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HolidayBuyer's Guide

E3 2012: Don't forget PC gaming

Typically under the E3 radar, current topics in PC gaming will make their presence felt at the show.

Like every year, PC gaming will likely get lost amid the retail and console-focused hullabaloo out of Los Angeles next week. Nintendo will tout its crazy new console/handheld hybrid; Microsoft has the Xbox-as-entertainment center and a new Halo and Gears of War to flog; and Sony will be talking about, you know, Sony stuff (and maybe the acquisition of a cloud gaming service).

Huge, PC-specific game announcements rarely happen at E3, but here are some of the current PC-specific topics bubbling under the surface.

Minecraft on the Xbox 360
Mojang Software's Minecraft debuted on Xbox Live on May 9 and quickly set sales records. It became the service's second most played game for the week of May 14, ousting stalwarts Call of Duty: Black Ops, FIFA 2012, and Battlefield 3. But remember that Minecraft began life as an under-the-radar indie on the PC. Had it not become so popular on the PC, it might have languished in obscurity on the Xbox Arcade or -- shudder -- the Xbox Indie games section.

What does Minecraft on the Xbox mean for PC gaming at E3? With so many big companies pushing titles on locked-down platforms at the show, Minecraft is a stark reminder that large corporate backing and finicky app store approval processes are in no way necessary for good games to achieve mainstream success. All you need is a good idea, and maybe a Java window. Keep that in mind amid the big budget din.

So you know that game Counterstrike? It's a hard-core tactical shooter on the PC. It went from a user-created Half-Life modification to a standalone game that sold over 27 million copies.

Is the same phenomenon happening again with DayZ, the tense, bleak zombie apocalypse mod for Bohemia Games' military shooter ARMA II? It's probably too early to tell. DayZ is only in its alpha stage right now, but it's earned a ton of positive buzz.

The premise is simple. You start the game alone, wandering a stark rural/industrial landscape with no real direction. You have a gun, some bullets, some food, and some water. Your only direct motivation comes from the gauges on the side of the screen, which monitor your degree of hunger, thirst, and general well being. You can consume your starting inventory to maintain those gauges, but eventually you run out. To find more, you must creep out into the world. Along the way you encounter hordes of flesh-eaters, as well as other players who are potentially as dangerous. They also need beans to live, you see. And you might have some.

Oh, and when you die, you can respawn, but you lose everything you found along the way.

The threat of losing your work, not knowing who to trust, and the eerily stark, blighted landscape combine to create a deeply tense and unique gaming experience. And it only exists because ARMA II supports custom made user content.

I predict "dude, have you tried DayZ yet?" will be one of the more overhead questions at E3. It also underscores, yet again, how consoles miss out by not accommodating mods.

Screenshot by Rich Brown/CNET

Diablo III
Here's another conversation people will have at E3.

"Have you played Diablo III?

"Of course."

"What do you think about it?"


Diablo III was supposed to be the next shining beacon of greatness for the PC gaming platform. With an estimated 6.3 million units sold, it's no failure. When Blizzard turns on the ability to trade in-game gold for real-world currency on June 12, it will surely draw more attention from money-minded gamers and the scammers who love them.

If you'd like to read one Diablo III player's thoughtful, thorough dissection of the game, I'll direct you to this post on Blizzard's forum. It's a long, in-depth read, and it won't mean much if you haven't played the game, but it underscores the fact that for many hard-core players, Diablo III is not living up to expectations.

Can Blizzard fix the game? Does it need fixing at all? Diablo III has become one of the more interesting topics in PC gaming lately because it brings big-picture design decisions so prominently into the foreground. From its always-on Internet connection requirement to the impact of the auction house, everyone has an opinion on the game. I expect we'll hear a few next week.


Star Wars: The Old Republic and the future of the PC MMO
Backed by Electronic Arts money and marketing, designed by RPG powerhouse Bioware, and adorned in the trappings of one of the world's most popular intellectual properties, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) sounded like the game with the best possible shot at knocking off Blizzard's venerable World of Warcraft powerhouse.

But $200 million and six years of development time later, SWTOR has only 1.3 million subscribers to show for it. That's down from a peak of 1.7 million after launch, and well below the World of Warcraft's current 10 million strong player base.

Bethesda Softworks is set to showcase its own PC MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online, at the show next week. Fresh off the mind-boggling success of the single-player Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you can argue that the timing is right for Bethesda to take a stab at the MMO genre. But on the heels of SWTOR's underwhelming first six months, as well as Curt Shilling's utter, unfortunate debacle with 38 Studios and Project Copernicus, anyone pitching an MMO at E3 will be doing so against a grim backdrop. We'll see if Bethesda, or some other company with an MMO, can reinvigorate the genre.