Is console gaming dying?

NES to WiiU, Master System to Dreamcast

SONY DSC

Two years ago I was reading a lot of articles about how PC gaming might die out. In some ways I agreed with many of them, PC gaming seemed expensive and complicated, and consoles were going from strength to strength with the current-gen experiencing a profitable and surprisingly long lifespan. Now here I am, not too much later, typing on a relatively inexpensive gaming PC, having just traded in our PS3 and Vita, with the 360 gathering dust, starting to have doubts over whether or not the new consoles will be worth it.

After the break we’ll argue both sides, are consoles ready to die out, or are they due a new renaissance?

For:

The next Xbox is supposedly going to cost in the region of £360, but in dollars. That means that when it gets over here (which might be the same day) we’re looking at spending at least £400 on it. Following the trends of recent years, you won’t be getting a full game with that package either, and probably only one controller. Every console launch I justify the price to myself, before realising I have to spend an extra £50-100 to be able to play the things I want. Assuming that the console is £400 for the premium edition (I don’t see the value in spending £50-100 less for something that you’re going to be using every day, might as well get the better model) and then you want two games to play on it, at £50 each (it could be more this generation but we’ll stick with that for now). I’ll also want an extra controller, so we’ll add £40 onto that, and by then my Xbox Live subscription will have run out (assuming it even carries over), so that’ll be an extra £40 (possibly more). This means I’d be spending £580 on the console, a hefty sum.

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For the same money, even without building it myself (which is easier than ever nowadays and considerably cheaper) I could pick up this PC from the lovely Yoyotech.co.uk (since living in London easily the best PC parts shop I’ve found) and put a decent graphics card in. That would be more than capable of outperforming the current-gen easily, and potentially even the next generation based on what we’ve seen and heard so far. I’ve also left room in that budget to add a couple of 360 controllers (they work wonderfully on the PC) and some games. If you go hunting on EBay you can find really good deals on pre-built systems, and if you are willing to spend a little bit extra you can even get on in a micro-case that will barely take up more room than a console.

Speaking of games, the price difference between console and PC gaming is huge, but cheaper for the PC side. Even assuming you went out and spent £1000 getting a truly fantastic PC, and then spent £400 on a next generation console, you’d think you’d be out by £600 wouldn’t you? For the last year or so I’ve not paid more than £25 for a triple-A release on PC. Tomb Raider was £25, Bioshock Infinite was admittedly £30 but then you got the excellent X-Com and the original Bioshock in the deal as well. The majority of new releases on console are £40-50 with that standard looking to shift towards £50-60. Assuming a PC game costs £25 (older ones are much cheaper thanks to Steam sales) and a console game costs £50, after 24 games you will have made back the difference. Coupled with the fact that literally thousands of games are available for much less money thanks to the PC’s back catalogue going on twenty years you’re going to save money in the long run as long as you play a lot of games.

Of course if you’re buying a PC you’re also getting huge amounts of functionality, as many people will already be using some kind of PC in their house at the moment. It’s not just an entertainment machine, it’s the hub of your digital life, and it’s getting easier and easier to use.

Some people are against the idea of having to sit at a desk and be anti-social, perhaps with your desktop PC being in another room or facing away. I haven’t had a set-up like that since 2005. With the majority of graphics cards now offering HDMI out, and Windows 7 and 8 handling different types of monitor so well, it’s easier than ever to plug your PC into your living room HDTV, and use a wireless keyboard and mouse or games controller to access it. Our PC is much quieter than any of the current-gen consoles (handhelds excluded) and hasn’t seemed out of place in the living room at all. There’s been a recent trend in manufacturing to push towards what gamers keep calling the ‘Steambox’. Rumours have been swirling of Valve actually creating one for themselves, but for now it simply refers to a PC that mimics the low profile and functionality of a console, but has the power and versatility of a PC.

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All of this begs the question, why would you even want to get a console? They’rte expensive, noisy, and dramatically underpowered compared to PC gaming. With a medium-priced PC you can expect to run most games at 720p at 60fps, something only a few console games ever manage to achieve. If you spend a little more you can expect to be running at 1080p60. This means your games will look better, smoother and will be more responsive.

Against

 

While PCs may offer the best value in the long run, they also offer the most frustrations. When the new Xbox and PS4 come out, I’ll be able to queue up, pick on up on launch night, bring it home, and play. Setting it up won’t be more complicated than plugging in a couple of cables (one for power, one for TV and perhaps one for Kinect/Eyetoy) and then pressing start. Everything will be intuitive. Every time I buy a game I’ll be able to put in a disc or download it, and it’ll just work. I won’t need to try and comprehend the back of the box to see if my console meets the specifications (for instance if you have a 640 and the game requires a 560, you’re out of luck, you can’t run it. How does that ever make sense?). Simplicity might be underrated but it’s key to enjoying yourself. Even as a fairly well experienced PC gamer, I’m still thrown by issues with lots of new games. The framerate will be inconsistent, the controls won’t be quite right, it won’t play nice with my audio drivers, all due to the myriad of combinations possible with PC hardware. On the console, it just works. Or if it doesn’t, it’s easy for the developers to fix because they know what you’re trying to run it on, as everyone else is doing the same.

There’s also the social element. For now at least, the majority of gamers are on consoles, and this means there’s a great community. It’s more likely that your friends have an XBox, and playing with friends is much more important than a steady framerate. I own Battlefield 3 on both Xbox and PC, but I only ever really play the Xbox version because that’s where people I know play. It doesn’t matter than I can run it on the highest settings on the PC, it runs slowly on the Xbox and looks kind of blurry, but I’m still having more fun if I’m playing with people I know.

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The entertainment hub aspects can’t be ignored either. While many gamers bemoan Microsoft for focusing on the ability to watch TV and listen to music on the XBox, people use it. People like that there’s a box under their TV that does all of the things they want from an entertainment center and nothing more. Anyone who’s tried getting BluRays to play on a PC will understand the value in just having a PS3 that does it straight from the box instead.

Conclusion

People don’t always want choice, they want things to work. If you’re the type of person that doesn’t know your ethernet from your SATA, PCs might just not be worth the hassle. It’s getting better, but for now PCs are still the realm of people who are prepared to learn how they work. If you’re that kind of person, and don’t mind fiddling and tweaking with machines, (or even enjoy it) then by all means go and get a gaming PC. They’re fantastic and a better way to spend money on gaming. If you don’t want the hassle, the consoles are there for you. For the near future at least I imagine that’s the way things are going to stay.

The last big plus for the consoles side is exclusives. Exclusives still hold a lot of weight in the world, and while they exist, so will consoles. If Microsoft start putting Gears of War or return to putting Halo on PCs, they risk cannibalising their own user base, but if the PS4 is the only place you can play God of War 4, you’re going to go for that. It’s not logical and it’s not right, but these artificial limitations will keep consoles alive.

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