Former id Software designer John Romero says the PC is once again dominating the videogame industry, not because of any inherent technological superiority over consoles but because of the rise of the free-to-play payment model and ultra-cheap Steam sales.
An awful lot of PC gamers have a powerful dislike for free-to-play, but Romero isn't among them. He spoke strongly in favor of the model during an interview with GamesIndustry last week, saying that the problem isn't with free-to-play itself, but with developers who use it "the dirty way."
"With PC you have free-to-play and Steam games for five bucks. The PC is decimating console, just through price. Free-to-play has killed a hundred AAA studios," he said. "It's a different form of monetization than Doom or Wolfenstein or Quake, where that's free-to-play [as shareware]. Our entire first episode was free - give us no money, play the whole thing. If you like it and want to play more, then you finally pay us. To me that felt like the ultimate fair [model]. I'm not nickel-and-diming you. I didn't cripple the game in any design way. That was a really fair way to market a game."
Romero said studios are getting better at "the freemium design," and that's helping gamers accept the proposition that it can be done well, and also making it easier to differentiate between "fair" and "dirty" implementations.
"That's what everybody is working hard on. People are spending a lot of time trying to design this the right way," he said. "They want people to want to give them money, not have to. If you have to give money, you're doing it wrong... For game designers, that's the holy grail."
Of course, the underlying technology is a factor too: Romero said the closed systems and long life cycles of consoles put them at a serious disadvantage when compared to "continually evolving" PCs. "If I want to play a game that's [made] in DOS from the 80s, I can, it's not a problem," he said. "You can't do that on a console."