A report from the PC Gaming Alliance (PCGA) suggests the industry is alive and kicking with record software sales of $18.6 billion in 2011, a 15% increase over 2010. That's partly attributed to China, which is growing nearly twice as fast as the global market, generating $6 billion for a 27% jump on-year. No geographical market declined in sales, while the US, UK, Germany, Korea and Japan felt an 11% boost with $8 billion in revenue.

The PCGA noted that free-to-play games (ironically) produced a sizeable portion of the revenue, with Zynga reporting $1.1 billion alone. Chinese outfit Tencent specializes in free-to-play titles and when 2011's figures are fully crunched, it's expected to surpass Activision Blizzard as the company which generates the most revenue from PC games. Tencent and Riot Games' League of Legends hit 32 million registered players last November.

"The PC gaming juggernaut continues unabated, across the industry and geographic boundaries. While reports of gaming sales at retail show signs of struggle, the impact hasn't been as great for PC gaming which had an earlier adoption of newer formats, business-models and delivery..." the report reads. It concludes that annual PC gaming revenue will grow 37% to $25.5 billion by 2015 as broadband Internet and digital distribution expand.

See! PC gaming isn't dying after all!

We're not taking sides, but to be fair, just because it generated buckets of cash last year doesn't mean PC gaming isn't dying -- at least not to those who say it is. When someone claims PC gaming is dying, it's never about sales figures. It's usually about the loss of what made PC gaming great: bleeding-edge graphics, highly customizable, mod-friendly platforms, "hardcore" gameplay, huge expansions and strong communities.

That has given way to stagnant engines/APIs, closed platforms, bite-sized DLC and gameplay that is more palatable to mainstream gamers. Profits come first. It's increasingly rare for games to be created specifically for PC and even when developers make such claims, they're often misleading. Battlefield 3 comes to mind. So does Crysis 2, which launched without support for DirectX 11 along with other console-centric elements.

Glancing back at PCGA's report, growth in 2011 mainly stemmed from improving distribution and reaching larger audiences, not necessarily polishing the formula that attracted early PC gamers. Again, we're not saying we think PC gaming is dying (or dead) but it's easy to see why someone might. Dying seems exaggerated, but the industry is definitely changing. With the launch of Mass Effect 3 this week, BioWare is a convenient example.

Speaking with Escapist, industry veterans explained how the culture at BioWare shifted from ambitious and passionate to restrained and resentful following EA's acquisition in 2007. Technical artist Dan Fedor described his early contributions as a labor of love. Toward the end of his seven-year tenure, the corporate setting smothered his creative drive. Are money-hungry mega-publishers spoiling the essence of PC gaming?