Game On or Game Over: Consoles vs PCs

and 18 December 2013

Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Nicholas: If there’s one thing that gamers like to do more than, well game, it’s argue. Such as when we discussed fanboys a few weeks ago, gamers always like to tell each other why their favourite console or franchise is better than the other person’s. Hell, even the introduction for our articles each week mentions Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. Usually I just pay it no attention, but there’s one comparison that gamers like to make that ALWAYS ruffles my feathers. That is of course, consoles versus PC.

It doesn’t matter whether the graphics of Battlefield 4 look better on a PlayStation than a Xbox, PC gamers always like to step in and tell you that they can’t match the capabilities of their multi-thousand dollar gaming rig. It annoys me right off! Now, we’re both console gamers, so I won’t start by asking you which of the two you prefer. Instead, I wanted to kick off this week’s article by asking – why? Why do you choose to play games on your home console rather than a PC?

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Andy: Actually, I’m going to answer this in a way you may not be expecting. There’s one big reason I’ve been a console gamer versus a PC gamer, and it’s due to the keyboard/mouse combination versus a controller. For whatever reason, my mind just doesn’t work like that. Put a controller in my hands and I’m reasonably good at pretty much any game, conversely, put a mouse and keyboard in my hands and I turn into an idiot and can’t even move in a straight line. So, it’s a pretty easy for me to answer that.

However, a friend of mine just helped me build a new computer from scratch – I know one of his hopes for helping was to try and draw me into PC gaming. Heck, he even bought me the Game of the Year edition of Fallout 3 on Steam, and anyone who has read these articles before knows that Fallout 3 would be the game to bring me to the dark side. I’ll admit, I have dabbled in some PC gaming since then. Even being a longtime console gamer I can see the allure and benefits of PC gaming. With a console there is only one version you see, there’s nothing to make it better or any possibility to enhance it. With a PC however, you can tweak things so that you get the best experience possible.

The one thing that does frustrate me is the whole ‘PC master race’ mindset that some (most) PC gamers have. When I talk about games and the amazing experiences I have had – it rarely, if ever comes up what system I play the games on. To be honest, I’m not really sure that it matters what we play a game on, but more that we are all enjoying that experience. So, before we get to the nitty gritty of the console vs PC war, you’ve been primarily a console gamer I believe – what makes you make that choice?

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Nicholas:  When I think about it, there are three main reasons why I favour home consoles over computers when it comes to gaming. The first is that I was simply late to the computer scene. While a lot of my friends owned PCs going through primary school, for our household, it wasn’t until I was in Year 8 at high school that we bought our first computer. By that time I’d been an established console gamer and because buying games was (and really still is) expensive, I choose simply to stick with my Nintendo Gamecube and my Mario games, than FPS and RTS titles on a computer.

The next reason, as you also mentioned, is because I’m a lot more comfortable playing games using a controller than a keyboard and mouse. I remember attending a preview event for Medal of Honor Warfighter and all the set-ups were on PCs. Now I’m average at shooters at best, but I’m even worse when using a computer, and boy did I suck when I was thrown into the match. I remember dying, and dying, and dying, and dying. In addition, since I’m mostly into racers, I find I can be a lot more precise using a control stick than using the directional pad (or the WSAD keys), so the controller is always going to be a better fit. I know you can buy third-party controllers for your computer, but as I said, when I’m already established as a console-gamer, I’d prefer to keep it that way.

The final reason, and arguably the most important reason as to why I’m a console gamer and not a PC gamer is cost. For me, it just seems absurd that I need to spend thousands of dollars to build a high-end gaming rig, only for it to become essentially out-dated a few months later by a new part which has just been released. I like to be a no-fuss kind of guy – I’d like to buy the hardware I need to play the game on, purchase the game, pop it in, and play it. Having to fiddle with graphics settings because my graphics card isn’t good enough and needing to worry about which parts I need to make sure my game can play Crysis is just far too much effort and money than I’m prepared to spend. I like that I can purchase an Xbox 360 and know that for eight years it will handle any game that’s released for it. There’s no settings to tinker with, it’s just pop-in and away I go.

After gaming for over fifteen years, you also just get used to doing things as you have been for most your life. I’ve been a console gamer from the very beginning, so really why would I change that now? For slightly better graphics? I’ve seen videos of people modding games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Need For Speed Most Wanted (2005) and I won’t lie, I’ve wanted to do that too, but it’s nothing major and nothing I can’t live without. There’s really just no significant incentive for me to ever switch to PC gaming as far as I’m concerned.

All that said though, let’s move on. While we saw it with the last generation consoles, there’s no denying that the new generation units are more than just gaming consoles, but serious multimedia devices too. Gone are the days where your console would just play your favourite shooter or racing title, but now they can stream movies from your computer, work as cable TV-boxes, and even be used to have Skype conversations with your mates from around the world. Do you think this has all come about because companies like Microsoft and Sony recognise that PC gamers have so much more functionality available to them, and to keep their share in the gaming market they had to step-up and provide those features and functions too?

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Andy: I want to address your third point before I jump any further. Prior to my friend helping me build a PC I would have agreed with you about the whole expensive/ being outdated out-of-the-box idea. However, my perception on that has changed. It’s really a give and take if you think about it. Yes, the initial cost of a good quality PC is a little spendy – all told I spent just under a grand on mine – but if you take your time and look, there are deals are out there. So, if you do look for deals and get a good quality build you can future-proof your PC for several years. Much like a console it will have a life span, but the thing is once that life span is over you can upgrade that PC for cheaper than it would cost than buying a brand new console. Lastly on this point, it’s hard to argue against the game sales that Steam has as well. I can’t lie, I have been jealous of some of the games/prices they get from time to time.

Your last point is actually one I have spent some time talking about to various people and my answer will surprise you. I don’t think the new consoles, and all the options they have is a direct result of the companies actively thinking about PCs. Rather, I think all those options, functions, apps and what- have-you that are included (available) now are a direct result of Microsoft and Sony wanting to make their hardware the bottleneck of your living room and media experience. It makes sense too – they just want a larger piece of that home entertainment pie. Before, if I wanted to play a game I turned on my Xbox and played – then if I wanted to watch TV I turned the Xbox off and turn another box on, changed inputs on the TV, and then found a channel. Now, it’s as simple as saying “Xbox watch TV”. It frees up space, cards and energy in your entertainment center. But, it also has to be a nice chunk of revenue for Microsoft and Sony as well. Both in terms of hardware sales and royalties/usage fees from the different apps and services.

To bring this conversation back towards the realm of PCs though, there has long been a love triangle between console gamers and PC gamers, then mixing in the whole Playstation versus Xbox and it just seems that every gamer hates every other gamer for some reason. If you have told me four months ago that I’d be writing a somewhat ‘pro’ PC piece for this article I’d have called you crazy, but I think that would have been more of me talking about something I didn’t fully understand. Sure, it’s very easy to spend stupid amounts of money on a PC (thankfully I had good guidance on what I really ‘needed). Look at it like this though – I spent a grand on a PC and then spent a grand on an Xbox One with accessories/games. If you look at strictly in terms of strictly cash spent they are dead-even. This makes me wonder, do you think some of the arguments against PC gamers or just PC game machines in general are from people, like me, who are basing their arguments on misperceptions and stuff they heard, rather than fact-based arguments?

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Nicholas: I think that’s a fairly safe assumption to make to be honest. I won’t lie, I haven’t actively researched how much it would cost to build a high-end gaming computer, so everything I’ve ever gone off is what friends have said or what I’ve read in conversations online.  That said though, you mentioned that it only cost you under $1K to build your computer – now I’m not sure if prices are just incredibly cheaper in the US than they are here in Australia, but I have a colleague who is going to spend almost $2.5K on a gaming computer for his son. Does that mean the computer has parts it doesn’t need? Not sure. But it’s these instances that I come across that completely turn me off ever building a gaming PC. I can spend $600 on an Xbox One or $1-2.5K for a PC, and for me, with games and peripherals aside (since I only need one controller), I know which of the two the cheaper alternative is. So yeah, while I don’t doubt that a lot of people’s opinions are based on misperceptions, I do think there is some truth in them.

You mentioned before the ‘PC master race’ mindset and this is something I’d like to discuss a little further now. We discussed fanboys at length in a recent article, and I mentioned how much I found them frustrating. That all said, Xbox and PS fanboys aside, I don’t think there’s any group I find more irritating than PC fanboys. I can recall getting comments from PC players saying “the next-gen consoles are finally catching up to computers” when the Xbox One and PS4 were originally announced, and it made my blood boil. With the new generation consoles having all this new multimedia functionality, with both running blu-ray technology, and with both boasting amazing visuals, do you think the gap between consoles and PC is now smaller than ever? In your opinion, do you think the PC master race will slowly become a thing of the past?

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Andy: To be honest, I’m not sure what your PC part prices are down there, but when I was building mine we used a website that tracked the price of parts so I could get the best deal possible on each one, and that alone saved me several hundred dollars. I do think there’s some truth to how expensive a gaming PC ‘can’ be, but at the same time it doesn’t ‘have’ to be as expensive either. If you go based on what you need, rather than on what you want, it that can lower the price considerably too.

In terms of a gap between console and PC gamers, I think some of that is a perceived difference and not really reality. What I mean is, for the most part each plays the same games, or at the very least, the same type of games. The one area where consoles do fall behind is MMO’s, but with Elder Scrolls Online coming out next year that seems to be something that will be shrinking as well. I do know if you really want to get a PC gamer riled up though when having the whole master race discussion, ask they how well Red Dead Redemption played on their computer. I honestly can’t think of any game on PC that I can’t play on a console. Shooters, racing, RPG, etc., I can all get on my console.

One main advantage PC gamers have is four simple letters – mods. They can do things with games that are amazing. Yet, if you don’t have the right PC parts, you can also get that wonderful message, “we’re sorry you’re PC does not meet the minimum requirements to run this game.” That’s something console gamers will never have to worry about – and like you mentioned before – console gaming really is a no fuss style of gaming. Of course, we wouldn’t do this article justice if we didn’t talk about the Steam Machine that started to be rolled out last week. In an interesting turn of events, for the most part, it’s a PC trying to emulate the benefits of a console. So, that begs the question then, what does it mean when a console is trying to be more like a PC in terms of power, but the PC (Steam Machine in this case) is trying to be more like a console in terms of functionality? Is the gap really as large as some would lead you to believe?

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Nicholas: I think that’s a really good question, and just in writing this article, I’m starting to think that the answer is now ‘no’. Like you said, there’s no doubt that there are certainly some advantages to being a PC gamer rather than a console gamer, but I think those advantages are starting to dwindle and the differences are becoming smaller and smaller. I mean sure, PC players might have that edge when it comes to graphics purely because they can upgrade the hardware in their gaming rigs where consoles remain with the same parts for essentially its entire lifecycle, but like I said before, I think we’re getting to a stage where increases in graphics are only going to be extremely minor and we just won’t be able to tell them apart that easy anymore.

I would love to have access to platforms like Steam on my Xbox One, but I think it’s just something that’s going to take time – and given Microsoft’s plans for the future (which unfortunately have been put on the backburner for now), I don’t think it’s going to be too long until we see a digital distribution system like Steam on our home consoles.

At the beginning of this article we both mentioned why we’re console gamers, but I’d be interested to know, to close off this week’s discussion, do you ever see yourself eventually moving to the dark side and becoming a PC gamer? Take the Steam Machine as an example. If they come packed with decent enough hardware, a controller which is easy enough to use and get used to, do you think that perhaps one day you’ll be going for your PC rather than your Xbox?

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Andy: I think I’m going to sidestep your question and say no. There’s a certain draw and comfort that will probably keep me grabbing my console controller first. With that said I will also say in the future I see the platform of your choice not mattering anymore. It’s truly my belief that we will start to see games that the player base is spread out (Xbox and PC) but the interaction will take place in one central place. Then, the hardware won’t matter and we can all just get along and you know… play games and have fun.

That’s always been one of my biggest pet peeves about the gaming industry, as it’s built right now it automatically segregates gamers the second they decide ‘what’ they are going to play games on, as we’ve both talked about in this article. As the technology increases and the gaps between hardware shrinks, it only makes sense that the segregation will start to dwindle as well. If you think about it the more people playing a game, the better for that game. If I could play with friends that have PCs or even PS3/4 (heck Xbox 360) it would be that much more fun and would keep people playing. In my opinion that’s just one of the natural evolution steps that gaming needs to start considering. I think the hardware is there, or should be there soon, it’s only matter of time, and then it just won’t matter what you play your games on. At the end of the day that’s how it should be. As Dan Amrich says “Play what makes you happy.” It shouldn’t matter what we play our games on really, if you’re happy then that’s all that matters.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.