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PC Gaming Alliance tries to save PC gaming where Microsoft failed

PC Gaming Alliance announcement

Do you trust this brand? Microsoft

Gamespot reported from the 2008 Game Developer's Conference that Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Microsoft, and a collection of other PC hardware and software vendors have joined forces in a newly formed nonprofit organization dubbed the PC Gaming Alliance. Its goal, according to the press release, is "advancing the PC as a worldwide gaming platform." If this sounds familiar, Microsoft used similar language in its Games for Windows marketing campaign that saw a major relaunch last year. Let's hope the PCGA takes its mission more seriously.

If you're wondering why there's so much emphasis on promoting PC gaming, consider recent PC game sales figures. From 2006 and 2007, market research firm The NPD Group reported that U.S. PC game revenues dropped from $970 million to $911 million. While those numbers don't account for digital game downloads from services such as Valve's Steam (numbers from which Valve doesn't make public), the retail sales decline happened the same year that video game sales overall increased from $13.5 billion to $18.8 billion. The fact is that PC game sales are hurting compared with their successful console brethren.

What's interesting is that the 2007 retail PC sales drop-off occurred the same year that Microsoft relaunched Games for Windows. A major component of that effort focused on retail sales, including a renewed emphasis on packaging and polishing in-store displays. That improved shelf presence should have increased sales. Granted, Microsoft also launched Windows Vista last year, which added confusion to the PC market. All three new game consoles also built momentum that cut into gamers' budgets. But as much as PC gaming faced external challenges, Microsoft's efforts were never as pure as the Games for Windows campaign made them out to be.

The problem is that Microsoft has a history of sacrificing PC game sales to bolster its other divisions. Consider the Halo franchise. By making the PC version of Halo 2 Vista-exclusive, Microsoft limited the customer base to promote sales of its new operating system. Microsoft showed similarly clouded interests when it acquired developer Bungie and made the original Halo an Xbox exclusive (after it was originally conceived as a Mac and Windows title). That Halo 3 remains an Xbox 360-exclusive proves that Microsoft still has divided loyalties.

According to its Web site, the PCGA's aims extend beyond marketing and product packaging to promoting accurate sales figures (might want to get Valve on the phone), improving the overall PC user experience, and also tackling piracy. All noble goals, and it may be able to achieve them. But as much as member companies Intel, Nvidia, and AMD and others have an obvious interest in the success of PC gaming, Microsoft's membership means that the motives of at least one major PCGA player will always be suspect. We'd be foolish to suggest that Microsoft is actively working to hurt PC gaming, but it would be equally misguided to believe that Microsoft will always put PC gaming first.