"PC owners are the new Amiga owners" was the name and gist of an article Stuart Campbell wrote a couple of years ago for the teletext gaming 'magazine', Digitizer. (You can read it on his website, www.worldofstuart.com.)

In this article (written by a journalist who had no great love for the PC as a games platform, beyond its ability to run emulators) Campbell put forward that the PC games market was showing all the signs of the Amiga games market just before that machine was consigned to the dustbin. Until recently, I would have vehemently objected to this analysis, but it recent months I'm not so sure.

While the majority of Campbell's points were the stupid and facile bleetings we've all heard before (moaning about the PC's lack of stability 1, the cost of upgrading2, and complaining that the average punter couldn't understand a keyboard and mouse control configuration3), one point he made is starting to become more pronounced: The PC games market is retreating into narrow, special-interest genres to ensure there is an audience for their product.

Open a recent PC games mag and you'll see this happening before your eyes. You will quickly loose count of the clones of Age of Empires, EverQuest (always in indefinite beta) and Counter-Strike (although the tactical shooter in the main is making some hard-won progress with titles such as Operation Flashpoint).

There are a scant number of games that people are looking forward to, and of these, they are all in tried and tested genres and do not rock the boat graphically. And the football management games... why? I don't take such a dim view as Campbell of Championship Manager, but the countless imitators must know that they haven't a chance of beating such a class game?

I know that I'm not going to touch any of these games with a forty foot pole, and with the public shunning such worthy titles as Max Payne and Deus Ex (both got to number one but hardly sold in significant numbers at least over here), what chance does the PC games industry have of remaining viable in the face of not one but three powerful consoles? The key answer to this is two-fold: time, and a unique selling point (or 'niche').

Over time the PC will outperform all the consoles, just as has happened in the past. This will enable ports in either direction, shoring up sales (and giving publishers some security) and widening the subject matter available on the PC (sure, DOA34 might look nice on the xbox, but it would be even nicer with proper networking, a greater level of modability and at a higher resolution).

The unique selling point is that the PC simply makes more sense as a platform for some kinds of games, more that you might think. Even with keyboards and networking available, I would imagine most users would still pass them up and plump for more traditional console-style games on the xbox/PS2/Gamecube, at least in the next year or so. For living room gaming, the absolute top priority of multiplayer is multiple players in the same room. Immediacy. Social interaction. As we say around here, "Soul Calibur for the teas, boys."

Of course, the PC isn't going to disappear as a games platform regardless of what else happens. It's still way out in front from a technical perspective, and its ubiquity ensures that it won't suffer the fate of the outmoded Amiga, at least not in the foreseeable future. It all comes down to the fact that PC games and console games are chalk and cheese. One doesn't capture mindshare from the other. If anything they complement each other. Having said that, if I see another online squad-based special ops game I'm going to covertly insert it into the publisher's rectum.

1 No longer much of an issue even with Win9x, amazingly, provided you are meeting the minimum tech specs of a game. Compared to the DOS days things are peachy. And when was any hobby completely stress free? Except fishing perhaps.

2 Campbell is right in saying that keeping a PC up to date can cost more than buying all console hardware released in the same time period, but fails to mention that console gamers must rely on expensive imports to obtain even reasonably recent titles. Also, in the last 18 months PC games have considerably slackened their need for tons of RAM and a fast CPU, instead gambling on the presence of a decent graphics card - a single purchase that can last quite a long time and can out-perform any console should that be your main concern. Plus, PC gamers don't have to contend with crappy memory cards.

3 This is just silly really. Tests show that joypads remain horrible for roughly 80% of true 3D applications.

4 Or your choice of traditionally console/arcade-only game here.

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