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The state of PC gaming in 2020

 
In hindsight, I understand why soothsayers were declaring PC gaming dead at the end of 2009. To the outsider, we were an insular group of World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike fans who still clung to genres carved out in the '80s and '90s—but didn't we know that Sierra Online was defunct, Cliff Bleszinski was making Xbox 360 games now, and id Software was an iOS developer? PC gaming didn't seem as cutting edge in the age of Xbox Live, the ubiquitous Wii, and blockbuster console series like Gears, Forza, Halo, Killzone, and Metal Gear.

The death of the singleplayer game was exaggerated again and again.

Of course, the soothsayers were wrong. Over the past decade, Steam's concurrent user count shot up from a little over 2 million to over 14 million at its peaks. And even as Valve's service expanded—transforming from a hand-picked boutique into a labyrinthine marketplace—it couldn't contain PC gaming alone. On and off Steam, a new free-to-play ecosystem grew around MOBAs, MMOs, and shooters, and a flood of roguelikes, visual novels, Kickstarted RPGs, grand strategy games, sex games, VR games, and more spilled out of modders and do-it-yourself PC developers who didn't need anyone's permission to make games—no console dev kits, no licensing agreements.

Minecraft and DayZ alone spawned dozens of offshoots that mix survival and building and social dynamics in ways that had never been done before, and along with new esports contributed heavily to the rise of livestreaming. Competitive and co-op games flourished—with some help from Discord, which made voice chat gatherings more accessible—and at the same time, the death of the singleplayer game was exaggerated again and again. 

While some big publishers did chase always-online worlds, our 2019 Game of the Year was Disco Elysium, an oddball, visual novel-esque singleplayer RPG. Our 2018 Game of the Year was tactical roguelike Into the Breach. Our 2017 Game of the Year was crowdfunded, turn-based RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2—and now Larian is making Baldur's Gate 3.

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Old PC genres were renewed, and new genres spawned from the creative interplay between big and small developers, modders, crowdfunders, and players. The past we appeared stuck in led us into the future, whereas the Hollywood movie wannabes that gaming celebrated 10 years ago—the Uncharted series comes to mind—are what feel old today. The decade was all about turn-based tactics games, after all.

You can spend $100 annually on games and be incredibly happy.

Putting aside some of last year's squabbles—Epic Games Store exclusives being the most prominent—PC gaming feels delightfully positive right now. Here in 2020, more games release every week than anyone can keep up with, and the PC is not an afterthought like it was for a part of the new millennium. Good PC versions of Japanese console games are becoming the norm, indie games generally target the PC first, and Microsoft has committed itself to treating Windows 10 as an extension of its Xbox business. Games for Windows Live is becoming a distant, dark memory. 

And so much of what's available is cheap, free, or free-to-play. While microtransaction-funded games got a bad rap initially, Warframe, Path of Exile (soon to be Path of Exile 2), and Apex Legends are just a few examples of zero-cost excellence on PC today. On top of that, Steam sales, free weekends, Humble and GOG giveaways, and other promotions frequently bolster the value of our hardware investments. You can spend $100 annually on games and be incredibly happy.

Most recently, Epic's retail ambitions have meant a steady stream of brilliant freebies, including favorites such as our 2018 GOTY Into the Breach, Subnautica, and Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, as well as financial cushions for new and upcoming PC releases such as Control, Outer Wilds, Ooblets, and Griftlands, to name just a few. Epic's aggressive strategy has returned plenty of resentment, but the benefits of competition have outweighed the headache of platform fragmentation, which was already happening by way of Battle.net, Origin, uPlay, and the Microsoft Store.
 
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