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PC Gaming: Old Arguments vs. New Truths

View Nelson Schneider's Profile

By Nelson Schneider - 04/12/15 at 04:51 PM CT

It wasn’t too long ago that I was fervently anti-PC when it came to gaming. I had a plethora of reasons for hating the PC format when compared side-by-side with the console format that had stood, unassailable since the 1990s. Sure, I would occasionally acquiesce in order to play a really great D&D game that was PC-only, but for the most part I wanted nothing to do with PC gaming.

Then the 7th Generation happened. Consoles started becoming more PC-like and PC started becoming more console-like to the point where I find the two formats to be the same thing. And out of the five competing gaming platforms of the 8th Generation (PS4, XBONE, WiiU, Android Microconsoles, and PC), the only one that hasn’t left be with a feeling of complete disgust and disdain is PC.

Yet somehow, among the masses who have purchased an 8th Gen console and actually seem to enjoy it, the same old, tired, obsolete arguments against PC gaming are still making the rounds. Why does such misinformation still survive in the pro-console (mainly pro-PS4, since there is little in the way of love for the WiiU or XBONE) circles? Because every argument against PC gaming had, at one point in time, a basis in reality.

Here are some of the most damning anti-PC gaming arguments that were once true, but have no longer held sway since approximately 2006:

PC Gaming is Expensive.
The Way It Was…
Back in the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Generations, a console typically cost around $200-300. During this time period, a competent gaming PC could cost upwards of $2000-4000. This was a huge price discrepancy at the time that, combined with the other items later on in this article, made a gaming PC a complete joke with regard to value for the dollar.

The Way It Is…
Currently, a new console costs $350-400 (not including outliers like the $600 PS3), while a competent gaming PC runs $800-1000. Yes, the PC is still more expensive, but it has dropped from being ten times as expensive as a console to merely twice as expensive. What happens when a gamer decides to buy two or more competing consoles? They’ve already spent as much money as they would on a PC.

And let’s not forget that every current console except Nintendo’s (a fact that will probably be changing soon thanks to the Japanese company’s new partnership with DeNA) requires a subscription fee to do pretty much anything online, while PCs have a plethora of free online services. Over the 5-10-year lifespan of a console, these subscriptions can also double the cost of owning the hardware.

Finally, there’s the cost of games. Most games of the “AAA” variety launch at a meager $5-10 discount on PC over their console counterparts. This small initial price difference is no big deal, considering console owners can buy used copies from GameStop or their local used game store for a similar price. However, the fact that PC games drop precipitously in price over the course of a few months while console games remain full-price for much longer is rather significant. Then there’s the fact that fine online purveyors of digital PC games frequently discount them 60% or more (I personally don’t buy until I see 75% off or higher) off the already-reduced price, which drops the prices so low that not even used console games can compete.

A Gaming PC Needs to be Upgraded Every Six Months.
The Way It Was…
Back in the DOS era, PC hardware was developing rapidly. Every few months, a bigger RAM chip or 50Mhz-faster processor was available to the public, and PC game developers took advantage of every bit of power they could get. OSes weren’t optimized in any way and frequently required witch doctor Voodoo (not the Voodoo GPUs) to get any game to run on any given machine, even if it handily met or exceeded the system requirements listed on the game box.

The Way It Is…
In the modern era, PC hardware has stabilized to the point where massive cutting-edge developments only come about every few years. OSes are much more competent at managing system resources and getting out of the way when running full-screen software (like games). I built a Steambox to play PC games three years ago and it still maxes everything I throw at it. Needing to upgrade a PC every 5 years is no different from having to buy a new console every 5 years.

A Gaming PC Needs Constant Software and Driver Updates.
The Way It Was…
Trying to run a game in the pre-Internet days was a complete crap shoot. If the developers were using a slightly different driver configuration or version of the OS when they wrote and tested (LOL, like any old PC games were tested!) a game, there was no guarantee that the end user would be able to run said game if their PC was slightly different in any way. Driver updates were difficult to track down and frequently required writing a snail-mail letter to a hardware company to request a floppy disk containing newer drivers. Sure, it was possible to swap drivers on BBS systems via dial-up, but only the elitest of the elite Neckbeards even knew what that meant and dial-up charged by the minute.

The Way It Is…
In the modern era, my gaming PC could download Windows Updates automatically every month, but I don’t let it because my Internet bandwidth is terrible and I don’t want it downloading while I’m trying to use it. Instead, I do a manual update every couple of months when I have time, and never encounter problems with the process. Steam and GOG Galaxy auto-update my games, and are typically smart enough to do so when I’m not trying to use the machine. But even if downloading updates attempts to interfere with my fun, I can at least pause the update process while I’m gaming and resume it once I’m done.

My PlayStation 3, on the other hand, nags me to update its OS every time I turn it on. Even worse, it won’t let me log-into PSN without updating. Whenever I attempt to play a new game for the first time (or even on subsequent plays), it nags me to download a several-gigabyte update, and if I decline it repeatedly sends me delightful full-screen pop-up reminders while I’m trying to play the non-updated version of the game. Unfortunately, the PS3 isn’t alone in this regard, as every other modern console has adopted the same obsession with updates and patches that used to be a plague only upon PC gaming. While PC has refined the process to be as non-invasive as possible, the consoles haven’t figured it out yet.

PC Gaming is Uncomfortable.
The Way It Was…
Before the 7th Generation, PC gaming meant sitting hunched over a desk, staring at a 19” screen a foot away from your face, and using a typewriter and mouse to control any and every game. It was uncomfortable and could aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome or a bad back. I still experience occasional shoulder pain that I attribute to long play sessions of “Baldur’s Gate 2” that kept me awake two hours later than usual for weeks on end.

The Way It Is…
Thanks in large part to Microsoft, but also due to hardware standardization, every PC now supports Xinput controllers and HDMI natively. While the Xinput support could be a bit better integrated at the OS level (so users could manipulate the Windows Desktop or Windows 8’s Modern UI with an Xbox controller), this lack of effort on Microsoft’s part has been mitigated by the number of free or cheap Xinput mapping programs, like Xpadder, that allow users to setup custom inputs for their controllers. HDMI as a standard video connection likewise released PC gamers from the shackles of small screens with VGA connectors, allowing any modern TV to act as a monitor. Over the last decade, the PC has gone from being a device found only on office desktops to being a common sight in entertainment centers.

PC Has No Games, and Especially No Exclusives.
The Way It Was…
Prior to the 7th Generation, unless you really liked Real-Time Strategy games, Massively-Multiplayer games (or MUDs), or First-Person Shooters, you could get away with discounting PC as a gaming platform. Sure, there was the occasional good RPG, and the Infinity Engine series of D&D games published by Interplay marked a brief Golden Age of PCRPGs that has yet to be matched (obvious from the fact that these games are still ubiquitous in Top PC Exclusives lists). But for the most part, PC was the domain of those three genres and little else, which only became worse as online play took its first few steps, causing those genres to devolve into content-free PvP deathmatches. The platform could go through multi-year droughts, lacking anything resembling a great single-player experience.

The Way It Is…
In the modern era, the vast, overwhelming majority of games are multi-platform. They appear on two or more consoles and PC. Not only does PC now have most of the games that consoles do, but in the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in older genres that have fallen out of favor. These genres have been revived through the Indie game development movement, which has seen PC gaming as the recipient of several top-tier exclusive RPGs (once the Kingmaker genre that served as the foundation of the House that Sony Built), 2D platformers, and Adventure games.

PC gamers willing to flaunt the law and go into gray areas of intellectual property rights can also freely emulate almost every old console, granting PC access to ALL the greatest games of the past. Consoles, on the other hand, experimented a bit with backwards compatibility, but ultimately abandoned the idea in favor of reselling digital remasters and emulations of ‘old’ games at ridiculously-inflated prices with no form of discount to owners of previous versions.

PC Has Terrible DRM and No Physical Discs.
The Way It Was…
In the days of floppy discs and CD-ROMs, PC games always came with a serial number or some other ridiculous form of DRM, such as asking for a specific word from a specific page of the instruction manual. As such, it was impossible to sell second-hand PC games that didn’t meet expectations (and, damn, were there a lot of them). In 2003, Valve made things even worse by launching “Half-Life 2” with a form of online DRM called Steam, which caused all PC game developers to abandon physical media altogether. Console gamers, on the other hand, could freely trade/sell/barter their game cartridges and discs because these physical containers were the games, with nothing tied to an external activation code or server.

The Way It Is…
Unfortunately, thanks to Microsoft and the horrible Xbox console, the idea that console games should be updatable began to spread. As of the 8th Generation, even Nintendo’s first-party games, which always used to be complete and fully-functional, now require day-one patches and try to sucker users into paying more money for optional downloadable content.

The saddest part of the current console situation with regard to physical media vs. digital media is that so many console gamers still think their discs contain their games. When Microsoft tried to sell us an all-digital, discs-as-access-codes future with the XBONE, gamers everywhere revolted, yet so very few of us can actually see that that horrible XBONE future is already upon us. With the gigabytes of updates our console games now require, is the buggy, incomplete version contained on the physical media even worth owning? When every game asset has been replaced by an updated version that is locked to the console and a user account instead of the disc, does our physical console disc serve as anything more than a key to prove that we own the game?

While it’s true that physical discs that grant access to a pile of downloaded updates can still be traded or sold second-hand, the all-digital versions of those games that console makers refuse to discount cannot. Did you download a PSN game on your PS3? Did you upgrade to a PS4 and now want to play that downloaded game? Sorry, even if it was a game that has received a PS4 remaster, you’ll have to give Sony more money for the privilege of regaining access to it.

PC games, on the other hand, have by-and-large moved away from DRM as a way to preserve intellectual property because time has revealed that DRM simply doesn’t work to prevent piracy. GOG.com is famous for their anti-DRM stance, and are a great place to buy all manner of well-preserved Good Old Games as well as new Indie games, all without a single bit of distrust flowing from developers toward users. Even Steam, which started life as a DRM system, has softened to the point where many games in its library are DRM-free as well. All of the digital games purchased from Steam, GOG, and the like can be freely backed-up to physical media as much as their owner desires.

If I backup my Steam copy of “Skyrim,” the disc will contain the complete version of “Skyrim,” re-installable on any PC in minutes after a quick one-time ping to Steam’s activation server. If I own the PS3 version of “Skyrim,” I don’t have a physical backup of all the patches and must both ping Sony’s server and wait hours for the patches to redownload if I want to play it on a different PS3, since Sony doesn’t allow us to backup game data for individual titles.

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