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PC games rule

But will consoles rock the PC gaming market?

“Hi, my name is Paul Hyman … and I’m a PC gamer.”

“Hi Paul.”

That’s how I envision my Gameaholics Anonymous meeting starting, the one my family will force on me when they intervene any day now.

I have been addicted to EverQuest for a long time. I’m forever consulting the system requirements on each game box and making quick calculations. Is my trusty ‘puter fast enough? Will I need to add memory? Can my video card handle “Two Towers”? Only the latest hardware can be trusted to drive the latest graphics hog.

My deepest fear is that they’ll wean me off PC games by giving me an Xbox. I’d rather build an overclocked, liquid nitro-cooled, maxed-out memory beast in my workshop than trust my passion to a black box with cables hanging from it. Still, while I scorn console owners, I envy how carefree they are. If the game box reads PlayStation2, they can be certain their PS2 will play it. Same for Xbox and GameCube games. And there are plenty of them. At last May’s Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show (E3), there were games for the PC on display if you searched hard enough. But to the casual observer, console games dominated the floor.

Indeed, last year, U.S. sales of console games topped $5.5 billion while PC games scored a paltry $1.4 billion. More and more developers are switching over to consoles. And the question arises again and again whether the PC will remain a viable gaming platform.

Until recently, it was generally agreed that PC and console games are largely different beasts; certain formats are more tuned to certain platforms. Real-time strategy games, like “Command & Conquer,” for example, have never worked well on consoles. Nor have role-playing games like “The Sims.” But Electronic Arts just announced that the most popular PC game ever, “The Sims” will be unveiled in both Xbox and GameCube formats this spring. Heresy! What does this mean to PC gamers? That the line between PC- and console-type games is blurring? That soon no games will lend themselves more to PC than to console? That developers may all decide there’s just not enough cash in designing for the PC? Heck, everyone knows it’s easier to design for a cookie-cutter console than for the PC, with its endless varieties of memory, processors, sound/video cards, drivers, and conflicting programs.

One word explains why there are more console gamers: simplicity. Sure, PC games can take advantage of the latest technologies while games for aging consoles hit a wall at some point and can go no further. But console gamers counter that what attracts them is no-hassle play. No upgrades, no patches, no new graphics card every two years. I say, what’s the fun in that? To each his own, I guess.

The debate over how long it will take PC games to go the way of the dodo has been ongoing since the Atari 2600. But with once-PC-only games as popular as “The Sims” soon to be available on console, we PC gamers have something new to fret about.

Fortunately, some genres–like massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs)–remain firmly in the PC camp. For now, at least. And PC gamers are as addicted to them as ever. If you don’t believe me, check out EverQuest Widows, a support group for concerned families and friends of compulsive EverQuest players … like me.

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