While technology, personal tastes, economics, and a continuing shift in the paradigm of the game industry have all affected both PC gaming and consoles, one thing remains true to both; they still exist as worthy gaming systems.
Some industry professionals like Chris Taylor, and CliffyB (until recently), both stated that PC gaming is on a downward trend and that piracy, as well as various other marketing factors, are primarily to be blamed. Others like Lombardi from Valve and publishers from the recent Microsoft/Activision alliance think that while PC gaming isn't quite what it used to be in the 90s, can be so again with smarter marketing paradigms, such as a more "secure" PC gaming experience.
I personally love PC gaming and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Why? Simply because I feel PC gaming offers the most flexibility and performance advantages to the consumer. Isn't that two of the most important things that a consumer wants from a system, and that a publisher should give?
With consoles you are severely limited (until recently) when altering system settings, how often you can upgrade components (if ever), and game library options. With PCs you have an infinite amount of flexibility (potentially), an infinite amount of expandability (potentially), and a more centralized library of available games. Services like Xbox Live are shifting the console in the gamers favor for many of these instances, but I still feel that PC gaming provides a breath and scope that has yet to be challenged by any other platform.
Casual games, MMOs... we almost forgot about including those haven't we. Marketers and those that track how well the PC is doing vs. consoles seem to forget this part of the equation as well, or more accurately don't exactly understand how to properly integrate all of these areas into a reliable set of statistics and market indicators. This is just one of many reasons that PC gaming doesn't "appear" to be doing as well as consoles, or that it doesn't "appear" to have the overall advantage potential.
What is the problem then? Why aren't these games coming to the PC first when almost everyone has a PC anyway?
One word... money. With development costs skyrocketing (even in the face of consolidation services such as 3rd party tools like SpeedTree) and other marketing factors (such as the estimated massive PC game piracy rates), developers and especially publishers are feeling the squeeze on revenue. Everyone knows the PC is a great platform, that isn't the issue. It's how to secure the platform properly for maximum revenue intake that IS the issue.
Take a look at games like GTA, Crysis, Gears of War, and others that have come out on the console first. Console revenues have often approached 10x that of what came out from the PC! Those numbers clearly beg the question, "Where are the PC gamers?" Are they somehow "different" humans than console gamers? Are there so many "dumb" people in the world that consoles are the only "simplified" system that mom and dad can even use? Of course not... so one of the plausible explanations to the vast revenue difference, is easy piracy of games on the PC.
Securing games through subscription fees sounds like a decent idea to me, but a difficult one to implement on a broad scale. There would almost certainly need to be a tiered system in place to acknowledge casual games from the more complicated (and more costly) MMORPGs, multiplayer strategy games, and others. For instance, subscription fees work just fine for MMORPGs like Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft, but heaven help us if I have to pay a monthly fee for each and every different solitaire game I play (casual services like boingo.com are figuring this out already).
Also consider the recently announced news report about Spore and Mass Effect for the PC requiring period key verification via an Internet connection:
And this announcement from Blizzard about their Digital Download Store:
A resolution to this problem rests in the hands of these continually consolidating publishers. Services like STEAM are a great first-step. It will be up to them to understand that a tiered subscription system must be implemented, and that a shared subscription system (where you pay to play a select number of games per month, instead of a subscription for each and every one) would be most beneficial and convenient to the consumer. A periodic key validation system might also be feasible, but we'll see how annoying that gets to users.
"I'll take Crysis, Gears of War, Age of Conan, and Damnation for $19.99 a month please..."
"I changed my mind, Gears of War is boring, so I am going to remove Gears of War ("clicks on check box to uncheck Gears of War option") and select the "EA Premium MMO Package" for a total of $59.99 a month so I can get Ultima Online and three other MMORPGs of my choice...
And a happy PC gamer that is eager to give away his money, is born...