Yes, this is the whopping figure that Jon Peddie Research has found about the size of the enthusiast gaming market last year. To put this in perspective, total U.S box office receipts for 2009 amounted to 9.87 billion. No doubt, the premium prices that such enthusiast PC gaming hardware command in the market contribute to such a figure - the fastest graphics card now, the Radeon HD 5970 goes for US$699 for example. Nevertheless, 9.5 billion is anything but niche in most industries.
Unfortunately, this is not the impression one gets from the news. The gaming media often returns to the theme of declaring consoles the future of gaming, with the corollary that PC gaming is dying. They have their reasons - game developers are definitely favoring a multi-platform approach to alleviate ever-rising development costs while game publishers are more than happy to push console games, due to the perception that console games are harder to pirate. It's not hard to get the idea of a shrinking niche high-end gaming segment.
While the truth may lie somewhere in-between - retail sales of boxed games used to decry the end of PC gaming are increasingly less reliable due to the rise of digital distribution platforms like Valve's Steam, and not forgetting the unstoppable PC juggernaut that is World of Warcraft - Jon Peddie's own numbers show more consumers turning to more performance and mainstream PC hardware rather than higher end components, which somewhat confirm what the pundits have been saying.
However, even these reduced numbers are fairly healthy, despite Jon Peddie predicting that the enthusiast share of the revenue to reach 35% from the current 46%. That's because these consumers have no qualms about spending huge sums of money. With stereoscopic 3D, multiple displays (ATI's EyeFinity or NVIDIA's 3D Vision Surround) emerging as some of the must-have gear for the rich ultra-gamer, it will certainly take many mainstream users to equal one enthusiast.
Finally, instead of crying about piracy, how about game developers do what they do best and create some engaging, (and hopefully graphically intensive too) games to make better use of the high-end systems that are apparently out there.
Vincent Chang / Former Senior Tech Writer
Vincent has written enough about tech to know that he doesn't know enough about tech. But that's not keeping him from going jargon-heavy about processors and mobos. After all, "you can't stop the signal".