.

According to the panelists, there are many positive aspects of the PC platform that are obvious, including how open it is and how customizable it allows games to be. The PC is also in a transition period as a whole, noted Tom Petersen, Nvidia's director of technical marketing — sales of computers have been declining or staying flat at best, with many people opting to use smartphones or tablets as their primary computing devices these days.

However, said Petersen, the gaming sector of the PC market is growing; in fact, it's helping to keep the platform alive. Chris Roberts, founder of Star Citizen developer Roberts Space Industries, added that gamers are a major driver of sales of computer components.

PC gaming's transition to digital distribution has had a number of consequences, most of them positive. It has helped to open up the marketplace to a wider group of developers, and it has also given publishers new business models. Fans may not like online-focused games, but Matt Higby, creative director on PlanetSide 2 at Sony Online Entertainment, pointed out that the internet requirement eliminates — for the most part — the threat of piracy, which was so devastating to the PC gaming industry in the early 2000s.

"I do think that Windows will still be the dominant OS"

With Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey on the panel, the speakers mentioned virtual reality a few times as one of the main pieces of PC gaming's future. When the panelists brought up cloud-based streaming of games, Luckey stepped in to voice his belief that the technology isn't ready yet — not because of the lack of bandwidth, but because of the latency. A cloud-based pipeline for rendering isn't possible for VR games at this point, Luckey explained, noting that latency is one of the main obstacles to robust VR experiences that don't make players feel ill. In fact, Luckey said he hopes that the Oculus Rift will persuade developers to move away from the trend toward cloud-based streaming, simply because it doesn't work with VR (or many fast-paced non-VR titles).

"That game would never work as a streaming game," said Luckey of the twitch shooter Quake 3. The same is true for some more modern games, Luckey pointed out, saying that if you tried to push Call of Duty as a streaming title, even casual players would recognize that it wasn't a great experience.

As for the future of PC gaming platforms, the panelists expressed excitement about Linux's rise and Valve's efforts with SteamOS, but said they don't expect it will overtake Windows anytime soon. Asked about the potential for a Linux version of PlanetSide 2, Higby said Sony Online Entertainment has no plans for it at this time, since it would take "a lot of work" to port the game's engine to OpenGL.

Nvidia's Petersen said he believes Microsoft is invested in gaming on Windows, and pointed to the company's recent announcement of DirectX 12 as an example. And as much as the panelists joked about the failures of Windows 8, Roberts said, "I do think that Windows will still be the dominant OS."

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