The world’s most popular electronic game system?

Nintendo? Xbox? Playstation? Nope.

Here’s the full article, from Seth Schiesel at the New York Times: Windows Is Ready to Tout PC’s as Gaming Devices

The world’s most popular electronic game system is the Windows PC.

Surprised? If you shop in any of the chain electronic game shops, you probably are – because the shelf space that stores provide to PC games has been shrinking year by year, taken over by the consoles and the portable gaming systems.

I’ve never thought this shrinking space for PC games made sense – there are a lot of PCs out there, and they’re not going to go away. They are extremely capable gaming platforms and (for now) they’re the only platform that casual developers and hobbyists can produce games for.

Those shops weren’t without revenue and other reasons to do this – but I do think the equation is changing, and their assumptions will need to change. Consoles often have more power – especially for handling graphics – than an average PC. The next generation machines will make this even more so. Consoles (for now) integrate more easily with big TVs and loud stereo systems. Consoles have had a lot more advertising and marketing, and certainly have a higher “cool” factor thanks to it. And consoles, besides being cheap because they are built only to play games, have been cheap because Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo have been willing to lose money on them in order to win market share. But note that the price difference between a PC and a console is narrowing a lot with the next generation of consoles.

The article identifies the most important reason why the PC will get attention again as a game platform, and it’s something I’ve blogged about before: World of Warcraft, all by itself, is making $1,000,000,000 a year. Other online PC roleplaying games like Lineage 2 and Everquest 2 are also making lots of money, though from the numbers I’ve heard they altogether only make as much money as WoW alone.

So what else is happening?

Microsoft is also obviously interested in defending the Windows platform, in giving people more reason to use Windows and like Windows. The ubituity and popularity of electronic gaming makes it a real obvious way to give people reasons to use Windows and to like Windows.

Windows Vista, the new Microsoft PC operating system coming (hopefully) around the end of the year is obviously a good opportunity for a new marketing campaign. I’m pretty sure Microsoft wants to sell as many Vista upgrades as fast as they can. They’ve been talking about and working on this for a while, as this press release from May shows: Microsoft is bringing Xbox live to Windows Vista, and is launching a “Games for Windows marketing campaign, and a strong retail initiative to promote the Games for Windows platform.”

This article from GamePro.com last week includes an interview with Rich Wickham, the director of Microsoft’s Games for Windows division, including specifically addressing some points raised in the NYT article. For instance:

“when Windows Vista hits, Microsoft will work with retailers to make Windows games as prominent as, say, Xbox 360 games. Microsoft will also launch a huge awareness campaign to show off the latest Windows games.”

“Most crucially, games are finally getting a renewed focus in the operating system itself. In Vista, games will be prominently displayed on what Wickham called “the most valuable real estate in all of technology” — the Windows Start menu. That link will take you to the Games Explorer, a new feature that neatly arranges your installed Windows games, complete with high-res box art. Think of it as iTunes for your PC game collection.”

“Microsoft claims that destructible environments and other elaborate visual details not possible in the current Direct X 9.0 will get an enormous boost with Direct X 10.”

All this is clearly interesting from a business and technology point of view – and not only because Microsoft and Windows are so important to global business and technology. Games already make more money every year than Hollywood does. Games have and will continue to push the envelope of electronic technology. Games are already a social phenomemon, and will become even more so. Games already cross demographic lines surprisingly well, including age and gender lines – and the trend is for this to become even more true.

The importance of and interest in games that we see (my company and I) is why we chose to focus our Kid’s Programming Language on enabling beginners to program their own games – and we’re happy to say this is working very very well as a marketing and product design decision. All of this importance and interest in games also defines one of the clear opportunities for us to address the Computer Science crisis: games. Games? Sure – what better way to encourage and motivate students to learn computer science and computer programming?

Did you know that US Computer Science enrollments dropped by 60% from 2000 to 2004? Think about that one for a minute. Or two.

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