Thursday, August 11, 2005

Zombie PC's

Apparently, PC Gaming is dead.

The reason behind this ‘fact’?

The soon to be released Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360.

You see, PC gaming has always had an edge over the consoles, in that gaming PC’s are more powerful, and thus capable of running better games than current generation consoles.

Now with the release of the new next-generation consoles, die hard console gamers are proclaiming the end of the PC as a gaming machine.

“Look!” They say. “The Xbox 360 is just as powerful as any gaming PC, and is much cheaper!”

This has been spurred on by the fact that the relatively recent release of Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 took a leap forward in graphic quality. Of course, with such a leap forward, many PC gamers found themselves being forced to shell out for a $400 graphics card to supply the horsepower these games need. This made the console owners simply dance with joy.

“Why spend $400 upgrading your PC just to play one game, when you can buy a next gen console?”

However, in my humble opinion, as both a PC and a console gamer, this reasoning is flawed.

The first thing that makes me believe that PC’s will always be competitive gaming systems is the control setup. You simply cannot beat the keyboard and mouse combination for first person shooters. In fact, at the birth of online console gaming, it became apparent that an average PC gamer could, quite simply, beat the pants off an expert console player. The mouse gives much more precise control that a small analog stick.

However, mouse, shmouse! The console answer to this question is simply that at some point, console producers will get wise to this, and release a mouse for the console.

However, being the tricky devil I am, I have more arguments.

Consoles have a limited lifespan. They’re non-upgradable. When the next gen comes along, the previous generation consoles simply get left by the roadside. PC’s, being upgradable, can have an almost unlimited lifespan.

Ah HA! But what about the cost of upgrading!

Well, what about the cost of buying a new console every 3 or four years?

Especially with the price point for the new consoles expected to be around the $400-$500 dollar range, it’s not exactly cheap to buy a new console either.

The big difference is also the amount of money you have to spend at a single time on a console, you have to buy the whole thing. PC’s let you break up the cost. You can get a new soundcard on one payday, and a new processor later.

Also, with a PC, you don’t necessarily have to buy the latest and greatest upgrade. In fact, prices drop dramatically with every advance…and because with PC’s, things advance more quickly (no console manufacturer expects their customers to buy a whole new console every 6 months, but with every PC advance, as they are selling a single component, there is always a market for them).

As a for instance, with my last PC, an AMD Athalon 1.13 ghz processor was retailing for roughly 200GBP. However, three months later, when they released a 2ghz processor, the price dropped to 60GBP. I snapped one up, and it was more than capable of handling brand new games. You see, when brand new PC components are released, they tend to be ‘overkill’, in that the games available don’t really need it, but future ones will. This means that the second (or even third) best is, 99 times out of 100, perfectly capable of running any new game out there. By the time you actually need that new upgrade, the next one has come along, so you can get the upgrade you need at around half price or lower.

This brings me to my next point. A brand new graphics card may cost around $400, but much cheaper cards (around the $200 mark) are capable of running the next-gen games. It won’t be peak performance, and there will be one or two slowdowns when there are lots of characters on screen…but the same is true with a lot of console games (Like Dynasty Warriors 1 through 4). With the added advantage being that $400 graphics card will retail for at least half that in six months, and be below a hundred dollars in a year.

But who wants to wait a year?

If you put it into perspective, I do. Basically, in less than a years time, PC gamers will be able to upgrade their PC’s to next-gen console standards for less than half of what you’d pay for the console itself. Also, right now, PC gamers, with a less than 200 dollar upgrade, will be able to play next-gen games…albeit at a slightly lower frame rate.

In other words, console gamers laugh at PC Gamers shelling out $400 to upgrade their PC for a ‘single game’, but that’s only the equivalent of shelling out $400 for a new console. That $400 graphics card will still be capable a few years later…but graphics card prices tend to half every 6 months to a year…consoles don’t. In fact, the only time console prices drop dramatically is just before the next one comes along…at which point the console manufacturer stops supporting it, or releasing new games. My old PC hasn’t been upgraded in over two years, but it’s still a fairly capable gaming machine. It also cost a lot less than $400 to upgrade it last time (60GBP for a Geforce 4 graphics card and 80GBP for a new processor).

The other main thing that console-only gamers completely forget to do is look at the recent history of gaming.

The death of the PC as a gaming machine has been proclaimed every single time a new console has come onto the scene, from the original Playstation to the Xbox.

“Look!” They say. “My console can do what your PC can, and it cost half what you paid for your PC!”

“Give it 6 months.” The PC Gamers say.

You see, the advantage of being able to upgrade one component at a time means that in the lifespan of the PS3 and Xbox 360, PC graphics cards, processors and sound cards, will take at least one major step forward a year.

In other words, in the first year of the next gen consoles, yes they will be on a par, or even slightly ahead of their PC counterparts. However, by the middle of the console’s lifespan, PC gaming will be far ahead…yet again.

Basically, my old PC could do what an Xbox could, over a year before the Xbox came out.

I mentioned in my last post that my first computer was a Pentium 75. Well, here’s something to think about. I never actually went out and bought a new PC. I simply upgraded the one I had.

Eventually there wasn’t a single original component left, but I never once spent over 100GBP on a single upgrade. I’d wait for the latest and greatest component to come out, and then buy the one before it at a knockdown price. Here’s a rough price list, over 4 years:

New motherboard and case: 100GBP
Two new processors: 140GBP (Combined – not each)
Two new Graphics Cards 110GBP (Again, Combined)
New Sound Card 80GBP
More Memory 60GBP

Total 490GBP

That’s only 122.50 per year,which is roughly 60GBP per upgrade…and each upgrade made my PC capable of running any game that was available.

“But that’s roughly the same price as a next gen console!” I hear the console gamers cry. “Plus, you said that was over four years, which is roughly a console’s lifespan!”

Yes, that’s true. However, I didn’t have to come up with 490GBP all at once, and at the end of every year, my PC could run games it couldn’t run the year before. Can you say the same about your console?

In other words, I may spend roughly the same as you do on your console. The difference is, that my Gaming PC gets more powerful every year…your console doesn’t. When your new console is released, my Gaming PC can already do what your new console can do, and as soon as you catch up, Gaming PC’s continue to move forward.

It’s the ‘leap’ that makes consoles seem like great value. You play your playstation, and then the PS2 comes out, and it’s one hell of a leap forward. The same thing will happen with the PS3.

However, Gaming PC’s move forward all the time, gradually, rather than with big leaps. The consoles leap forward to match the PC’s, but then the PC gamer gets a 5 year head start.

Consoles seem great value, because a new console will cost you half what a PC will. The major difference is, with a PC, you only pay the extra cash once. They you just have to sink a couple hundred dollars into it every other year to keep it current…and within a year, your gaming PC will be far more capable than a current gen console.

I also find it kind of funny that the features that console gamers brag about, are ones that the PC gamers have been doing for years. One of the Xbox 360’s major selling points is the online connectivity, the ability to send email, play over the internet and now, the ability to have 32 players playing an online game together.

I was doing that almost ten years ago.

In fact, if you really look at it, the Xbox 360 is essentially a cut down PC. Yes it’s cheaper, but it’s not upgradeable.

There is one other argument that I have to put across…and that’s the other thing that Console-only gamers tend to miss. Every year at E3, the main console manufacturers show tech demos and promise the world, and every time the new console fails to live up to the marketing hype around it.

Game manufacturers show a trailer of a game they’re going to release, and 90% of the time, what you see is pre-rendered (IE, you’re watching a CG movie, not what the console is actually capable of doing in real-time). It looks fantastic, it’s almost photorealistic…but it always turns out that the company showcasing it was a little over enthusiastic…and it turns out that the actual game doesn’t look nearly as pretty as the pre-rendered movie does. It’s the equivalent of buying a beat up old Porsche from a junk yard, showing a potential buyer a photograph of a mint-condition Porche…and then leading them to believe that’s what they’ll be buying. Then you fix the car up as best you can. The buyer takes the car from you, expecting a mint-condition car… but is disappointed to see all the dings and scratches, and finds that the car isn’t nearly as fast or reliable as you said it was.

History repeats itself:

Gaming PC’s are usually way ahead of their console counterparts. For example, compare an original Playstation game with a PC game at the same time. If you want to see this today, put any Xbox or PS2 game next to Half Life 2 or Doom 3. (The Xbox comes close, but is not at the same level).

Then a new console comes out that can match, or even exceed a Gaming PC’s power.

The console gamers declare PC Gaming to be dead.

Then, Gaming PC’s move forward, until they far exceed the best current-gen console by the time the console is halfway through its lifespan.

Four or five years later, the next gen consoles are demonstrated at E3, and they match current Gaming PC’s

Then the console only gamers declare PC Gaming to be dead…again.

The new consoles will be born to much celebration and fanfare. Six months later, anyone who owns an fairly up-to-date PC will be able to match them for half the price of the consoles.

Personally, I play both PC and Console games. However, rather than shell out $500 for a Playstation 3, I’ll wait a year, and upgrade my computer to match it for half the price…and in two years, my PC will be more powerful.

Then in 5 years, when the new consoles appear and match my PC…I’ll repost this blog entry when the Console-only gamers declare PC gaming to be dead.


OzzyC said...

In the end it depend on how many games you buy and play, and how you use your computer, and if you play online or not... lots of different ways to nickel and dime you to death, regardless of which path you take.

Personally, I played lots of PC games, but got tired of upgrading hardware, software, drivers, patching the game, etc.

I got an XBOX. Loved the big screen, love the HD compatibility. Didn't like the slow controller response. Didn't like the extra charge for xbox online.

In other words, it's really a wash. But one day, it will ALL be one big system that works on your HDTV, with online capability, great controllers... and the CPU??? It'll be no larger than your cell phone.

Paulius said...

You hit the nail on the head, ozzy.

As you probably guessed I'm biased towards PC's, but I'm an avid console gamer as well.

While I beleive PC's are better than consoles, there is a lot to be said for them...IE they're much easier to use...more 'pick up and play'.

My main point is that the PC is, and always will be a valid gaming platform...IE, PC gaming is not, in fact, dead.

MC Etcher said...

Well said!

PC/Console depends on the person and the type of games they enjoy.

In the end, consoles provide less buggy gameplay, (and who doesn't like that) since they can be more thoroughly tested using a single configuration, rather than hundreds of setups possible with PC systems, hardware, drivers, etc.

The Sega Saturn and Dreamcast had a mouse and keyboard available, and mouse and keyboard can be used with the existing consoles GC, PS2, XB as well.

Kind of hard to balance a keyboard across your knees as you sit on the couch, though... You'd really want to be at a desk.

MC Etcher said...

Have you seen this gaming keyboard? Sounds pretty good to me.

Litany said...

Oh Great Paulius, I love your blog, I read it every day!

But dayum your posts are long.

Very good, but long.

Also, good.

Perdita said...

As long as there is the city of heros, Unreal tournament and x-com (it plays so much better on the PC) there will be pc gamers.
Unfortunately a mac mini ate my pc (after it blew a gasket). So I'm "virtually" screwed into console only

Paulius said...

Litany...I've said it before, Iuse this blog more as an 'editorial' column.

I don't plan to write long posts, I just type until I've said everything I've got to say on the subject, and it's usually around 2000 words.

Kato said...

You kinda said everything I would have said on this subject. You definitely can't beat a mouse and keyboard--they are a surprisingly useful combination for playing games, even though neither were designed for that purpose (and the fact that they are useful for doing everything else on the computer makes them indespensible). What I've always disliked about consoles is although there are some great games out there, the console experience has always felt "dumbed down" to me. You just can't do as much with a console, because they will never be as powerful as a PC. And more and more, they are putting features on game consoles that make them into something else: DVD players, ability to store MP3s and images, chat with your friends online, video camera, etc. For devices that are supposed to be dedicated gaming machines, they are becoming more and more like multimedia PCs, which I think is silly.

Consoles do have an ease of use factor which makes them appealing--you don't have to worry about the same kinds of things that you would with a PC (crashes, viruses, etc.) but of course not, the system only does one thing. But I find gaming on PCs to be a much richer experience, and don't mind the added expense because I get higher quality/performance.