Gaming: Console vs. PC

I read a rumor about gaming companies more apt to focus their efforts on the console market vs. the PC market. This was due in large part to piracy, but also to deployment. Although QA is a bigger deal, since as a coworker said, if you have a bug in a PC game, you can just dl the patch vs. a console game that has a bug, you just made a $50 beer coaster. I remember reading on Director Online about 4 years ago the frustrations of a gamer who loved consoles cause they worked. A software geek by trade, he wasn’t much into hardware, therefore the hours spent confirming your system worked, the patches were in place assuming you could even find a site that housed them and didn’t require registration, and the game’s settings were configured… you could not attempt to play.

Consoles on the other hand just worked. You place the CD/cartridge in, and turned it on. Geez, that was easy.


Now, consoles have always lagged behind technology, so typically PC games are more freeform in terms of scope, community involvement such as engine licensing and mod creation, and the one big one is the multiplayer scenario as well as community. The PC side is a steady and quick climb of ever changing technology, and game driven hardware market. The newer games require newer hardware which require you to upgrade your already brand new machine to the latest greatest which is obsolete before you buy it. In this world, 6 months is old and uncool, and constantly just under the hardware radar is the typical living space. The game runs, but not perfect with all settings up. If it does, it’s 2 years old, and you’ve already experienced it. There are some multiplayer games which ensure longevity, but typically that’s a lifestyle, not a gaming experience. Typically that is a byproduct, a good and planned one no doubt, but still a secondary benefit. Many will purchase a single player game for it’s multiplayer options; indeed many games are multiplayer by their very nature and merely offer single player as a good gesture… or for testing settings.

The attitudes and deployment scenarios are different, but I can see how consoles are eating up the market share more so than PC games, even though PC games typically are “better”. First off, as mentioned, console games work out of the box. You don’t have to configure anything. Secondly, console games give a defined box for developers to play in. Thus, their attitudes are, “here is the benchmark, we’ve hit that and pushed it to its limits. Now, lets focus on the game play.” With little room to push the standard engine the console SDK comes with, the majority of your time is spent developing the game itself vs. the engine, and having that drive and affect the game. It’s almost the other way around. Perverted versions of that happened to Half-Life; they took the Quake engine, tweaked it beyond comprehension and ended up with their own. Many games on PC utilize other engines so they can focus more time on their games vs. creating the engine. This attitude works well and is more cost effective. You still have to tweak the engine, though, and your still deploying on an unknown computer. With a console, all is known, all is tested and QA’d, and the ball is clearly in your court with knowns already documented.

Finally, it’s about the cost ratio of experience vs. technical investment. I pay $50 for an experience when I purchase an XBox game. I put the game in, play it, and typically enjoy myself. All I need to get that experience is my fifty bucks and my XBox. Not so in the PC world. You need a computer that is up to date, including all hardware pieces, installed correctly, tweaked, and updated drivers. This alone is anywhere from 5 to 30 times the cost of an XBox, even for upgrading existing systems… just to play a game, although, a side benefit sometimes is better development boxes, but not for all of the cost. Third, after purchasing the game, and having the required amount of hard drive space to actually install, you need a registered key typically which prevents you from throwing away the games box contents. Gameplay is tied to a #. That concept merely exists because of theft. A necessary precautionary method to be sure, but still a standalone negative that one associates with gaming. After that, your game, as it stands, may not work. Typically you download patches to ensure that you’ll have as few crashes as possible. Finding a patch nowadays is harsh. Even with broadband, they run in the 20 to 500 meg range, which is no instantaneous download, and this all assumes you can find someone’s server gracious enough to host this, else your registering with some site to download, typically costing a monthly fee. Upon booting the game, you don’t watch the intro’s and play… you typically tweak with built in utilities plus your judgment of your machines capabilities, and test a few times, possibly ruining your first impression of the game, even if your fair minded. All of this is repeated if you uninstall or re-core your box. Granted, the multiplayer abilities, graphics, and development potential a lot of times outshine consoles, but fees, negativity caused via piracy, and instability all cause such exhausting attitudes to play vs. consoles. The experience is just better on consoles, and companies can deploy to all 3 of the big contenders if they play their cards right.

The summarized negative to me is I have to give great personal and monetary investment to obtain an experience game designers created for me, but I may not correctly receive even by given the above. Consoles on the other hand ensure I obtain the experience they created with little personal and monetary investment from me, and no risk.

So why PC game? If you can afford it and have the patience, it typically offers next generation gaming, now. Consoles are definitely multiplayer orientated nowadays, but still are at least one generation away from getting the community feel that PC games have.

No console game can match Doom 3 at this time. You look at a lot of the PC games to that come to console, like Giants, Thief, and others. The publishers know that it’s a new, fresh market, ensures re-use of a brand, and piracy is lower risk.

Again, I can see why gaming companies are more orientated to console development rather than PC development. You don’t have to be elite with a deep pocket book and resolved patience to enjoy gaming.

4 Replies to “Gaming: Console vs. PC”

  1. QA does need to be rigorous for consoles, but at least you know that they will always have the same hardware. Video driver, processor, RAM, all become given constants when building for a particular console. If it works on your PS2 in the lab, odds are it will work on everyone else’s in the field.

  2. Valve Software has released a new platform for their PC games (based on the Half-Life 1 and 2 engines) called Steam ( Among other features, Steam automatically downloads patches and provides anti-cheat protection for Valve’s games. What does Valve get out of it? Customers have the ability to buy and download games directly from them instead of going through a publisher and retail store. No middleman = more money per buyer. They also are now connected to their customers directly. Their system also makes piracy very difficult, especially for online games. “Wouldn’t that be a lot of downloads of 1+GB files on release of a new game” you might ask. You preload an encrypted version of game content in the weeks or months before release of course. Then the minute the game is released your Steam client is given a key to unlock the game for your Steam account. Cool stuff. Definitely the future of PC games.

  3. I’ve had Steam installed for like over a year. What I found interesting was I THOUGHT it was in planning for Half-Life 2’s mods, but after I got an email (as did all steam users) from Valve’s CEO asking why we haven’t logged in awhile, I changed my mind. I guess when I heard about it 3 years ago, they were trying to consolidate current Half-Life 1 mods. Problem is, a lot of them, even Counterstrike, have problems running on newer DirectX versions.

    Still, it is a grand first effort.

  4. Some weeks ago I accidentally got a new gameboy advance sp (because I didn’t know what else to do with my Lufthansa frequent flyer miles :-) and it’s amazing how I returned to playing on it since then.

    Yes, it’s tiny and lacks of CPU power but – hey – to play round-based strategy games or japanes rpgs on it on the go, it’s just perfect. I just got the new Mario Golf Role Playing Game. That’s amazing, between playing golf you have to visit your Gold Zen Master etc… great fun.

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