Year in Review 2011: PC

Posted: December 29, 2011 in PC
Tags: , , , , , , ,
sniper TF2

"Urine review? Oh, yer said YEAR IN Review."

Run “YiR-PC.exe”

PC gaming has stayed strong in 2011. Perhaps it has even grown stronger. Most of the big name, AAA titles are shared between the PC, PS3 and 360 (with the PC version inevitably having the potential to be the best looking and most modifiable). The PC has its own niche titles, as well as a growing market for indie games. There have also been some big launches and a few shakeups in the established order.


One big trend we’re seeing is massively multiplayer games moving away from the subscription-based model they’ve used for the past ten years or so and moving towards a free-to-play one. While many MMOs were using the free-to-play business model last year, it expanded astronomically this year. Following the examples of Turbine’s Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings Online, numerous games have foregone monthly subscription fees in favor of optional microtransactions. This has expanded from MMORPGs like Age of Conan to industry giants like Valve’s Team Fortress 2 (when it went free-to-play, that was some big news). DC Universe Online actually came out in January and by November became free-to-play. Even the once-invulnerable World of Warcraft got in on the concept, albeit in a much more limited form. The upcoming revival of Dynamix’s Tribes franchise will be free-to-play; is it a matter of time before The Old Republic is, too?

Do we like Origin itself, or just the games it’s required for?

Speaking of The Old Republic, 2011 saw Electronic Arts’ shoving their Origin service down our throats, or at least trying to. A few of EA’s recent titles disappeared from Steam (although since these were titles like Crysis 2 and Dragon Age II, both criticized for being heavily console-centric, it wasn’t that big of a tragedy) as EA debuted their new digital distribution service. It’s up in the air whether it’s really a successful service – could it have stood up on its own without major games like Battlefield 3 and The Old Republic that require it to play? It remains to be seen how successful the new service will be in the long run.

On the flipside of forcing your customers to use things they didn’t ask for, CD Projekt Red released a patch that removed all the DRM from retail versions of The Witcher 2 (the edition was, naturally, DRM-free to begin with). This earned them an immense amount of goodwill, and sales for the game have been strong, especially as it’s a PC exclusive title without the advertising that would have come with an EA or Activision product. And yet it positively destroyed the production values of many games with several times The Witcher 2‘s budget. I know I keep heaping praise on CD Projekt Red, but they’ve done an outstanding job of listening to and responding to the concerns of their fanbase, which is something it seems only they and Valve do.

One of the best deals in gaming this year, hands down. Cthulhu, we appreciate you here...

Of course, there are some strange bedfellows afoot as well, as anti-DRM champions acquired some legendary titles from EA’s back catalogue. So far, this has included titles from Origin, Maxis, Westwood and Bullfrog, and included at least one game from 1986. So when are they gonna get M.U.L.E., I wonder?

The Specialists

In addition to the big name games, the little guys have increasingly made their presence known and been given a chance to shine. With the rise of the Humble Bundle and similar packages of indie games, we’ve seen some of the shining stars of the indie scene coming together to support a good cause, providing wider exposure for the developers. In addition, some games that were unappreciated in their original venues (Cthulhu Saves the World, for example) have made their way to the PC and found greener pastures.  You can read more about it in the indie gaming Year in Review (coming 31 December) and listen to our special Indie Fix podcast.

DCS: A-10C

Some of the genres that don’t have much of a console fanbase, like the management, flight sims and real-time strategy genres, have had some notable releases as well. Some of the new management sims have included new entries in well-known franchises, like Tropico 4 and Stronghold 3, as well as an update to Cities XL. The flight simulator genre has received one truly major entry in the form of Eagle Dynamics’ Digital Combat Simulator: A-10C, which is a deep and detailed sim of the US Air Force’s famed “Warthog” ground attack aircraft. DCS: A-10C follows the 2009 release of DCS Black Shark, continuing Eagle Dynamics’ track record of ludicrously detailed if dauntingly realistic and unforgiving flight sims. However, the fidelity to the facts has won over many of the flight-sim hardcore who seem nearly forgotten by the mainstream since the early 2000s. And the RTS genre received a boost with the standalone expansion to THQ’s popular Warhammer 40, 000: Dawn of War IIRetribution.

Portal 2 led off a year so good, not even Francis could hate it.

Turning the Valve

It’s also been a big year for what is probably PC gaming’s biggest distributor, Valve. In addition to Team Fortress 2 adopting the free-to-play model, they released Portal 2, which, for those who have spent the past decade on a desert island in the Pacific, is the sequel to their 2007 sleeper hit. They’ve also greatly expanded the reach and features in Steam (adding a new trading/gifting interface) as well as allowing co-operative play between PC, PS3 and Mac OS players of Portal 2. Portal 2 was (big surprise!) a critical and commercial hit, selling over 3 million copies across all platforms, meaning I’m one of the last gamers on Earth yet to get to it. In addition, Valve has been gearing up and beta testing for Dota 2. And of course, there have been new hats. And there has been trolling – we all saw that Half-Life 3 t-shirt. Why must you torment us, Valve?


It’s been a great year for gaming in general, but this year has also done a lot to show that the PC is more than MMOs and prettier versions of console games. It supports the AAA, million-selling games that are easily slated into genres, as well as some of the niche titles and experimental games that smaller developers and indies are putting out. The thing that impresses most about PC gaming is the breadth and easy availability of experiences. It’s a good year. Here’s to next year being even better.

Make sure to check out our other Year in Review articles, coming every day before the new year.

Year in Review 2011: Microsoft

Year in Review 2011: Sony

Year in Review 2011: Nintendo

Year in Review 2011: iOS

Year in Review 2011: Indie Gaming


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