There was a period of time, through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, when many game critics and analysts speculated that PC gaming was on its last legs. They argued that the platform had become a creative backwater, and would soon be completely overtaken by modern consoles thanks to their burgeoning, easy-to-use online capabilities.
Those who kept the faith through those troubled times knew the truth of the matter. PCs have flexibility, moddability and power unavailable in consoles. As a result, PC gaming is able quickly pivot to serve its players.
In the past 15 years, digital distribution has made it easier for creators to sell games directly to players, no longer relying on publishing deals. More and better development tools have made the creative process more accessible than ever before. This combination has led to an era of abundance. In 2017 some 7,672 games were released on Steam alone. That’s roughly 21 games per day.
Now most of the biggest new games (Minecraft) and genres (battle royale) start their lives on PC, and that seems unlikely to change.
Unlike our other Essentials lists, this one covers a catalog that’s spread across multiple decades. And so this is a starting point. We’ll be adding new games and classics with each update. If you’re new to the space, consider this your guide to the best of the best, and a tutorial on how to uncover experiences that simply can’t be had on any other platform. And for the rest of us, share your thoughts on potential future entries.