Jason (psychosisx) wrote,

PC gaming is not going to outdo consoles.

In any given discussion about the next generation consoles, it is inevitable that the subject of PC games is brought up. I felt it deserves a more thorough exploration. What follows are the common arguments made in favor of PC games, and and how I think they measure up in practical terms for the average consumer.

1. The PC has better graphics

This is a particular point of pride for the PC enthusiast, and it's an argument that gets bandied about a lot. The PC is superior, it is claimed, because the best graphics can only be found on the PC format

I've already discussed in my previous entry why graphics don't matter. Or, rather, why they only matter a fraction of a percent as much as those making the argument seem to think. If gaming history teaches anything, it's that graphics are a secondary concern. It is the frosting on the cake, not the cake itself. In real-world terms, the customer is quite happy with graphics they feel are "good enough" and neither know the difference between bump mapping and pixel shading nor care.

So long as a game doesn't look noticeably ugly (and few games nowadays manage that), graphics are not an issue. A film buff may have a lot to say about the use of computer effects, the lighting, the camera work, etc, but the average Joe who walks into a theater just wants to see a good movie. If a movie does have extravagant effects they will notice, but even then it will only have a positive effect on the viewer if those tricks are used well.

It is the same with video games. Impressive graphics are a bonus, but in general terms a game only has to look "good enough," and everything beyond that is just extra icing on the cake.

The hardcore enthusiasts you see in gaming forums and comment sections may decry a game as ugly if some textures are blurry or cry bloody murder if the resolution isn't high enough, but what they often fail to realize is that these things are not important to anyone but them.

2. The PC is cheaper.

This statement is both true and false, depending on the context. This statement is typically used in one of two ways. The first usage is the fact that PC games cost, on average, $10 less than their console counterparts. Factor in regular sales from the ever-popular Steam shop and that does add up to great savings. This usage of the argument is true, but with console manufacturers starting to hold their own sales and even give away games free of charge, it's becoming less true.

The second usage of this statement is to point out that, if one has a good eye for PC components, it's possible to build a PC with more powerful hardware than consoles for cheaper. It's worth noting that this form of the statement is most commonly used as a defense against the argument that gaming PCs are more expensive than consoles.

There is, however, a pretty big flaw in their logic. In order to achieve those cost savings, the consumer must already be intimately familiar with current PC hardware. They must also have the technical knowledge, as well as the patience, to assemble a PC by hand, configure it themselves, and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.

To someone who is not already a dedicated tech enthusiast, this means having to undergo exhaustive research to learn what PC components are needed, what they do, and how to assemble them. They must also learn what all those numbers and technical terms mean, how to compare them, and then from that make a cost/benefit judgment for each individual part. This may seem like child's play to a hardcore tech enthusiast, but for anyone else it's just frustrating busywork.

There's a reason why most people buy their vegetables at the supermarket instead of cultivating a garden. It's more work than they want. Buying at the store is more convenient than learning about how to properly care for a garden. It doesn't matter that home-grown vegetables are fresher, the convenience of buying your onions without fuss or worry is worth it.

Someone without the required expertise and temperament to build their own computers will likely buy them pre-built, and that is far more expensive than buying a console. The argument that you can build your own computer for cheaper hinges on everyone being as big of a PC enthusiast as the person making the argument, and that is not only wrong, but patently ridiculous.

3. the keyboard and mouse are superior.

Another common argument made in favor of PCs is the mouse and keyboard. It is considered by PC enthusiasts to be the ultimate gaming interface, superior in every way to the controllers used by video game consoles.

Little mention in these arguments is made about the keyboard, unless someone is talking about gaming keyboards with programmable macro keys. The discussion mostly revolves around the mouse, which is touted as a far more accurate method of control than the analog stick.

Again, the benefits of a mouse and keyboard are only truly appreciable to those who are already dedicated. For those for whom even a controller is a bit much, the mouse and keyboard is a convoluted mess. It can also be argued that there are those who find the simplicity of a controller to be preferable. It really comes down to personal preference.

In the end, the whole argument is rather moot. So long as a game can be played comfortably, none of this really matters. A shooter is just as fun on a console as it is on a PC, as the sales figures for such games suggest. Arguments about the mouse and keyboard vs the controller is mostly just splitting hairs. Neither control method is "better" than the other. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and both play well with a game that has been specifically made for that interface.

4. PC games can be modded

It is said that PC games are superior because they can be modified. Certain games have quite active communities of users who create their own custom content and make them available for others to install into their own games. This can range from cosmetic changes, gameplay tweaks, or even whole new levels. There have even been successful games that originally started out as mods.

This is perhaps the only argument that I find to be true. User-generated content is perhaps the greatest benefit of PC gaming, assuming you're playing a game that has an active mod community. It is something that the console market should look into implementing. The absence of mod support, however, clearly has done nothing to slow console sales. It's a nice bonus, but it's not essential.

As far as convincing non-PC enthusiasts to buy gaming PCs, however, it's not a big enough selling point to convince them to either pay the huge cost of buying a gaming PC, or learning how to build a PC themselves. It's too much cost or effort for not enough gain.

5. Conclusion

The problem with the argument for PC gaming is that it only means anything if you're already a PC gamer. To someone who is already tech savvy, these arguments make sense. To someone who hasn't devoted themselves to tech, it's just noise.

For this reason, it is not possible for PC games to become the dominant form of gaming. It's simpler to "buy an Xbox" than "build a PC with an Intel processor, an Nvidia graphics card, a 1TB hard drive, 8 gigs of ram, with a Logitech gaming keyboard and mouse." In the end, simplicity and user-friendliness are better product sellers than raw performance. Unless PC gaming becomes much more streamlined, you won't convince anyone who's not already a techie to make the switch.

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