|Battlefield 3: Desktop PC Platform Recharged|
|Articles - Opinion & Editorials|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 13 October 2011|
Battlefield 3: Desktop PC Gaming Platform Recharged
As one of the most highly anticipated video game sequels of all time, Battlefield 3 will soon be released to gamers worldwide on 25 October 2011. BF3 is the third installment to the popular series by Electronic Arts and DICE, with seven previous Battlefield-themed titles offered for the PC platform (not counting just as many expansion packs and three browser-based online versions). Originally developed for PC gamers and their powerful enthusiast-level desktop computers, the Battlefield franchise has since diversified its platform portfolio to gaming consoles in a successful pursuit for increased revenue. While the Battlefield series is a solid income-earning product for the developers, it has also become one of the last few remaining hopes for PC gamers to restore their diminishing ranks.
First Person Shooter-styled video games can be played on any platform, but competitive gamers tend to agree that the keyboard/mouse combination offers more precision than a gamepad controller ever could. Battlefield 3, featuring the latest available DirectX 11 graphics technology from its Frostbite 2 game engine, is a FPS game built specifically to take advantage of visual effects only available to the modern PC platform. Making certain not to neglect the profitable game console platforms, EA offers a reduced-quality version of Battlefield 3 available for PlayStation3 and XBOX360, yet in many ways Battlefield 3 has become the game that Crysis 2 failed to be: a good reason to own powerful desktop computer hardware.
The profitability of game consoles have forced developers to design software suitable for the aging hardware technology inside the existing PS3 and XBOX360 consoles. For those familiar with the Crysis franchise, you'll recall that the original Crysis and Crysis Warhead titles were launched as PC-only video games. When Crysis 2 was developed primarily for the console platform, NVIDIA made a generous $2-million investment into a PC-based DirectX-11 Crysis 2 project. Unfortunately that project delayed the update until months after initial launch, causing Crysis 2 to become one of the most-anticipated flops of 2011 alongside Duke Nukem Forever. Then there's RAGE, a popular video game that automatically adjusts video graphics quality based on real-time performance capability of the GPU. Both of these game titles failed to emphasize any need for higher-end hardware components, which changes with Battlefield 3.
Beyond hardware sales, several companies are taking advantage of this revenue-building opportunity by releasing Battlefield 3-themed peripherals and computer components, similar to products that jumped onto the Call of Duty: Black Ops bandwagon. Of course, if there's money involved you can expect game consoles to invent reasons to earn their share, a la Calibur11 BF3 console vaults. But it's not just game-connected sales that will make the Battlefield 3 launch a truly important event, it's that desktop PCs have been growing less important for so long now that component manufacturers are desperately looking for profitable reasons to continue producing enthusiast hardware products. In my best Field of Dreams voice: "Make it hardware dependent, and they will buy".
Which brings us to a growing trend present in today's computer software: increased hardware dependence. Without drifting into an entirely different topic, I'll relegate this portion of my op-ed to quickly point out that software has steadily grown dependent on more memory and storage space, as well as more powerful central and graphics processors. In our own tests with the Battlefield 3 Beta, we noted how BF3 (in public beta form) consumed nearly 2GB of system memory while demanding up to 50% usage across all eight processor cores... Even despite using the most powerful video card currently available. This same trend has been seen elsewhere across the spectrum: from the latest Microsoft Windows Operating System to the everyday applications we install atop the O/S. Regardless of its classification as a video game, which tends to promote GPU dependence more than anything else, BF3 is software that places demand on every hardware component inside the computer case.
Ultimately, this means that performance-oriented computer hardware will once again be in demand, and those hardcore gamers wanting to experience Battlefield 3 with highest-quality video settings will be required to upgrade system components. It also means that desktop computer hardware, suffering diminished sales in the age of highly-capable mobile phone and game consoles, will stay relevant for just a while longer. The video card has always been the driving force in graphics quality performance, and now the CPU and RAM have become equally important at delivering the top-end experience. True performance enthusiasts refuse to wait, which also means that now SSDs could be the storage drive of choice to help speed-up game and map loading. Of course, you can't have the fastest video card, processor, and system memory, without also having the latest motherboard platform. It all comes together, and means big potential sales for the hardware industry.
But will BF3 deliver enough boost to business to sustain the desktop platform, or will this become yet another historically short period when software demands more hardware instead of vice versa? I can still remember a few graphics card reviews back in 2009 ending with the complaint they were grossly overpowering the video games available at the time. Now, after suffering three years with a depressed global economy, it seems that hardware manufacturers have managed to stall progress just long enough for software to finally catch up. With the made-for-console sequel Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 releasing just two weeks later, it should be interesting to see what happens to the segment next, and for how long the desktop PC platform maintains its importance.
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