The problem with PC gaming.
What's your gaming platform of choice?
I wanna make one thing perfectly clear before we get started (because this is the internet and I know that there will be uncountable numbers of irrational PC gaming fanboys who will see this and want me dead (figuratively speaking of course), and that is, despite all the negative things I'm about to say, I don't hate the PC as a gaming platform. Quite the opposite. Some of my earliest gaming experiences were made with the PC, not consoles. And to this day, I love playing old point and click adventure games like the Kings Quest and Monkey Island series. I love playing the classic Doom games, I even played some MMOs like Final Fantasy XI. And I love the way that PC games can be modded for things like, well, like having a lightsaber in Skyrim. And lets not forget about indie developers. The PC, thanks in large part to services like Steam, is still one of the best places for the indie guys to release their games and get noticed relatively cheaply. And there are some genre's that are either completely ignored, outright dead or just wouldn't work (or at least not work as well) on the consoles that work beautifully on the PC, like the RTS genre and whatever the hell Sleep is Death is supposed to be.
No, the reason I have a problem with PC gaming is for two, not entirely unrelated, reasons: The first is the claim by PC gaming fanboys and so called "technical experts," that its somehow superior to consoles because of the BS reason that any given game, particularly in the modern era, runs at a higher frame rate and it looks prettier on the PC than on its console brother. The second reason, and the reason that REALLY makes my blood boil, is the relative inaccessibility of the hardware necessary to run a game on the PC with little or no problems.
Oh and one other thing: yes, I am using the broad term "PC Gaming," even though I am mostly referring to "hardcore" games and not casual games like "Farmville." Why? Because "hardcore" games are what every gamer (and most non-gamers for that matter) thinks of when they think about games, PC or otherwise. I just wanted to make that clear.
Point One: It looks prettier...not really.
By now, some of you are probably wondering, "Why is the fact that PC games have better graphics and better frame rates bother him so much?" Well the reason is quite simple: only technically minded people are going to notice, and looking prettier doesn't add to or take away from anything to the game. This might seem like a no brainer to most people, but there are some professional critics (too many in my opinion) and PC gamers that spout this nonsense as the defining reason for the PC's superiority over a video game console. Its like a few years ago when people were fighting over the picture quality of Blu-Ray and the HD-DVD. Let me explain something: If you have two freshly picked apples, then it really doesn't matter if you can see yourself in it or not, its gonna taste the exact same. Which is just a fancy way of saying: look, if the game sucked on a console, then its gonna suck on the PC, no matter how pretty it looks. And unless the PC version of the game has something that the console version doesn't, the average gamer is probably gonna go with the console version.
What do I mean by "Something that the console version doesn't have?" Well to explain that I have to play historian a little bit. Why? Because at least two decades ago, when most gamers were fighting over whether a portly plumber could beat up a cartoony hedgehog, the claim that "PC games are superior to console games" actually did have some truth to it. Not only in a technical sense, but in other ways as well. The PC is the place where the idea of video games for adults got started for one thing, and while console ports of PC games was much rarer back then, they did happen and when it did happen, the console version of a game was usually vastly inferior to its PC counterparts, with missing levels, inferior graphics, altered music and altered game play in some cases and so on.
But aside from the technical differences, these ports would often be censored for content, whether real or imagined. For example, did you know that there was a NES version of Lucasarts' famous point and click adventure classic 'Maniac Mansion?' Well that port almost didn't happen because Nintendo's radical censorship policies at the time forced the developers to go back and remove a large chunk of content from the game. While some of these were perfectly reasonable, others were not. Like Nintendo asking the developers to remove non-existent pubic hair from one of the statues in the game. The statue was of a woman resting on a giant shell, which in actuality was based on a real renaissance-era statue. When the developers told Nintendo this, Nintendo tried to get them to remove the statue altogether.
The point I'm making here is that, PC games were superior to console games back then because there was actually a noticeable difference between the two mediums. And gamers could actually see and experience the differences when they played them. Today, that's not really an issue anymore. For one thing, there's really no need to censor content so much. And for another, thanks to technological advancements, games look and play just as good on consoles as they would on a high-end PC, without any alterations. And realizing this, PC game makers have tried to lure players back with, not games that played better (god no, that would require too much work) but with the looking prettier and higher frame rate scam mentioned above.
I mean think about it, was there any real reason that, say, the original Crysis couldn't run on the Xbox 360 or PS3 when it first came out? No, not really, any two year old could have told you that. But it was originally released as a PC exclusive because the developers wanted those few extra pixels to make it look pretty. Take that away, and Crysis is just another utterly generic Halo wannabe that any competent company could have dug out of the trash can of boring game ideas in less than a year.
But while these extra pixels were Crysis's biggest selling point, it was also the biggest nail in the "PC exclusive" coffin. While it sold well enough to become a franchise, and did eventually get a console release, those extra pixels meant that it couldn't be run on the family computer, you had to get a special computer designed specifically to play games. A PC so ridiculously expensive that you might as well gift wrap your arms and legs. This leads me into the second point.
Point two: Gaming Hardware shouldn't be more than $400.
I'm sorry, but this is a damn near philosophical thing for me. Why are gaming PC manufacturers still getting away with this CRAP?! I mean think about it! The average price range of a Laptop that can play games decently at Best Buys is $529.99-$2,636.99 (and that's before taxes set in). And the latest Alienware (a brand that makes PC's with games in mind) laptops range in price from $1,199-$2,099. $2,099, I could buy a CAR for that much. For desktops, it gets worse. At Best Buys the price range for desktops that can play games is $699.99-$1,149.99. While a top of the line Alienware desktop price range starts at $699-$1,399. Whereas gaming consoles (at time of writing) are $349.99 for the Wii U, $299 for the Playstation 3 and $249.99 for the Xbox 360 that comes with the Kinect accessory. Anyway you look at it, gaming PC's are WAY more expensive than a game console. We live in the Year 2013, and gaming PC makers can't figure out how to bring their product's cost down?! It's a scam!
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Gaming PC's have more things in them that normal PC's don't and therefore can do more and justify the price. And that's true, but let me offer this as a counter-point. I have both an Iphone 4S and the latest version of the Ipad as of 2012, and both have games on them that use the Unreal engine 3. This is the same graphics engine that was used to make all four of the Gears of War games, The Batman Arkham games, all three Bioshock games, Lost Odyssey, the Mass Effect trilogy and so many others that naming them all would keep me busy till the year 2020. The point is this: if a smartphone and a tablet, two devices that are both cheaper and technically inferior to a full blown computer, can run one of the industries premier graphic engines, then what is stopping gaming PC manufacturers from making a computer that is both designed for games and is also less than $500? Hell, I can say with 100% certainty that if I could install Steam, Microsoft Office, Final draft, my small collection of physical PC games and a mouse onto my Ipad, I would throw the old laptop I'm using to write this article in the garbage.
And I know what some of you are thinking, you're thinking "Well console and tablet games are designed with consoles and tablets in mind." No, I'm sorry that not gonna fly here. Because with the rate technology is advancing, its only a matter of time before we see a tablet have the same graphical capabilities as the Playstation 4 and then beyond that, who knows?
And I'm sure some of you are thinking "Well if people want a cheap gaming PC they should just build their own. That's most people do." Well that's great, but when you say "most people." you're really referring to obsessive PC gamers or people who otherwise have the technological know how to do that. But what are about the average person? How will they know what parts are the best and which ones are a waste of money? And I'm not saying the average joe can't build their own rig, they probably could if they put their minds to it. I'm saying that they probably don't want too. I mean, if you're an average person and don't have much (if any) experience with computer hardware, do you really want to deal with picking out what, say, the best motherboard is when they all look the same to you? Of course not, you wanna plug the darn thing in and play.
And that's where the real crutch comes in. PC gaming is a confusing labyrinth of specs and technobabble. And depending on the kind of computer you have, you might not be able to play even the crudest of games because you don't have the right graphic's card or whatever. Where as with consoles, you just buy the console of your choice, hook it up to the TV, put the disc in and play. Yes, PC games put the minimum system requirements on the box or the screen or whatever. But again, to the average person those requirements might as well be written in Chinese. And if your computer is like mine and past a certain age, PC gaming is not happening period.
Look, I'm not saying that one form of gaming is somehow better than the other. Hell, so far as I'm concerned, when it comes to stuff like this, the whole 'which is better' argument, is one of the most idiotic discussions on the planet. And like I said before, I don't hate the PC as a gaming platform. What I hate is the fact that PC gaming as a whole has become so inaccessible to the average person and no one in the industry seems to care. And if that attitude continues, then you might as well put PC gaming in its coffin now. That is, unless, this side of the industry gets its act together and finds a legitimate way to compete with its console cousins. And as I see it, the first step is to find a way to make a gaming PC that is both powerful and yet can match the economic price of a game console. And by legitimate, I don't mean gimmicky crap like the Oculus rift. Need I remind everyone of the Virtual Boy?
I'm under no illusion that my words really mean anything here. But this is just my opinion so take it for what it is.
© 2013 Will English.