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Navigating the aisles of a GameStop video game store in Midtown Manhattan, Bennett Kirschner passed by the latest titles for consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 2 and 3, and Nintendo’s runaway hit, the Wii — all lit and displayed like best-selling novels.
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Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times
Bennett Kirschner, a lawyer and computer game player, is among those who shop at GameStop in Manhattan.
Instead, from a less ostentatious corner in the basement, he selected a $40 game that would play more than reasonably well on his three-year-old Dell personal computer. The game is Civilization IV, part of a series of strategy games in which a player, like a god, develops a stone-age culture into a modern one.
“When I was a kid, I used to like Nintendo and used to play on consoles,” said Mr. Kirschner, a 28-year-old lawyer. “But right now I don’t have the time or money to invest in a $400 console and $50 in a game.”
Like other gamers drawn to the PC, however, he said the attraction went beyond convenience and cost. He said computer games seem more sophisticated than console games and offer a greater sense of accomplishment. “It’s not just killing unlimited enemies on a screen,” he said.
Not so long ago, PC titles were the mainstay of video gaming, but they have slumped in recent years, overshadowed by a new generation of game consoles. Now they are showing signs of a comeback.
Most prominent has been the strength of one of the most popular video games ever for PCs, World of Warcraft, a role-playing online adventure game that now has more than eight million subscribers.
But retail sales of other titles are on the rebound as well. PC manufacturers and chipmakers are promoting the game-playing prowess of ever more powerful computers. And Microsoft has inaugurated a program aimed at making PC gaming more attractive, incorporating console-like features and easier online play.
There is also considerable buzz about Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, a long-awaited game due in June from id Software, the creator of the blockbuster hits Doom and Quake in the 1990s.
Anita Frazier, an industry analyst for the NPD Group, a market research firm, noted that in the first two months of 2007, domestic retail sales of PC games reached $203 million, a 48 percent increase over the $136.8 million in the period a year earlier. She noted that these figures do not include revenue generated by PC game sales online, or online subscriptions to play PC games.
“Yes, it does look like a fluke, doesn’t it?” Ms. Frazier said. “Rest assured it’s not.”
She said the bulk of this surge in sales is rooted in the role-playing video game genre that, itself, grew 43 percent over the same period last year. “The robust performance we’re seeing in PC game sales can be tied to several key titles across several genres,” she said, “but we’d be remiss not to address the continued success of World of Warcraft.”
The upsurge comes after some recent reversals. Over all, retail sales of PC-based games in the United States exceeded $970 million in 2006, an increase of about 1 percent of sales the previous year of $953 million, which represented about a 14 percent drop from $1.1 billion in 2004.
By contrast, according to the NPD Group, retail sales for console games in 2006 were $4.8 billion; another $1.7 billion was spent on games for hand-held devices like Sony’s PlayStation Portable.
“I think with three consoles out in the last couple of years, it’s natural to focus on consoles,” said Todd Hollenshead, chief executive of id Software, which was a pioneer in first-person-shooter games for the PC but today makes games for PCs and consoles. “There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of marketing dollars and a lot of hype for consoles.”
In an arena where the console makers market their wares heavily, he said, “we don’t have any champion of the PC game business to step in and leverage those sorts of marketing dollars.”
But that may change with new initiatives by several companies to use PC gaming as a showcase for their technologies and services.
Under the rubric Games for Windows, Microsoft is instituting a number of measures to raise the profile of PC games in retail stores while lowering barriers that have made buying and playing games on computers less attractive.
Last month, it announced that it would soon extend its Xbox Live online gaming and entertainment network to include games played on PCs, a program it is calling Games for Windows — Live.