Why 2021 was the best year for PC gaming yet

Well, fancy that. We made it yet another year that will no doubt be full of glorious gaming. However, before we can talk about the year ahead of us, I want to backtrack and look at the state of PC gaming in 2021. More specifically, I thought last year was perhaps the best year for PC gaming that we’ve had yet. And believe me, It was a damned good year. More on that in a bit, but first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Where the hell is the hardware?

Yes, 2021 was a pretty crappy year for anyone who either wanted to dive into PC gaming or to upgrade their existing PC. There’s plenty mainly three reasons for why this was: shortages, scalpers, and miners.

While AMD, Intel, and Nvidia were busy tossing buzzwords at the PC gaming crowd, the physical representations from those companies were a different story. Regardless of where you looked, be it Amazon, Microcenter, Best Buy, Newegg, it was nigh impossible to find the newest graphic cards or processors. Those companies couldn’t supply enough hardware, and we all saw it. We hated it, and sadly, it’s a trend that will continue into 2022 and likely beyond.

Nvidia RTX 2070 GPU
Image by Christian Wiediger

Scalpers, looking for a way to make a quick dollar (or hundred), took it upon themselves to take advantage of the chaos (CHAOS!). They used every trick in the book and automated services to snag whatever they could find, only to resell it for a massive markup in price. Trying to find anything at MSRP was a joke. If this didn’t show you that capitalism is alive and well, I don’t know what else would. Then, of course, we have to mention the miners. Who, in my opinion, are just as bad as the scalpers, or possibly worse.

They used the same tactics to get those coveted GPUs and CPUs that we all desired, and instead of selling them, they put them to work by installing them into crypto-mining rigs. Now, I get why this is a thing, and honestly, I blame the scores of stores that sold these components without any regard for others. Yet, it did (and does) frustrate me when these people take photos and videos of rooms full of crypto-mining farms.  

PC Gaming - here's where all the GPUs went
<span style=font size 12px>So heres where all the GPUs went<span>

Trying to find newer PC parts for any reason, gaming or production, well, it sucked. But then it got worse when everyone turned to the older components and then started snatching those up. Throughout 2021, I’ve been to several brick-and-mortar stores, and I’ve never seen their shelves as empty as I did last year. Yet, as much as we didn’t like it in 2021, just wait until AMD and Nvidia announce newer GPUs that won’t make it into our hands… not at MSRP at least.

On that note, I’ll give Nvidia some credit by at least trying to thwart those crypto-mining schemes with its LHR or Limited Hash Rate GPUs. Of course, announcing their plans had painted a bullseye on the company and within weeks, those LHR GPUs didn’t amount to anything. It was a nice try though.

Ok, that was the bad part of 2021 for PC gaming. Now let’s talk about the good parts, and there were a number of wins.

2021 was the best year for PC gaming yet

For all the damage done by not being able to find PC hardware, it wasn’t the end of PC gaming. In fact, I’d stake my life that PC gaming was better than ever in 2021. But how can that be when everyone says PC gaming was terrible last year? Am I just making this up as I go? Not by a long shot. Instead, I recall what PC gaming actually is and it’s not solely dedicated by hardware.

Last year was the year of several indie games that took the PC gaming world by storm. Valheim, the survival sandbox game that everyone wouldn’t stop playing or talking about, and that was just the start. I know a few people who’ve played hundreds of hours in just that game alone. Mind you, I didn’t play the game, but I couldn’t deny how dominant it was and why people went crazy over it. Valhiem was just that game that made people take notice and that was the tip of the iceberg. It was a precursor to the sheer amount of titles that would eventually grace the PC. 

Here’s just a tiny sampling of all the fantastic games released on the PC in 2021.

This, my friends, is a mountain of PC gaming goodness, and I didn’t even include all of the amazing games that were released in 2021. However, I’m not done.

What else happened that was major for PC gaming in 2021? Oh, right, Kingdom Hearts arrived. Perhaps one of the most well-known JRPGs in gaming history and one that was a console exclusive for decades had made its way to the PC. Not just one game. Not just two or three. No, the entire vast collection of Kingdom Hearts games made their way to the PC; Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue Re, and Kingdom Hearts 3 + Re Mind. Between those three releases, this brought over 11 different series titles over to the PC. 

kingdom hearts epic game store announcement

While we’re on the subject of JRPGs, we saw several get a release on the PC: Tales of Arise, an excellent entry for newcomers and a favorite of veterans; Scarlet Nexus; Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy; Ys IX Monstrum Nox; Bravely Default II, Nier Replicant Ver.1.22474487139…; Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster; Neo: The World Ends With You. Was this enough for you? Of course, we can’t forget about the money-making machine Final Fantasy XIV. A game that is doing so well that Square Enix had to halt sales of the game because the servers couldn’t handle any more players. It sounds like bad news, but it shows how popular that game is—my, how the tides of turned.

Not just JRPGs, but fighting games, action/adventure games, and just about anything else you could imagine was available on PC. There was something for everyone between Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG, and several other storefronts. 

PlayStation sees the value of the PC

Ah, PlayStation. Home of “For the Players” and yet another company that realized that putting its games on the PC was a smart choice. While we saw Horizon Zero Dawn and Death Stranding arrive on the platform in 2020, that trend continued with Days Gone in 2021. All of these did better than expected figures for PlayStation that they figured bringing over more games would be a no-brainer. We have Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection and God of War heading to the PC in 2022.

Those won’t be the last either, as PlayStation’s Jim Ryan has confirmed that more games will make their way to the PC at a later date. While we don’t know which games it will be, we’ve seen that PlayStation doesn’t have an issue with bringing its once big hits over. It’s just a matter of time until we see what’s next. And they’re coming – you didn’t think PlayStation acquired Nixxes for nothing, did you? The company went as far as to rebrand the smaller PlayStation Mobile label to PlayStation PC. 

PlayStation PC Gaming Label

PC gaming and PlayStation, who could have imagined that would happen? Oh wait, I did. With PlayStation on board and Xbox already there, we’re getting closer to just one box for your gaming needs. Well, not completely, but you get the idea.

The value of the almighty cloud

While you may not have been able to acquire the PC parts you needed to build your masterpiece, it didn’t mean you were out of luck. Thanks to the efforts of Nvidia and Xbox, PC gamers didn’t have to look far to play games on PC, despite lacking powerful components to push those lovely pixels.

Most are already familiar with Nvidia’s GeForce Now, a service that allows anyone to play PC games on some of the most powerful cloud instances available, all while enjoying your existing Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG, and Uplay libraries. Following a recent update in 2021, gamers can now rent RTX 3080-powered sessions can gain access to 1080p@60FPS or 1440p@ 120FPS with Ray Tracing enabled. I had a chance to check out the service using an underpowered laptop. Despite some input latency, the experience was similar to my gaming PC. I was impressed.

PC Gaming - Nvidia GeForce Now

Microsoft had also made strides in this area and as of 2021, had released an update to its Xbox Cloud Gaming service. Now, anyone with access to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate could open up a web browser and play any number of games. Streets of Rage 4, Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, The Gunk, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and yes, Xbox Series X|S games. There are over 200 games that are available to play via any PC – powerful or now. All you need is a subscription, which you can still snag for just one dollar, and a controller.

As a parent or someone who games on a budget, this is a deal that simply shouldn’t be passed up. At the same time, eliminating the need for an Xbox console — but that’s a story for another time.

PC Gaming - Xbox Cloud Gaming

Both of these cloud gaming services can enable anyone to enjoy their favorite games, without worrying about finding a newer GPU or CPU. Yes, you’ll need a subscription, but it’s a worthwhile alternative to not being able to play anything or being suckered into pay for severally overpriced parts.

I rest my case, your honor

As you can see, I made a damned good case regarding 2021 being a fantastic year for PC gaming. From the sheer amount of AAA and indie games, to being able to play games on even the most underpowered of PCs or laptops. PC gaming has never been better, and 2021 was full of surprises and, in my eyes, was the best we’ve seen of PC gaming yet. Yet, I am still slightly confused as to why some would think otherwise. Were they not seeing the things that I saw?

But what about you? Did you think last year was a bust or was it an enjoyable year for PC gaming? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.