Is PC Gaming Dead?

I used to be a serious PC gamer. I used to build ridiculously powerful gaming rigs that sounded like jet aircraft when they fired up, just so I could squeeze a few more FPS from whichever 3D game I was currently obsessed with. I would mercilessly lambast anyone who couldn't run the latest games at native resolution with all the quality settings cranked up to maximum. And I used stay up all night playing in clan-based Counter Strike matches, or Unreal Tournament frag-fests.

I was, truth be told, something of a PC gaming geek. So much so, that I think I actually enjoyed building and upgrading my system more than I enjoyed playing games with it once it was done. If I could up the CPU voltage and squeeze a few extra MHz out of the chip, I'd do it - to hell with long-term reliability and over-stressed cooling fans!

However, that was a long time ago, and for years, the only PCs I used were notebooks, and the only thing I did on them was work. I got my gaming fixes from my Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, pumped through to a large-screen high definition TV and surround sound system. The console experience was excellent, I didn't have to continually upgrade hardware, and games rarely crashed or locked up.

But now the current generation of consoles are reaching the end of their lives, and the PC is, once again showing its graphical superiority. If you've played Skyrim or Battlefield 3 on a console and PC, you'll know that the PC versions don't just look better than the 360 or PS3 options, they literally blow them out of the water. As has always been the case, though, the more money you spend on your PC, the better your games will look and play.

So, about a week ago, I decided to build myself a new PC, which in itself was quite a big step, having surrounded myself exclusively with Macs for the past few years. I was actually quite nervous, and was preparing myself for a night of frustration, skinned fingers and foul language. Surprisingly though, the whole thing went quite smoothly - apart from me forgetting to install the motherboard backing plate and having to remove everything from the case and reinstall it again!

Amazingly, my PC started first time, and thanks to the Kingston HyperX SSD, it booted up in less than 10-seconds - that Sandforce controller really does make SSDs lightning fast! I also threw in a quad-core, Intel Sandy Bridge Core i7, 8GB of Kingston HyperX memory and an OCZ power supply, all wrapped up in a very nice and quiet Fractal Designs Define 3 case.

With my PC built, it was time to think about what games I wanted to populate it with, and top of my list was Diablo III. If I'm honest, the release of Diablo III was instrumental in my decision to build a PC in the first place - I'd had most of the components knocking about for months, but it was the thought of heading back down dungeons and mashing my left mouse button to death that really got the project moving.

I spent most of last weekend toying with the idea of buying the digital download of Diablo III - my shiny new 75mpbs Infinity 2 Internet connection should make short work of even a hefty download like this one. But when I saw that the digital download cost more than the majority of online retailers were selling the boxed copy, I decided I'd nip out today and buy the game the old fashioned way.

That proved to be a mistake, and made me realise just how marginalised PC gaming has become during my exodus from the platform. I wandered around half a dozen retailers today and couldn't find a copy of Diablo III in any of them. Now, when you consider that this is one of the biggest, most anticipated PC games in years, the fact that I couldn't find a copy to buy is quite alarming. Even more alarming is that two of the retailers didn't sell PC games at all!

While every retail store has shelves stuffed to the gills with Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, DS and even Vita titles, the near dearth of PC games is, perhaps, indicative of the current demand, and therefore the number of PC gamers left.

It doesn't help that gaming PCs are, no matter how you slice it, very expensive to build. Nvidia's latest GeForce GTX 670 is a fantastic card, and also reasonably priced when you consider its cutting edge, Kepler chip. Even so, you could buy a 360 and a PS3 for not much more than the cheapest GTX 670 would cost you.

But the cost of the hardware is only part of the problem, the other, more serious issue is the near uncontrollable piracy that continues to plague PC gaming. It's almost as if PC gamers feel that they shouldn't have to pay for software because they've already spent so much on their hardware. This attitude is, of course, wrong, and as a result, many developers have ceased working on PC titles altogether.

It's therefore doubly annoying that when a big publisher like Blizzard launches a massive game that's exclusively for PC and Mac, I can't find a retailer in central London stocking it.

With more and more emphasis being placed on casual gaming, and the use of tablets and phones as gaming devices, the PC is looking like an expensive luxury when it comes to video games. And that makes me very sad indeed.

Okay, I accept that you can play games on a tablet, phone or even an ageing gaming console, but it's the quality of experience that matters to me. After all a Kia will get you from A to B effectively enough, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to drive a Porsche instead!

So, I guess I'll have to go home and buy the digital download after all and hope that Diablo III doesn't represent the beginning of the end for PC gaming.