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A level 60 druid seeking l33t blue drops in the Hellfire Ramparts may have saved PC gaming, according to The New York Times. The paper reports that US retailers sold $203m worth of PC games in the first two months of 2007 — a 48 per cent increase on floundering sales the past few years.

Market analyst NPD Group attributes the retail boost (from $137m the same time last year) to expanding sales of online games on the PC platform; most notably lead by the glorious exploits of adventurers in the war-ravaged lands of Azeroth (that's lonely nerds to the layman).

“The robust performance we’re seeing in PC game sales can be tied to several key titles across several genres,” NPD analyst Anita Frazier told The Times, “but we’d be remiss not to address the continued success of World of Warcraft.

Blizzard Entertainment has been enormously successful with its online successor to the Warcraft series. WoW currently has over eight million subscribers — whom not only paid the initial retail cost, but continue to shell-out monthly subscriber fees to play online. The game's first expansion, retailed mid-January, sold nearly 2.4 million copies worldwide in the first 24 hours. Since then the number has reached over 3.5 million.

WoW's popularity has remained unusually steady despite the fickle interests of gamers.

Perception of the once-mighty PC game market is now a möbius strip of waxing and waning confidence. The console makers roll out their new boxes; gamers stare in awe at the impressive graphics, fancy controllers and worry-free compatibility and ask that old chestnut, "Is PC gaming dead?"

A noble priest stands before Honor Hold in World of Warcraft.

That is, until PC graphics start to outstrip consoles again. Computer gaming may survive each console cycle, but the market loss can sound an awful lot like nails being driven through a coffin.

Things have gotten worrisome for the PC game market as consoles start to act more like computers and increased online support makes it easier for developers to take the console plunge.

NPD research shows the PC game market suffered a 14 per cent hit in 2005, falling from $1.1bn down to $953m in revenue. In 2006, the retail market increased just one per cent to $970m. But assuming the numbers hold steady, retail sales for PC games could reach $1.2bn this year.

It's still a long way off from console game sales, which totaled about $4.8bn last year. Portable game sales were at $1.7bn, according to NPD.

Lower prices, a stable platform, and ease of use continue to lure PC gamers to the console market. Even at the PlayStation 3's whopping $599 price tag, it's chump change compared to the copious coin-purse required to meet the $3,000-5,000 necessary to get the latest and greatest out of a PC.

Microsoft (which double-dips as a major player in the console market) has put a little effort into promoting the little beige boxes that could. The company is now promoting titles under the "Games for Windows" line. The push, however, seems more like an advertisement for Vista than anything else — and is nigh unnoticeable when compared to its Xbox 360 campaign.

The result of years of decline have hurt the variety, not the quality of PC games. Developers are sticking to what they know will sell. A once flourishing smörgåsbord of game variety has turned to a trickle of first-person shooters, sims and the latest flight of fancy (thanks largely to Blizzard's success) - massive multiplayer online RPGs.

But perhaps the latest sales upswing will return PC gaming to a shadow of what it once was.

In the meantime: World of Warcraft reigns supreme.

LF1M DPS class 4 Auch. ®

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