MOBAs Drive PC Gaming To Surpass Consoles Globally

Apr 26 2014, 9:16am CDT | by

There’s an eternal war being waged between PC enthusiasts and console gamers as to which platform is better, and the so-called “PC master race” might have just gotten a little bit more ammunition.

According to analyst firm DFC Intelligence, PC gaming has now surpassed console gaming in terms of total revenue. The reason being? PCs are a necessity for everyday life, while consoles are a luxury, costing hundreds of dollars to play games only (along with a few apps).

If this claim seems off base, it’s important to remember that despite the stereotype, PC gamers are mostly not folks playing Crysis on ultra high settings and $2,000 rigs. The rise of popular cheap/free-to-play games has allowed anyone with practically any computer to become an avid PC gamer. Most notably, MOBAs are blowing every other game away in terms of user engagement.

“The MOBA games League of Legends and Dota 2 dominate everything else by an order of magnitude in terms of more usage than other products,” said DFC owner David Cole. “In the first part of 2014 we saw some signs that may change with the introduction of new titles and some increased play of games outside the MOBA category. But MOBA is dominant. Beyond that it is a nice mix of MMO, strategy and first person shooter.”

League of Legends in particular absolutely dominates any other game on the planet in terms of a user base (depending on which mobile hits you consider actual games). Last we heard, Riot Games revealed that 67 million people play League every month, and even though the game is free-to-play, an effective, relatively non-intrusive microtransaction model means that comes with a healthy revenue stream as well. The same is true for Dota 2.

Then there are the MMOs, which keep players engaged for years, either drawing in monthly subscription payments or having microtransactions of their own. Communities like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Guild Wars 2 and so on remain large even if the MMO genre as a whole may be on the decline.

For as much as console gamers love their systems’ ability to play any game without having to worry about specs and hardware and so on, there’s a lot less flexibility in the space. Most games for Xbox One or PS4 cost $60, players play them, and move on. Sometimes that $60 game will be played for months, like Call of Duty, but there are usually no microtransactions there outside of map packs.

PC just has a much wider pricing and genre range, with many, many different ways for games to make money. You have subscription MMOs, free-to-play MMOs, MOBAs, paid ARPGs, free-to-play ARPGs, and tons of cheap games that become massive hits on Steam (and only then might get ported to consoles years later). Not to say there aren’t great games for consoles, but all the “big titles” fall into relatively the same categories. $60 shooters. $60 sandbox games. $60 yearly/bi-yearly sports/racing/fighting titles. There’s just a lot less diversity.

Many console gamers actually fear a transition to PC-like revenue streams. They’d rather just pay $60 for a complete game, rather than having say, Titanfall be free-to-play but have every mech, burn card and weapon be a microtransaction upgrade. In cases like that, it’s hard to blame them, and yet, it may be this sort of thing that’s allowing PC to pull ahead. Consoles are starting to experiment with these models (lots more cheap indie games, sub-fee Elder Scrolls Online, free-to-play Killer Instinct, etc), but it’s only scratching the surface of what the PC market is currently doing. Another problem is the fact that consoles are charging players $50-$60 a year on top of their internet bill to be able to play their games online, something that’s not an issue with PC play.

And now, there’s mobile, where it’s starting to be tricky to extract what’s a PC game, and what’s a mobile title. Hearthstone, for example, was a PC hit that was just adapted (perfectly) into an iOS tablet game. Is that still considered “mobile” when the versions are identical? And as tablets increase in playing power, we’re only likely to more situations like this. ”Not all games fit that model,” Cole said, “but as we mentioned core gamers now tend to play on multiple devices.”

This is why we see the slow shift of consoles into becoming “living room PCs.” They want to be devices that people simply need in their houses for reasons other than just gaming. I don’t think we’ve seen that conversion yet, even if Kinect allows you to change channels with voice commands and so on, but it’s easy to see that’s where things are heading.

This news doesn’t mean PC games are “better” than console games, but PC may have superior distribution and pricing mechanisms in place at the very least. Hardcore PC gamers with custom-built rigs may still be the minority, but they now command armies of normal players on normal laptops playing League of Legends for eight hours a night. And that’s the main reason why PC gaming may have overtaken consoles.

Follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Forbes blog, and pick up a copy of my sci-fi novel, The Last Exodus, and its sequel, The Exiled Earthborn.


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