I have been playing games for almost my entire life. Games are very much a huge focus of mine, which is why I love to write about them. One thing you learn when being a part of this sub-culture is that the people who populate it tend to be very... tenaciously fanatic when comes to decisions they make. This causes gamers to debate a lot. One of the major debates that have cropped up more often of late than usual is whether PCs or dedicated gaming consoles are superior to the other. There are points to be made for either side. This week, I try to apply my analysis onto this debate and try to come up with a satisfactory answer. For this analysis, I will look at several factors and analyze them to see whether PCs or Consoles do better in that category. Once that is all said and done, I will render my final verdict. Since I am a console gamer who has only recently picked up PC gaming, there is a possibility for biases, just a forewarning.
The first category we will look into is Initial Investment. On the console side, the initial cost of investment is usually fairly low. Though consoles have had higher price points this generation (which is why $600 PS3 could not move units), most of them hover around the $250 price point. This is because console manufacturers, with the exception of Nintendo, do not make money on the initial sale. In fact, each sale results in a slight loss for the company. They rely on the sales of game software (and Blu-Ray movies in Sony's case) to make up for the initial losses and eventually profit. In contrast, PCs tend to have a much higher initial investment. Even lower end gaming PCs take an initial investment of around $500 dollars nowadays. Higher end gaming PCs will be very costly. The consumer will likely be shelling out $1000 or more in order to play top of the line games. It makes sense. Unlike gaming consoles where the company has a reasonable idea of what the end user plans to do with it, PCs have a significantly higher degree of uncertainty. Because of this, PC manufacurers and distributors of their parts need to make a profit through the initial sale and they do not have propritary formats to liscense out for money (any PC will generally run any program from any CD/DVD if it has the power to do so). Naturally, this will drive up prices for the hardware and give consoles the advantage on that front.
The next thing to go over is the cost of games for the hardware. Most console gamers are aware of the ever-prevalant $60 price tag on most major console releases. As many of them are also aware, that cost tends to be quite prohibitive. It is simply not feasible, espcially in this economy, for a consumer to purchase all the games he/she wants. Even after a few years, prices rarely drop to a significant enough degree. There is the downloadable market which offers a more flexible pricing system, but by and large most games are subject to the $60 retail price. This is not the case for the PC. Most PC games are purchased from services like Steam and Good Old Games. Retail is by and large irrelevant for PC gamers. While AAA games still tend to release for $60, they are infinitely more suceptible to the market and tend to get marked down and put on sale and a higher frequency. A semi-patient PC gamers will always be able to buy games for a more reasonable price than a console gamer with the same level of patience. And even people who are not into PC games are aware of the massive sales that Steam throws semi-regularly. There is also the indie scene to make note of which is more prelavent on the PC, allowing for more variety in games at a lower coist. All this combined gives PC gamers a clear advantage when it comes to purchasing gaming software for their chosen device.
But purchasing a system and getting games for it are one thing. It is an entirely separate matter when it comes to making the games work on the player's system. This is a trivial matter for the consoles. Since every Playstation 3/Xbox 360 has the same system specs as any other system, game developers can be reasonably assured as to what the end user for their games will have and can program the games and their development tools with that in mind. The results in nearly the exact same performance on every console. Players will not have to fuss over system settings and compatability. Any PS3 game will work on any PS3, for example (unless it's buggy, in which case every PS3, on average, will encounter the same amount of bugs/glitches). This is not necessarily the case with PC games. Unlike consoles, every PC will have different specs from other PCs. The developers of these games have no idea what the end user will be capable of playing. This means that they have to release minimum specs required to play the game and ideal specs to get the most out of game, shifting the responsibility of compatability from the developers to the players. It is the player's job to make sure that he/she has a rig capable of playing the game. It also means that PC games have the tendency to be more fussy than their console counterparts. This makes it necessary for users to go through settings and the occasion forum post if the game is not working. While developers are usually available for support (it affects their bottom dollar if you cannot play a game), the fans are ultimately the ones who are responsible for keeping their systems up to date and getting the game to function, giving consoles a clear advantage here.
Another crucial topic in a discussion like this is the control scheme behind each system. This in and of itself is a major topic of debate among gamers: The question of the console controller versus the keyboard and mouse. The controller is obviously a more accessable form of play for the common gamer. It is very easy to pick up a controller and play the desired game. There is also much to be said for continuity of controls between games. Games tend to have similar conventions regarding control schemes. While small adjustments between games will be necessary, more often than not games in the same genre will have very similar controls. Unfortunately, the simplicity can also become a downside. Certain genres simply cannot work with a controller. While controllers are much better for things like racing games, they make other genres like Real-Time Strategy nearly unplayable due the number of inputs and the degree on precision required. On the keyboard and mouse side of things, we have a different case. The KB&M style of control is very precise. Depending on mouse sensitivity, (which can usually be adjusted) it is much easier to make smaller and more accurate movements with a mouse than with a thumbstick. Furthermore, the keyboard and mouse is more malliable than a controller. It can used in a number of different ways simply because there are more keys and most PC games allow for custom controls and a greater variety of control schemes (at least more often than console games). This is both a blessing and a curse. While KB&M allow for more precise and customized controls, they do not have the pick up and play ability that controllers have. The end user will more than likely spend some time adjusting his/her controls and fine-tuning them while a controller user can spend more time playing the game. Going back to the PC versus console debate, PCs ultimately win out. Not because keyboard & mouse is inherently better (It depends entirely on what the end user wants from the control scheme), but because the PC has access to both because 360 controllers are compatable with PCs and there exists software to do the same with PS3 controllers. This means that consoles are restricted to one of the two while PC gamers have access to both.
And now to answer the ultimate question: Which is truly superior, PC or console? The answer is an extremely solid “What is your preference?” If you are a more technically minded gamer who is on lastest of the cutting edge, then PC is the right choice for you. For a more customized experience or one that offers a greater variety in games, then PC is again the right choice for you. However, the console is better for those who do not want to worry to much about technical stuff and want to just dive into a game. Price also needs to be a big consideration. PC is better for those who prefer to take a big initial hit and then take advantage of discounts and lower prices on the digital market while consoles have a lower barrier of entry, but have more expensive games. That is ultimately why this debate continues to rage on. People have different definitions of what is “best” and thus judge it on different criteria. This is what fuels all the various “best ever” fanboy arguments. It is impotant for us to take this into consideration. If there is a game or system you do not like, keep in mind that the odds are that other people like it for different reasons.