Here’s a controversial thought; could HP pulling out of the PC business be the herald for a new era of PC gaming? Some of you must be thinking I’ve hit the bottle early but stick with me on this one.
When most people think of gaming on PC’s images of aggressive and expensive desktops are usually front and centre of any conversation. Despite the increasing power and reliability of laptops and the rapidly tumbling price there is still a perception of gaming as an expensive pastime. The affordability and attractive pricing from consoles has shifted the focus of consumers and publishers alike; where Counter-strike or Battlefield 2 were once the monoliths of the gaming world we now flock to their descendants (and often their replacements) on the next gen platforms. Why? because we as gaming fans demanded more engaging and visually demanding titles. The Playstation 2 and original Xbox were not able to compete with the latest hardware offering from Nvidia or ATi nor could you do access the internet (without costly add-ons and/ or subscriptions) often making it a lonely affair. And thus PC reigned supreme and companies such as The Playing Fields and Lan Arena drew enormous crowds and revenue from young people wanting to play the latest games on the fastest systems.
Crysis was the straw that broke the Camels back in my opinion. A game that not only was so graphically challenging you needed to upgrade before playing it but featured a cruel but extremely clever (theoretically) algorithm that upgraded the visual effects dependant on the graphical technology available.
So what did this mean for us? (at this time let’s remember most gamers was mid to late teens) To play the latest games you had to pay through the nose and upgrade on a yearly basis. Which gave birth to the self-builders; I myself was one of these people. My PC’s had LEDs galore and enormous fans. (Pimp my ride had nothing on the machines I’ve seen over the years) but inevitably as popularity for home upgrades increased so did the component price. paying £300+ for a graphics card you’d replace in a year to 18 months would scarcely be considered unusual let alone unreasonable. Eventually with the launch of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 presented cheaper and more appealing options and addition of apps and internet capability didn’t hurt either.
So how does HP fit into this? As the most influential player on the field they really set the standard in terms of specs and pricing; their habit of buying up smaller companies (Voodoo for example) also helped steer the market to their liking. In many cases if a PC of equal specs were considerably cheaper than one of the major companies then clearly the quality was far lower. Whilst there may be a grain of truth in that every major company want’s to protect their margin. We’ve seen steady price drops from the major players with Alienware laptops starting from £799; you can get a serious gaming laptop for the price of… a laptop. Major publishers are producing games with as much focus on PC gameplay as they are with the console counterparts. The trend to cheaply port builds from one to the other is diminishing which means a higher quality product for everyone.
But the game has changed again with the announcement of Razer’s Blade. Which comes with the bold tagline “The world’s first gaming true laptop”
It’s certainly impressive; no-one can deny that. And the interface on the right for macro’s and to display a separate customisable screen is a touch of genius. Whilst it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time I do wonder how practical it will be. If I had a third hand there’d be no question that it is a clear game changer but to access it in my current non-modified form I’ll have to take one hand off either the mouse or the keyboard. Perhaps I’ve touched on the next trend in gaming; genetic modification of players. Or perhaps I’ve just got Deus Ex on the brain. Price is a serious issue. Psnoker.com makes an excellent point here:
When the Blade comes to market in the fourth quarter of 2011, it’s going to cost a wallet-wrenching $2799. To put that into perspective, that money could buy you an Alienware M14x with a Core i7-2630M processor and a 1.5GB GT555M ($1299), a PS3 ($249), an Xbox 360 ($199), a decent 42” 1080p TV ($500), and three brand-new blockbuster games on each of those systems ($500 total). As such, Razer seem to have priced its new flagship out of the already-expensive gaming laptop market, and directly into the firing range of one of the biggest big-ticket items in the business: the 17” MacBook Pro.
These are clearly extremely exciting times to be a PC gamer (not least because of the titles on the horizon) but technology and affordability are bringing entirely new systems to a much wider audience than ever before.