The console has been the dominant form factor when it comes to playing video games in the living room. But PCs of all shapes and sizes are poised to make their own impact when it comes to the 10-foot, couch-friendly experience.
At least that's according to Matt Ployhar. He's head of PC game advocate group PC Gaming Alliance, and had previously worked on Windows at Microsoft, and today is a senior product planner at Intel.
"[PC-to-TV gaming] might just be one of the key growth opportunities for PCs," he argues. "I believe there’s a ton more room and opportunity here than the market's being given credit for."
What's a PC, anyway?Before prognosticating about how PCs may or may not take over the living room, Ployhar makes sure to clear up any semantic fuzziness. Namely, to him, tablets are just another form factor for PCs: They're personal, they run OSes and they run applications. In the not-so-distant future, the idea of a "gaming PC for the living room" will look different from the big black box next to your entertainment center.
"With the onslaught of ‘smart’ devices, and the chipset vendors increasingly making SoC [system on chip] solutions more capable, we have to understand that a PC can come in virtually any shape or size," says Ployhar.
Key to the PC-in-the-living-room experience is how these devices will connect to a television. Right now, connecting is pretty straightforward via HDMI cables. But as technology continues to make connected TV experiences simpler, we'll see the cords being cut in favor of wireless tech like WHDI and WiGiG, he says.
"The key point is that it’s getting easier than ever before to replace your console with any modern laptop, ultrabook, ultrathin, tablet, et cetera,, and get a very compelling and competitive gaming experience," says Ployhar.
Beyond the technology that enables the actual connections, there's also the improved interface for PC games that enable use of standard controllers that are fit for couch play. Steam's Big Picture Mode is also playing an important role from a PC gaming TV UI standpoint, Ployhar notes.
Reaching the mass marketWith Ployhar's background, it's not surprising that he would advocate for various facets of the PC market. Nonetheless, his enthusiasm is curbed by the challenges that he knows PCs will face in the future.
Ployhar says in order for TV-friendly PC games to really reach mass adoption in the living room, they need three things: "Great games content, consumer awareness and affordable price points."
An avid fan of PC games himself, Ployhar plays games that have all kinds of business models. But he says, "If a game developer truly wants to hedge their bets, they really need to consider free-to-play to capitalize on the broadest accumulated market install base possible." And if a developer can optimize a game for both PC and smartphones, that game can be most capable of leaving its mark in the mass market by the virtue of the enormous combined install bases of PC and mobile.
Another way that PC-based game consoles can reach wider adoption in the living room include better multi-gamepad support for pick-up-and-play local multiplayer, says Ployhar.Make good games, obviouslyAll of these technologies and enhancements and business models don't mean much without one factor, says Ployhar: Quality.
"My final word of caution here is for any company shipping this type of a PC-based console is to focus in on game quality. Shipping shovel-ware will eventually backfire, so it’s wise to really monitor the quality of the content to ensure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot and alienate users from your platform. The PCGA will be launching a certified PC Logo program here in about a month so stay tuned."