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Monday, August 1, 2011

The PC is the Superior Gaming Platform



Any time a PC gamer makes a negative comment about consoles, people are quick to label him as a "PC elitist," thereby "discrediting" his opinion. Some PC gamers may in fact be elitist jerks who just want to bully console players, but the PC truly is the "elite" gaming platform. For objective, quantifiable reasons, no less. Put that in your console and smoke it.

Consoles are fun and enjoyable for what they are, but they really don't hold a candle to the kinds of things the PC delivers. Besides all of the stuff you've already heard a dozen times, I'm going to shed some light on different aspects that you might not have considered before. So let's jump right in, shall we?

The first thing about the PC that makes it superior to the consoles is that the PC is inherently generative. Unlike consoles, where Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft decide everything that can or cannot be done with their platform, the PC allows the community to create original hardware and software. This often results in revolutionary, break-through advances unlocking vast potential, which never could have happened if the system remained "locked" like the consoles.  

Creative generativity allows third-party companies, as well as independents, to create their own content, which greatly enhances a user's available options. We end up with more risk-takers who try new, unconventional things just for the sake of creating something new. It's also much easier for an independent developer to create and distribute a product, because they don't have to go through the official channels to get their product out to the people. 

As a result, we get a lot of really creative, innovative, original games that turn out to be way cheaper than buying a mainstream "AAA" game. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, possibly the greatest horror game ever, was launched at $20, and Minecraft was available for $15 or something (I think it's at $20 now?). Meanwhile, tons of fun games are also available FOR FREE or pay-as-much-as-you-want. In fact, there are so many great games available for free that you could buy a PC and play free games for life. 

Generativity is enough to push the PC into the dominant position just by itself, but there are, of course, plenty of other reasons to consider. In no particular order:
1) The PC allows users to customize their gaming experience much more than consoles. Console games tend to have extremely limited options, whereas with the PC you can go into setting files and manually edit all kinds of things to adjust the mechanics to your preference. 
2) The PC has mod support that allows users to fix/alter game issues, as well as to create original content. The modding community has kept numerous games alive long after their shelf-life and keeps bringing new players into the experience. Mods are distributed for free and involve a collaborative community experience. 
3) The PC allows for free DLC. Companies are able to release new content for their games at no cost to the player, unlike consoles that require downloadable content to cost a certain value of money. As a result, the PC gaming community stays alive longer and doesn't get divided into different groups depending on who owns what DLC.
4) The keyboard and mouse are far more precise than using a dual-analogue controller. The mouse measures acceleration a lot better and has a more intuitive hand-to-eye connection, while the keyboard gives the player access to hotkeys and numerous other functions that simply can't be fit on a standard controller. If a PC gamer really wants the feel of a controller, though, those exist and are compatible with most games.
5) The PC can be upgraded, allowing it to remain on the cutting edge of technology. If a PC gamer wants to improve performance in a certain area, it's easy for them to replace components, whereas consoles are stuck with the hardware configurations they came with five or six years ago.
6) The PC has hands-down superior graphics capability. The PC runs at a higher resolution, allowing for far more detailed textures and environments, and handles stuff like anti-aliasing and vertical sync as well. The PC also handles particle physics and dynamic lighting better than consoles. 
7) The PC has essentially unlimited backwards compatibility. If you buy a new PC, you have access to a couple of decades worth of video games, many of which have become legally free "abandonware" as easily-obtainable downloads. You don't necessarily have to hunt down a 20-year old disc and pay a collector's fortune only to hope that it still works.
8) The PC can even emulate older consoles, allowing users to play console games. When you're looking for an old SNES game that would cost $50 or more to buy, you have the option to consider playing a ROM instead. 
9) Digital downloads have increased the ease with which you can acquire games, because they don't have limited copies turning them into collector's items. Downloads have also lowered the prices because you don't have to pay manufacturing fees, shipping fees, or storage fees, and you can get them without driving to a store or waiting several days for shipping.
There are a couple of advantages to playing consoles, though, which people use in their defense. One that readily comes to mind is that you don't have to put up with intrusive, draconian DRM with console games (this is probably the main advantage of a "closed" system such as a console). But let's take a look at some of the others and see what we can do to debunk them.
"At least with consoles, you can play comfortably on the couch instead of hunched over a desk."
It is indeed nice to be relaxed in a comfy recliner, but this feature is not exclusive to consoles. PCs can easily be connected to a big screen TV via HDMI cables, allowing a PC gamer to sit back on the couch with their legs propped up on the coffee table. You can easily set-up a lapdesk to place the keyboard and mouse on and play with ease and comfort, or go with a USB controller.
"Using a controller feels fluid and comfortable, and for some games it's actually a lot better than a keyboard and mouse."
Yeah, some games do benefit from having two joysticks, but as I mentioned earlier, a PC gamer can easily use a dual-stick controller for most games they would want to. If you, as a console gamer, prefer the feel of a controller, that's totally fine, but that's a matter of personal preference and doesn't negate the fact that the mouse has measurably superior performance. 
"Buying a console is a lot cheaper than buying a PC, and I know that every game I buy for it over the next several years will run."
The PC sometimes runs into compatibility issues with certain games not working quite right with certain combinations of hardware, this is true. However, there's almost always a fix available that any self-respecting PC gamer would find very easy to handle. And yes, buying a new console is a lot cheaper than buying a new PC, but there are other factors to consider.

First of all, a PC won't cost you $60 for a year's worth of online services (a la Xbox Live Gold), and you won't be paying extra money for every piece of DLC you want to get. Most PC games sell brand new for cheaper than console games, and a lot of high-quality indie games are released at substantially lower cost, while many full-length games are completely free on the PC. Even though you pay more for the platform, you can potentially earn the difference in savings. 

Let's also not forget that you basically NEED a computer in today's world. Everyone who owns a gaming console also owns a computer. Since you already need a computer (and probably already have one anyway), it doesn't cost you that much extra to beef its hardware up to something comparable to (and even significantly better than) its console counterpart. 
"Consoles are nice because I don't have to spend a ton of money every couple of years upgrading my system."
Besides the fact that you need to buy a new console every so many years (and that the PS3 cost a hefty $600 at launch), you can also consider that, with the rate at which PC hardware advances, older hardware becomes "obsolete" and drops in price fairly quickly. If you already have a gaming PC, it doesn't cost you very much to upgrade a couple of generations as long as you're not springing for the current top-of-the-line products. In the longrun, it may actually be cheaper to just upgrade a PC instead of buying a new console when they come out, while also allowing you to remain ahead of console processing power.

[Conclusion]

It seems to me that the PC is the superior gaming platform, no matter how you want to look at it. There are certain times when games just feel better on a console, but these tend to be situational. The console seems to be a matter of simple preference, with some nice features that can be very appealing to a variety of different people. While this is certainly fine in its own right, the console is really outclassed by the PC. Most people who say the PC is the better gaming platform aren't being "PC elitists" when they're just speaking the truth. 

It's also interesting to note the case of Super Meat Boy, which sold more copies on the PC in its first two weeks than in its entire history on the Xbox 360. Perhaps even console games are better on the PC. 

2 comments:

  1. I realize this post is a little old, but with the exception of digital downloads it is still mostly relevant.

    I like and agree with your points about the PC being generative and the availability of obscure, unique gems that you can only get on the PC. Your argument is pretty solid up to this point. Mod support is also a pretty big deal, especially in the case of Valve's Source Engine which still has an incredibly active mod scene years and years after the fact.

    However, as a PC gamer who's almost completely converted to the console, I have some nits to pick.

    First, many (if not most) PC games don't allow you to extensively modify their settings through settings files. Sure, you will usually have a lot more options as far as controls go because there are more buttons on a keyboard than there are on a controller. But I'd argue that an overly complicated control scheme is not necessarily a good thing.

    As far as visual and audio settings, those only exist on the PC because not every PC can handle every game with every setting maxed out. I find this to be a detriment because I know that Crysis doesn't look as good on my PC as it could if I were willing to spend a few hundred dollars more on equipment, which I'm not. At least on the console I don't have to deal with the hassle of sacrificing quality to get decent performance.

    I'm not convinced that the preciseness argument is valid either. Moving around with the WASD keys always felt a little surreal to me since you are limited to eight directions (including the diagonals). Moving around with a joystick on the other hand feels more natural since you can move in any direction at any angle relative to how you are facing. The crosshair doesn't behave any differently depending on your input method - it is essentially just a pointer anyways. You might argue that you can acquire your target more quickly with the mouse, but that's probably just a matter of getting used to the controls.

    The PC can't always be upgraded easily. If you mean the video card, then that is easy enough to swap out - unless the way it connects to the motherboard has changed. For example, if your motherboard has PCI but not PCI express slots, then you are looking at upgrading your whole motherboard in addition to your video card. That could mean your $100ish upgrade is now more like a $200 to $300 upgrade. This problem is a lot worse when it comes to the processor, which will almost always have to be upgraded along with the motherboard because the chipsets change.

    The superior graphics quality argument is a slippery slope, because that's only true if your computer hardware is superior to whatever is in the consoles at the time. Crysis running on my PC will certainly look better than Crysis running on an Xbox 360. But when the Xbox Next (or whatever they're calling it) comes out, it's going to blow whatever my computer can do out of the water. At that point, I can upgrade my computer (again, see point above) or settle for lower quality graphics, in which case your argument is moot.

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  2. [Continued...]

    Have you ever tried hooking up your computer to your TV and playing PC games while sitting on the couch? I have. It's a tremendous pain. First, there's the issue of installing and configuring games, which you normally can't do with a controller. You will need a mouse and keyboard handy, which means you'll either have them sitting right by your TV or you will need a big flat surface on your lap, at which point you might as well be sitting at a desk because it would be easier and more comfortable. You will most likely need to decrease the screen resolution and/or increase the font size so you can read text on the screen from where you sit. And if there are any problems with the game running on your hardware, which I experience a lot with PC games, you're back to standing one foot away from your TV while you Google solutions to missing DLL problems, or you're back to having a big flat surface on your lap and squinting to read everything. It's not practical at all.

    As for emulating games, last time I checked that was illegal. Not that there's anything to stop you from doing it if you want to, but I wouldn't call it a selling point for the platform. It's like saying the PC is superior because you can pirate games over torrent.

    Finally, a lot of content, including major games and indie games in addition to DLC, is available on consoles. Maybe it wasn't when you wrote the article.

    Anyways, I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here. I love the PC because of all the unique experiences its given me, and because of the nostalgia factor. Like I said earlier, the generative argument is significant. But I don't think most of your other points are all that strong.

    Sorry this was such a long comment!

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