As a big PC gamer, I’ve played everything from shooters to realistic games like Post Scriptum or Hell Let Loose. This list is 10 games on PC that changed PC gaming forever and that continue to matter for their themes, their impact, for reshaping our relationship and having formed a new genre on their own. Not all of these games released in the decade, like Team Fortress 2, following one of the biggest trends that appeared later on in the decade, some PC games have lingered on long after their launch day.
#1: Team Fortress 2 (2007)
Between 2009 and 2012, Valve subjected TF2 to an amount of change and experimentation that would’ve killed any other game. What launched as a comeback of a 1999 game became a testing ground for Valve’s ideas, and in the process, it would change PC Gaming forever.
In 2011, going free to play was unheard of in the FPS space and much less in the western gaming space. TF2’s shift from a paid game to a now mainstream MTX model invited other developers to do the same. The biggest stroke of genius came in the form of storytelling which came with all of these changes; the introduction of co-op, ARG storytelling, replay system, and so much more. This is the true impact of TF2, we see it in every major shooter today like Rainbow Six: Siege and Overwatch to PUBG.
#2: Minecraft (2009)
Selling a game before it’s finished is the basic industry standard these days, but before Kickstarter, Steam Early Access, Xbox Game Preview, Patreon, and all of these crowdfunding tools became popular throughout the later half of the decade, there was Minecraft.
The alpha went on sale in June 2009, with the promise that those who brought it now would get all additional content and updates free at no additional cost. There was also the promise that the price would go up in the future as more content was added, and the full game once finished would cost even more. Buy it now, was the asking price.
Nowadays, it’s a format we take for granted in the wake of Live Service or through other means. We buy a game now, hoping that one day it will be finished and we’ll save some bucks along the way. And as history tended to show us throughout multiple times in the decade, it doesn’t always work that way, but it’s easy to see why this model skyrocketed throughout the 2010s after Minecraft first did it in 2009. The initial trickle of sales skyrocketed and by 2011, Minecraft had sold a million copies and by two years later, it had sold 10 million.
In 2014, Notch sold Mojang to Microsoft and thanks to Microsoft, Minecraft is the best selling game of all time. Minecraft’s design amongst its other features have been very influential to other games in different genres, but it also set the stage for a decade of Early Access titles, paid alphas, crowdfunding and promises that are never kept.
#3: League of Legends (2009)
League of Legends isn’t an esport, it is the esport. When Riot first started hosting world championships and investing in the competitive scene, a scene that was underground for a time, it changed the game forever by building the template that nearly every other competitive game throughout gaming would follow. Although, competitive tournaments were a thing, Riot turned League of Legends into a phenomena and spectacle. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
All those words above doesn’t cover all the ways League changed PC Gaming forever. Riot was one of the first studios to be aggressive and adopt a heavy schedule that continually added to the game and rebalance it, creating something that is always fresh and always changing. It was also a major contributor to the growth of Twitch early on in the decade, it helped legitimize streaming as an actual job. Although, League isn’t solely responsible for all of this innovation, you’d be struggling to find a game with a wider impact that isn’t either Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, the Call of Duty games, Battlefield 3, or some other game.
#4: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
The hardest thing ever is how to make a single player game that you can play forever and ever? Easy answer to that question is to make it moddable.
It helps that vanilla Skyrim is fine on it’s own as well if you don’t go down the route of mods. It’s big open world may seem plain and dated by today’s standards but don’t let it fool you, it is packed to the brim of side quests, quests, encounters, and things to do. In usual Bethesda fashion, you can be anyone and do anything. This same spirit is extended to the mods, Nexus Mods reports that over 1.7 million mods are downloaded and more than 60,000 different mods are on the site. This keeps the 9 year old RPG fresh and unique. Skyrim is the game that keeps on giving.
#5: Mass Effect 3 (2012)
Mass Effect 3’s ending looms large over what is considered to be an epic game to end a saga. The ending was the worst thing since Fallout 3’s ending all the way back in 2008, but unlike Bethesda who waited seven months to address said ending, BioWare waited 16 days to release a statement and seven months later released the extended cut which honestly made things worse.
The reason why the rage still looms large and why the rage is still probably the biggest outcry in the decade was because it was organized. A campaign raised $80,000 to donate to charity just to get BioWare’s attention, there was Youtube videos up and down, conspiracy theories about the ending in which Shepard was indoctrinated, and thanks to the rising platform that was Social Media at the time, the conversation fed itself. It led to a playbook that we would see time and time again throughout the decade, in other games like No Man’s Sky, for example. Mass Effect 3 was the beginning of gamers rising up to voice their discontent and in many cases, we succeeded in changing certain things.
#6: CS:Go (2012)
What originally began as a port to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 became the PC’s most important shooter of the decade, outside of Team Fortress 2. It would become the biggest competitive shooter of the decade.
What inspired Valve to turn a port into a full fledge game were the lessons learned over Team Fortress 2’s development. In 2013, Valve introduced cosmetic weapon skins and brought a whole new kind of insanity. Weapon skins drew in longtime fans and the most entrenched fans out of their favorite edition and was the carrot that GO needed to absorb the older iterations of the game. Not only could you earn rare weapon skins by watching CS: GO tournaments, but third party sites allowed you to bet on esports matches with your steam inventories. Two Youtubers, ProSyndicate and TMartin, exploited the black market that had emerged around CS:Go and created their own gambling sites without disclosing their co-ownership, a scam that led to new FCC guidelines.
CS:Go’s rise to the top also goes hand in hand with Twitch, many of the games here on this list is partially responsible for the rise of streaming, and as Valve discovered a goldmine that was on the verge of exploding, the studio began putting up prize money for tournaments. The broader outcome of all of this is something that became a template for other FPS shooters to follow and build upon throughout the decade, CS:Go is one of the most influential shooters of the past ten years and you can clearly see why.
#7: Dark Souls (2012)
Name me any game that can brag about starting it’s own genre? I’ll patiently wait.
It’s a very short list.
This decade, From Software gave us the Souls genre like many other games did before it, the studio started a whole new genre without even trying. No other game in the 2010s has more drastically changed how we talk about games, most importantly, how we talk about difficulty within gaming. Nothing has so quickly started a trend that would last throughout the decade and into a brand new one. Dark Souls carved three new pathways, and in one of them, Dark Souls made gaming on PC viable in the West which encouraged other Japanese developers to bring their games over to to the PC and it made the internet realize that modders are very important. Without the DSFix mod, Dark Souls would’ve never taken off on PC.
#8: Gone Home (2013)
Fullbright had no idea that their small little game would cause quite the cultural shift. Gone Home opened the door to a discussion that got right at the heart: What exactly makes a video game a video game?
Gone Home built upon the foundation of an emerging genre, one that was new in it’s infancy, games like Dear Esther had paved the way for it. Gone Home was dubbed a “walking simulator,” a game in which there is no gameplay and thus, is not a game.
Since it’s launch in 2013, Gone Home has made an important shift. The walking sim genre is home to a bunch of artsy fartsy ( I’m not knocking it in any way) video games, games that are basically the A24 films of the gaming industry. Games in the genre can focus on themselves, focus on how to push the medium forward without a huge budget, focus on telling rich narratives through excellent writing. Gone Home paved the way for Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Fitch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and plenty of other games. Gone Home was not the first of it’s kind but it was the first to bring a discussion and pave for the way for so many of these iconic games.
#9: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (2015)
The Witcher 3 was the successor to a smaller type of RPG with a large world, a world so large that it has hundreds and hundreds of things to do and excellent writing that elevated standard side quests into memorable quests, excellent stories, and memorable adventures. With two games under their belt, CDPR learned how to make Geralt a perfect vehicle for us. He’s a person, not a blank slate, like many RPGs handle their player characters, this sort of playbook enriched the decision making within The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3’s massive success entered CDPR into the elite ranks of the most respected developers within the industry. When was the last time a game was just as hyped up as Cyberpunk 2077? When it releases later this year, it will have massive expectations and it might even beat The Witcher 3 as the new standard for RPGs.
#10: Battlefield 3 (2011)
Battlefield 3 did a lot for the military shooter and did a lot for PC gaming and for console gaming, but Battlefield 3 was primarily a PC centric game as the mainline franchise was before it.
In 2011, Battlefield 3 launched to critical acclaim and massive success, right on the heels of a masterpiece of a marketing campaign that began earlier in the year with the dropping of the reveal trailer. This was touted as the next generation of military shooters and the next generation in the FPS genre and it ended up being what DICE promised. The next generation.
US Marines moved realistically, their weapons moved realistically, lighting and the graphical nature of the game on PC was unprecedented. Battlefield 3 would be peerless and solidified that the Frostbite Engine was unprecedented, a passion project that would become peerless in the genre.