A few interesting announcements have come about in PC gaming this week. Namco announced two of its upcoming games which previously bolstered the PS4’s library of exclusives in my view — Ni No Kuni II and Ace Combat 7, are now headed to PC. A smaller announcement of interest is that MSI at CES announced an upgraded version of its Trident PC-in-a-console-box. I think this is as good a time as any to try to sort through the reasons a lot of people still pick console gaming over PC gaming despite how much the differences between the two sides of gaming have shifted in recent years.
I’m not really writing this to say console gamers are wrong or that PC is objectively better. What I want to lay out is that there are legitimate reasons to choose a console as your primary platform over PC, and then there are outright myths made of a combination of outdated information and a bit of undue fear. I want to at least begin to separate the two.
A lot of changes in the last decade or so have seriously shrunken the gap of accessibility between playing games on a Windows PC and playing games on a PlayStation. Connecting a PC to a TV and playing PC games with the controller of your choice from a couch is easier than ever. Installing PC games and installing console games have become extremely similar processes. A lot of resources exist to facilitate building PCs, and good-enough pre-built systems like the aforementioned Trident or the Alienware Alpha exist. Thousands upon thousands of PC games are available that will run on very low-end systems for those who don’t care much about bleeding-edge graphics.
Honestly I don’t even think handling drivers is that bad a process the vast majority of the time. I won’t say issues don’t happen, but all the horror stories you might read online about drivers are likely a case of only hearing from unsatisfied customers. I don’t know how AMD handles drivers today (Steam can automatically handle AMD drivers though), but Nvidia has an app where you just get the new drivers with a couple clicks. It even has a section where you can manage the graphics settings for all your games and automatically get suggested settings, complete with visual descriptions of what each setting does.
I’m not saying PC gaming is as easy as console gaming, but I think a lot of fears about it are overblown.
Now I’m going to list out what I believe are the actual best reasons for someone to choose console gaming over PC gaming while hopefully still assuaging some myths.
You care more about certain kinds of exclusives than others: I’m putting this up first because it’s the most contentious subject I’m going to go over. I could probably do a post on this by itself. People talk about games exclusive to consoles all the time, but really there are plenty of great games that don’t come out on consoles. There are also however major differences between the games that tend to only come out on consoles and the ones that only come out on PC.
This may sound a bit harsh, but I think a lot of the people who say exclusives chain them to consoles over PC are really just attached to brand names that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo spend a lot of money advertising. I think I can say this because I myself and still very much attached to Nintendo’s games. Console exclusives tend to get a lot more advertising than PC exclusives. I guess that money often makes for prettier graphics these days too. I just don’t think that makes for inherently better games. Who can really say if Stephen Sausage Roll or Civilization VI are objectively worse games than Uncharted 4 or Halo 5. Even if you look at it in terms of popularity, PC games like League of Legends or Counter-Strike probably have bigger audiences than a lot of Sony’s or Nintendo’s games.
The other key difference between console and PC exclusives seems to be which genres are prevalent among each. Big console-exclusive games tend to be third person action games like Uncharted, God of War, or The Legend of Zelda. Big PC exclusives tend to be strategy or simulation games like StarCraft, League of Legends, DOTA, Planet Coaster, or Civilization. Some people are just more accustomed to one over the other. I’d just prefer it if they admitted this instead of saying “consoles have exclusives” while pretending the PC doesn’t.
That’s not even all though. The indie space has a lot of games I think console users would love, but don’t get released on consoles for one reason or another. Off the top of my head these tend to be the low-end 2D games that recall console classics. Some filter onto consoles, but a lot of great ones don’t. For every Hyper Light Drifter or Shovel Knight there’s also an Odallus or an Undertale.
You really don’t want to spend more than $400 USD on hardware: Getting a gaming PC is no longer extremely hard what with all the resources and pre-built systems out there, but the initial buy-in is indeed still more expensive than a PS4 or Xbox One. We just need to dispel the myth that you need a $2000 system in order to play PC games, even PC versions of AAA games.
If your absolute ceiling for buying hardware is indeed around $400 then yes, a PS4 Pro will probably give you more bang for your buck. This might even apply more if you live in certain parts of the world where PC parts are more expensive. Places like PCPartPicker however are specifically designed to help customers meet their performance targets while saving money. I think part of realizing this though involves giving up on having to run everything with maximum graphics settings. Budgeting is about deciding where you want to make compromises on performance. The only difference with console games is that the developer is the one making the compromises for you.
The PC gaming community probably needs to stop focusing so much on better graphics as a main selling point. It made sense when PC was getting lots of exclusives with graphics consoles couldn’t touch, but everything with lots of money and pretty graphics invested into it is multiplatform these days. What PC gaming needs to instead sell itself on is the general focus on freedom and user control.
Portable gaming: Arguably the best reason to invest into the console space is that you need to play games on the go. It’s probably been Nintendo’s best selling point from the perspective of the PC gamer for a long time. Portable gaming is the last thing PC can’t really provide at all yet.
It’s sort of getting there though. There are tons of low-end games that’ll run on not just laptops but Surface tablets which provide a degree of portability. I really hope hardware manufacturers can minimize things further and further until we get some kind of Vita-sized Windows machine. Projects like the GPD-Win are trying, and I think if it really happens it could be the future of non-phone handheld gaming.
The whole concept of the Nintendo Switch has me thinking about buying certain games like Shovel Knight or Sonic Mania first on it so I can play them in more places, then buying them on sale later for PC on GoodOldGames or the Humble Store for posterity, which brings me to my next point…
You want the ability to transfer ownership of physical discs: “Ownership” of what you buy is a multifaceted issue on both the console and PC side. On consoles the physical disc is becoming more and more of a formality — PS4 and Xbox One just dump all that data onto their hard drives, often downloading many gigabytes more, and simply use the discs as a security check. You can still trade those discs in though, let people borrow them, or bring them to other people’s consoles. Possibly most importantly, most AAA games no longer have physical releases on PC (in North America). If you want your entire license of ownership to be represented by possession of a physical medium, I guess consoles are still the best place for that.
If you’re already accepting digital though, you get a better deal on PC. Digital PC services don’t really restrict where you can install the games anymore, and on PC there’s a much stronger precedent for backwards compatibility. Your library comes with you through any hardware changes you might make. When it comes to indie games I think PC is virtually always the better deal. The digital-only ones on PC have the aforementioned-advantages, but indie games on PC are also commonly sold through GoodOldGames, the Humble Store, and itch.io, which don’t impose any DRM. With games like Hyper Light Drifter or Oxenfree on PC you can simply get an executable you can do anything you want with.
The realm of physical releases for indie games is getting interesting on both PC and consoles. Companies like Limited Run Games are doing good work on the console side, so you can get games like Oxenfree on a PS4 disc. On PC GameTrust and IndieBox are releasing games like Rogue Legacy and Axiom Verge in steelbooks with full manuals, DRM-free discs, and Steam codes.
You hate Windows: A lot of people absolutely can’t stand Windows, and I guess that’s valid. Maybe they want a more closed and stable system, or a system devoted entirely to one-task without much else to complicate it. That’s completely a matter of preference. Mac and Linux gaming are a lot bigger than they were even a few years ago, but obviously they aren’t in the same place as Windows gaming.
In conclusion: PC gaming and console gaming fundamentally appeal to different tastes, the former being for those who want more flexibility and greater control over their hardware and software, the latter being for users who want a simpler and more stable experience. People having those differences is perfectly natural, but it’s better if they’re more informed about the choices they’re making.
Many people’s apprehensions about PC gaming aren’t completely unfounded, but I think they’re often exaggerated. I’m trying to get down to the core concerns that really are justified. I think the real issue is a lack of clear messaging on the behalf of PC gaming. It’s an open platform with no monolithic ambassador to market it and tell consumers what’s going on.
- Where the Death Star trench actually is: http://io9.gizmodo.com/youve-been-wrong-about-where-the-death-star-trench-was-1791582520
- Wired article about the trance vibrator from Rez and what’s happened in the conversation over women and video games in the years since its original release: https://www.wired.com/2017/01/rez-vibrator-womens-sexuality/