A More Measured Look at PC Gaming

Sigh. I suppose I brought it upon myself. I poked the PC bear and then as I should have expected, the bear mauled me with its claws of tech-knowledge. I tried to make amends of a sort. I admitted that my recent post complaining about PC gaming was poorly titled and opted to change it from “The Number Reason (Besides Piracy) That PC Gaming is Dying,” to “The Number One Problem With PC Gaming (Besides Piracy).”

When people commented, both negatively and positively, I replied and did so in a manner that I felt was respectful. But no matter how I spin it, I feel it’s time to fess up. I did a lousy job. I wrote something on the fly while I was annoyed at another situation and allowed my momentary biases to influence me. It happens to the best and the worst alike, and I’d like to think I at least fall somewhere in the middle of those poles.

In light of this realization, I’d like to offer a more even, less frustrated examination of the current state of PC gaming. Its ups, its downs and why I tend to choose consoles when the option is available.
***

To set the record straight, PC gaming is not dying. In fact, you’d be more accurate in saying it’s been on the rise again in recent years. The continued rise of digital distribution, cloud gaming, and of course, the constant money sucking presence of MMOs are helping to restore the platform to at least some semblance of its former prominence. Not to mention, the PC is a ripe platform for indie gaming and development, which isn’t something to roll your eyes at.

That said, you’d be a fool to insist PC gaming is anywhere near as strong as it used to be. Piracy has decimated software sales, leading to fewer and fewer big budget PC games. This last year alone contained only a few of note, while the remaining releases were mainly multiplatform games with comparable console versions. At the moment, consoles are just a safer platform to develop for.

Consoles are also a more convenient platform for consumers. Building a good gaming computer requires either skill or money, often both. As some commented on my previous piece, it is possible to build a PC that can run Crysis at its highest settings on the cheap, but how the hell would I know how to do that? I didn’t have a PC until I was sixteen and I certainly don’t have time to learn how to make one myself now. Not to mention, I am a fairly technically inept person. I think that some people forget that these sorts of skills come to others with a bit more difficulty than it came to them. When a piece of hardware stops working in my house, the most I know to do is slap it a couple times and start cussing. I can’t even keep the sliding doors on my closet working, how the hell am I supposed to make a high performance gaming machine?

Consoles for me, and many others, in turn are a favored platform because of their convenience factor. Even as consoles become more like PCs, they still generally come with the knowledge that if you buy a game for a PS3, it’s going to work on your PS3. I know with relative certainty what will work on what. I don’t have that with a PC.

Point in case, I bought a new laptop this morning. I am currently trying to play Knights of the Old Republic II on it, but due to compatibility issues I’m having to go through a whole process of making the game work. The anticipation I felt earlier while installing the game is gone now, and replaced by an uneasy feeling that this game I paid for and want to play may not work.

Now, I researched all the PC games I wanted to use before buying my new computer to make sure they would work. All the signs I read, pointed to yes, but all it seems to take is one no. The problem of course is that computers by themselves are not primarily game machines, so they’re often not made primarily with gaming in mind. Comparatively, while an Xbox 360 or PS3 might have alternative uses they are first and foremost for games.

Add to this the fact that PC games are becoming more and more annoying to actually play and the problem is further exacerbated. Alluding again to my previous post, many took issue with my being annoyed about EA requiring my wife’s gaming PC be hooked to the internet and logged in to their servers in order to use DLC for Dragon Age: Origins. Their disputes noted, it still annoys me to no end.

Many seemed to find this silly. I’ve gotten several comments to the effect that it’s ludicrous not to have a computer connected to the internet in this day and age. I reply to that with a simple, why? If the purpose of my computer is solely to play games, and the games I play don’t require the internet, then why should I use it? To surf the web? I have a netbook for that. For multiplayer? Sure, but I don’t like multiplayer all that much.

In my opinion, if a game doesn’t require the internet for its actual gameplay, it shouldn’t require it at all. Dragon Age is one such case where the internet connection has nothing to do with the gameplay. It’s there to give EA some piece of mind that I’m not stealing their property, which is understandable. Gamers haven’t really given publishers much reason to trust them in recent years. Even so, as a paying consumer who always buys things legally, it is an offense to me that I’m punished for the actions of others. There must be some more clever way of protecting software.

Because aside from being offensive, this method can be detrimental to the actual game. Point in case, last summer I wrote IGN’s walkthrough for Command and Conquer 4. The internet where I live is sometimes unreliable. Our local provider isn’t the best, and it often stops working. To put it short, it caused me problems on several occasions and, honestly if the trend continues in this direction I will probably be playing PC games less and less.

Which really may not be much of a sacrifice in my eyes. Sure PCs can be upgraded with the times, but I’m not the type to care about whether or not my graphics are the shiniest. I’m actually more impressed with a nice looking game on a console than on a PC, because console developers have limits imposed upon them based on available hardware. PC developers in turn can just tell me what I need to play their games.

Moreover, I’m becoming more and more convinced that there isn’t a damn thing that consoles couldn’t do if used properly. So many PC gamers like to cite the fact that certain genres play better on computers versus consoles, but I don’t think it needs to be that way. The majority of RTS and turn-based strategy games I’ve played for instance, have been on consoles. I played Civilization on my SNES. I played Starcraft on my N64. I’m currently playing the original Command and Conquer (PS1 version) on my PSP, and you know what? They all work just fine. Do these games work better with a mouse and keyboard? Exorbitantly so. But they can be played well with a controller, and really, there’s no reason the mouse and keyboard set up can’t work with a console. Point in case. I own a wireless USB mouse and keyboard. My PS3 has four USB slots. Do the math.

At the end of the day, the reason I like consoles over PCs when it comes to gaming is simply for the convenience. When I come home, I want to play a game. I don’t want to wrestle with a piece of software for an hour and a half before I can use it. PC gaming isn’t dying. It’s not going to die. But it could be improved, and will fall even further if consoles learn just how much they can really do.

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14 Responses to A More Measured Look at PC Gaming

  1. HenryFord says:

    Do you need to be connected all the time, when you want to play the DLC of DA?
    I honestly don’t know.

    I assume it is only a one time thing for activation purposes? If that is the case: Your point is dismissed, because you dont need to be connected to the internet to play the game, just once to activate it.
    Moreover, I’m becoming more and more convinced that there isn’t a damn thing that consoles couldn’t do if used properly.
    I really hope you just mean the “gaming-part” of the pc, because obviously a PC can do A LOT more than a console. But nevertheless: That is still not true. In order to play games like StarCraft or Supreme Commander you NEED the power of the PC for the masses of enemies.
    And your argument that you like a “shiny console”-game more then a “shiny pc”-game is just a fail. You always can play the pc-versions trickled down, you’ll get the same looks as if you would play on a console but you only need a fair amount of hardware-power to accomplish this. PC-Games do have a lot more compatibility towards the underlying hardware, because it differs so much. A lot of the newer games can be played with an old rack, you just have to trickle down the settings.

    • Stew Shearer says:

      I am actually not certain about the Dragon Age DLC issue. It caused issues for us initially, but we haven’t tried playing the game without a connection since to avoid problems.

      Even if that was a bit of an overreaction on my part (an admitted possibility), it doesn’t change the fact that many new games are coming out that will literally boot you from the single player mode if an internet connection isn’t available. Command and Conquer 4 was a pain and I’ve heard awful things about the PC version of Assassin’s Creed 2.

      And yes, obviously the overall uses of a PC outweigh those of a console, though this may not be the case for much longer. I still haven’t tried out the PS3s video editing software, but aside from that the only thing I use my laptop for is the internet and writing.

      And I’ve been hearing differing things about Starcraft 2, some say it doesn’t require much of a system at all to play it, while others contend you need a whopper of a PC to show of all those little Zerglings properly.

      • HenryFord says:

        Well…first of all: Excuse my offensive language in the first post.

        Your point with the internet-connection is indeed valid if you look at games like CnC4 or AC2 or Splinter Cell: Conviction. EA since backed off – for the newer Titles no Internet Connection is necessary (take Battlefield Bad Company 2 for an example: You can activate it via internet, you do not need your disc at anytime if you choose to. But you also can activate via the CD-Key which will then require you to have the CD inserted. I think that is the perfect “middle-way”. The internet-thing is hassle-free and actually gives you something in return while it still offers you the offline-solution.

        Ubisoft on the other hand decided to punish legit customers because the “piracy is just too much”. That is in a lot of ways very difficult, and honestly right out stupid from Ubisoft, and will lead to disappointing sales. While major games like Call Of Duty or Battlefield still score high and have solid sales throughout the lifecycle, game like AC2 won’t have those sales just because the customers are not willing to trickle themselves down – I would have bought SC:C and AC2 immediatly, but canceled my preorders as soon as I heard from the outrageous DRM-System in place.

        You may not use your PC for a lot more, but a lot of the other users out there actually do. I for instance use streaming-services (my pc as the streaming-hardware), Webserver-Instances (for a lot of things), HTPC-Applications (XBMC), Developement, etc. . There are a lot of possibilites out there – a pc can be a beast if you are willing to spent time.

        I give you the point on the casual-side though: Casual Gamers do not want to configure ANYTHING at all, which is okay with me, they just want to play. That is where console are good and that is actually where they aim at (does not differ much from Apples solutions like Macs, iPhone, etc. – hassle free experiences). But this does not mean that pc-gaming will die soon, but actually it is the other way round: Consoles bring games to the masses, games get significantly more recognition as a medium nowadays, partly thanks to the console. That is also great for PC-Gaming, because the budgets for major titles are increasing and we see a lot multi-platform titles nowadays.
        I think that we should live side by side, learn from each other (a lot of mistakes where made on all platforms). Consoleros are not bad for pc-gaming, neither are pc-gamers bad for conoleros.

  2. Fred says:

    “PCs suck because im a technical peasant”.

  3. Lt_Sokol says:

    It’s interesting, but I do have to agree Stew. I have grown up playing both PC, since first Doom, Quake, Heroes of Might and Magic and Consoles – from Game Boy, Sega Saturn, Super Nintendo to today’s latest – PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

    I’m twenty eight years old and I have seen, been and continue to experience the changes both platforms constantly improvise with.
    While I use to be PC ‘hardcore’ (I use the word figurative speaking) in the last couple of years, It’s not my primary gaming machine. I won’t reminiscence why as those points you already stated fairly but I’ll put my two cents into PC current state from my opinion.
    The age when PC gaming was coexisting with consoles where it was pretty much essential to own both if you wanted to experience fantastic and quality library of games is not here anymore.
    As an example, owning a decent PC gaming machine and PS2 was match made in heaven. You had incredible diversity, from fantastic JRPG’s and classics to superb PC multiplayer and innovation.
    Time had changed, both current generation console are capable to providing almost all aspects on PC but with couple of major differences:
    – Gaming library, outside of few titles, is largely available across all gaming machines.
    – You don’t have to spend long time trying to make things work, this issue exists on PC and is largely ignored by ‘elite’ PC gamers.
    – Multiplayer is present and works on consoles.
    – Games on consoles will work with minimal to non-existent troubleshooting required at all.
    – Like the PC, Console are not just gaming machines anymore, Highest level movies player (PS3), Streaming (Netflix), music, photos, conversations, connectivity and so forth.
    If you think about it carefully, current consoles do what PC had been doing before consoles were able too.
    This is home console evolution and it works, this is why they’re popular and mainstream.

    PC is going digital, there is no doubt about it. This is not a bad thing since eventually we’ll see console follow the same thread, when however, is a different question.

    As the situation stands now, outside of small amount of high caliber PC games (the upcoming Diablo III) current Starcraft II alongside World of Warcraft and some other MMO’s like The Old Republic, it’s hard to justify a considerable amount of money to keep up with PC hardware to enjoy the games. There are some other titles, like upcoming Witcher 2 but those games will find their way to consoles, as stated by developers.

    And yes, you do need to spend money, anyone who says otherwise is still playing on 15″ 17″ monitors trying to convince themselves that they run Crysis on High…when I enjoy Uncharted 2 as an example on 55″ HDTV. Yes, you can connect PC to TV, I have done so (play Starcraft II on that resolution and it’s a feast) but guess what, it cost good amount of money to support that pleasure.

    On the positive side, PC hardware prices had been better in last 2-3 years then in the past, building custom PC for around 800$ will get you up to date with almost all games even at 22″ 24″ monitor (which is what I use).

    The question however remains, are there enough specific games on PC to warrant such expensive hobby when a 299$ console has almost the same game library and the game overall performance is not far away from enjoyment?

    That’s up to individual gamer and his/her finances, however there is no misunderstanding that current consoles are preferred by majority of developers, for various reasons I won’t list due to my already long post.

    I continue to play PC games and have a good PC, however when a game is available on both my machines 90% of the time I choose PS3. Small visual differences do not bother me.
    Saving money and enjoying my games without problems does.

  4. VPS says:

    So again, for a kickoff you bought a laptop for games? Right? Despite the fact many Pc games come with a warning that says ‘This game does not officially support mobile processors, (i.e laptops) it isnt guaranteed to work, but it might work, so good luck with that”. Laptops are not the best gaming machines to invest in, indeed they are quite ridiculous to buy as a primary PC gaming machine unless you know exactly what you are doing.

    You are also now well in the minority of gamers- console or otherwise that are not constantly connected to the internet when they game, and a tiny minority when it comes to Pc gamers. More than half of 360 and PS3 owners have accounts/are connected to their respective online services, i would say with confidence the percentage of Pc gamers connected is much much higher even than that. You seem to be resisting the inevitable and denying the future, its likely inside the next couple of years any new console will demand internet connectivity, and almost certain by the end of the decade digital distribution will have disposed of physical media even for consoles.

    When you talk about what the consoles COULD do, it seemingly ignores the idea that they still cant and dont do what Pc does for whatever reason, mouse and keyboard? 360 and PS3 MIGHT have USB ports, but virtually no games CAN use a mouse and keyboard on PS3, none do on 360. Developers dont bother supporting them for the vast part. Thus i dont get the point of you telling us what they could do when clearly these consoles will never embrace wide support like Pc already does. It would take a major shift to force consumer demand of support of M and K, i find it highly unlikely that will ever happen.

    PC is ahead and will always be ahead. Without a PC console technology would not advance at the rate it has, would not improve. Console gaming owes nearly everything to PC. Most gaming features that contribute to your console experience on 360 and PS3 whether its HD graphics due to the processors and memory, wireless technology, or hard drives, or usb peripherals or online connectivity or online gaming or other online services, 3D gaming etc etc….owe everything to the Pc market that invested in it, pioneered it and took it on board to make it widely accepted. Remember that next time you wanna take a swipe at PC and its constant development, because without PC pushing the boundaries, consoles would most certainly stagnate….

  5. Stew Shearer says:

    I have no argument here. I would never contend that consoles would have come this far without PCs pushing boundaries. That said, I think we’ve reached a point where it may be time for PCs to learn a few things from consoles. The issue of convenience is a larger one than I think many PC gamers want to admit. Even if I can get a game on Steam for a fraction of what it costs on a console, the fear that it may not work isn’t worth it to me. That, and I’m not a fan of cloud gaming, but that’s another argument for another time….perhaps the next time my view count is drooping.

    Either way, I appreciate your comment and for the respectfulness with which you delivered it.

  6. Zippy says:

    To be fair, it has been said you were trying to use a laptop which as has already been pointed out doesnt guarantee compatability. Although the game probably works fine if you know what you are doing, and i know it works fine on any of the machines i tried it on.
    Such is a strength of Pc anyway- KOTOR 2 is an old game now. It doesnt work properly on xbox 360’s emulation (crackly sound and terrible framerate) and never came out for Playstation. The only platforms it works properly on in 2010 is…..the original xbox aaaaand…..a PC. PC being the one that still allows nice resolutions too, it really does look quite good in HD resolutions still!
    In 5 more years it’ll still probably work fine on a Pc, even if it takes a little work to make it happen it’ll work. By that time there will be another generation of consoles, that no doubt will not run that game. Unless you decide to start buying a huge amount of old console hardware for their original titles that still only run in SD, Pc is a great choice for old games. In fact, its probably the BEST choice.
    So in effect you inadvertantly revealed another strength of the Pc platform, backwards compatability. Just yesterday i played Grim Fandango (a 12 year old game) and Deus Ex (a 10 year old game) on the Pc i assembled myself from modern components three weeks ago.
    The point being consoles can be good for what they are and can do many things they have gained from copying Pc, but some things consoles will never, ever be able to accomplish. I prize my Pc for these things.

    • Stew Shearer says:

      Fair enough. And for the record I bought my laptop for other purposes than playing games, I put games on it because I figured if I can I should.

      I will agree that the flexibility of PCs is probably their greatest strength. That said, the uncertainty over what will work with what is fairly frustrating to me. Point in case, when I couldn’t get Kotor 1 to work with my 360 (it was my own fault, didn’t realize the Arcade couldn’t do b/c), I just went to a nearby used game store and bought an original Xbox.

      It was a bit of a hassle, I’ll admit, but there’s a base simplicity about consoles that is nice. If you buy a console, there’s never much mystery as to what will work with it. You just have to read the box. 🙂

  7. Ack says:

    Ummm… have you heard of a service called Steam? There’s a sale going on, and the games are usually a heck of a lot cheaper than on a console.

    But the big trade-off for the console’s simplicity is the terrible game controls. The gamepad is ill-suited for many games. Kind of like listening to AM/FM radio for the convenience. To each his/her own.

  8. True PC Gamer says:

    I agree with some of the points in this article and yet I disagree with some of the points.

    I may be a fool thinking that PC gaming is as strong as ever but that what fools do. I believe in the platform even though it is hurt by it’s own open nature. Several years ago there was a plan by Intel and Microsoft to inherently install special chips or code to prevent pirated software from being installed. I think it was when Intel trying to design Pentium 5 (which became Prescott Pentium 4s instead) to beat AMD’s Athlons. Then there was silence……Now, the only thing that I see similar to the planned piracy blocker is Sony’s PS3 and it’s 8 cores CPU that only read original Blu Ray DVDs. The PC was hampered by it’s open nature because privacy advocates accused the system as a precursor to Big Brother, Intel and M’soft style.

    I agree that some PC games are hellish to play. I’ve heard that GTA IV had a horrendous install method. Ubisoft is not my favourite company at the moment, no matter how great their games are, for obvious reasons.

    BUT. There’s a bigger thorn in the problem that I think most people doesn’t know how to approach it. This “PC is dying” thing- who started it and why? I know it happened everytime a new console(s) were launched but it got worse with the PS3 and XB360. I know Microsoft and Sony would like to see their biggest obstacle (the PC) out of the way and the media is more than eager to help the next big thing. It’s not the PC’s fault that no one big wants to promote it.

    For me, the biggest biggest enemy of the PC is the mass media.
    I’ve seen countless PC magazines over the years that feature ways to built a sub 1000 or 500 dollars gaming capable PC (the sweet spot between the moderate and high end rigs). This happens every once or twice a year but the console friendly media still hounding to the public that PC gaming is an expensive hobby.
    I’ve visited a number of gaming website like Neoseeker and GameZone. The PC treatment is appalling. They may have tabs about PC gamings but the majority of the news there are also about PS3 and XB360 news. Must be of the tags or something but that too biased to my taste. There are tons of news about PC game from around the world but these sites doesn’t seem to care. Europe have a healthy PC gaming development but only a precious few or one with a console version would be news to them.
    Example : G4TV had a preview about Apache Air Assault and a visitor commented “Finally a heli simulation game'” I was surpised to read that since I’ve been playing DCS KA-50 Blackshark for nearly a year. I made a search in the site and there’s no mention about that game at all- no preview, review, shout out….nada. I made a quick search about A-10 Warthog, an upcoming game from DCS, and guess what – not even a peep.

    When the “PC is dying” trend started, comparisons were made. Two of the high points of console gaming are : 1. Console games are ran through strict QCs that they don’t require patches like PC games. 2. Console gamers doesn’t have to instal their games, just po, push and play.
    Well, now consoles games cannot live without patches especially AAA ones. Since the media can’t use that against the PC, now they are telling people that consoles are easier to update. A lot of console games require gamers to instal their games. Since the media can’t use this point anymore against the PC, again they’re telling people it’s faster. Microsoft even one point avoided using calling this procedure “installing your game. ” They opted to say “COPY your game into X-Box 360’s HDD.”

    SO. Call me a fool but I believe there’s nothing wrong with PC gaming. It’s just that the mass media is too bias towards the consoles because it’s cooler. PC just doesn’t have the right people to promote it.

  9. Bryan McCloud says:

    MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANE, I LOVE YOU. I agree with everything you’re saying, and i’ve dealt first hand with PC troubles of many kinds (japanese games and patches are my bane). Just wanna say thank you for this, had me smiling the whole way through.

    And I don’t think a lotta these tech savy people understand that not everyone is rich enough or positioned well enough to keep up with this ungodly amount of technological change and digital evolution we’re in. It’s impractical and even experienced people who work with computers do not keep up with the latest tech because of this. I’ve been told enough (or read enough) that people with older tech (non HD TV’s) should just upgrade. And my response is “WHO JUST UPGRADES?” People living ordinary lives with gaming as a big hobby still can’t just buy everything they want without considering the costs. MY LORD, why do fans always have to go overboard in defending something that wasn’t even attacked, just criticized?

    Anywho this was a great article that might not resonate with insane fans, but hits home with ordinary (barely) people like me, lol.

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