Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Staff (TM)'s Editorial: PC gaming Re-entry

All right, here we go.  It's been a while, but like the proverbial prodigal son, We, the Staff (TM) have decided to make a meaningful post.

We, the Staff (TM) are currently without an Xbox 360 for at least the next several months.  As Fearless Leader may have mentioned, We've moved to the UK, and We'll be damned if we're going to make the investment in a new TV, a TV license, and a PAL-specific Xbox 360.  Yes, that's right, one needs a gods-forsaken licence to own a TV here in the UK!  Anyway, since our current source of gaming goodness once again is in the form of a PC, We thought We'd report what We could about the state of PC gaming.

Since our re-introduction to the world of PC, We have ran through Universe At War:  Earth Assault, Star Wars:  Empire at War and its expansion, Forces of Corruption, and begun playing through the more-recent RTS World in Conflict and the CPU/GPU-hogging FPS Crysis.  We have also run through several demos of more independently-produced games.

Put simply, it is fairly easy for Us to see why (monetarily, at least) the PC is losing ground against its Console rivals, i.e. the X360 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the PS3.  The PC still suffers from many of the problems that it has always had to contend with.  Being forced to provide support for multiple hardware conditions, PC games more often than naught wind up being overall buggy products, whereas the consoles have the advantage of universal hardware.

Maintaining a top-notch gaming PC is something of a task in and of itself.  A console, barring any manufacturing defects (as both Fearless Leader and We, the Staff (TM) have chronicled in the past), is ready to play its array of games off the shelf.  A PC can often require endless tinkering by means of installing drivers, troubleshooting hardware issues, tweaking settings to attain the optimal performance (usually at the cost of quality), etc.   Also, the consoles have an emerging advantage in their online service networks (Xbox Live and the Playstation Network), which provide excellent integration of news, demos, and content updates to the user.  Yes, the PC has a long-standing internet-based support network, but XBL and PSN provide significant ease of access to new content.  The flip side to this is the effect that console-based networks have had on the distribution of new content.  Sadly, what was once always considered free content in the glory days of PC gaming (multiplayer maps, new levels, and various other add-ons) now comes at a price in the world of the console network.

More specifically than all this, We have noticed a different tendency among recent PC games.  It occurs to Us that production values for PC-specific games have generally dropped in recent years.  Either that, or the console-specific games had their production values continually increase, while PC-specific titles' values plateaued.  Such production values include voice acting, cutscene production, and storyline and character development.  Many of the console games had their production values reach more of a level commonly held by feature films.  Examples of this include the first Gears of War, which premiered on the 360, the Halo series, and Mass Effect (another 360 premiere later followed up with a PC release).  There are notable PC-exclusive exceptions to this rule, of course, such as the aforementioned World in Conflict and Crysis.  However, they are more the exception, rather than the rule.  Granted, the latest-generation consoles have been "graced" with their own share of poorly-produced material, but there seems to be a greater proportion of well-produced material on the consoles compared to what occurs on the PC.

At the end of the day, what We observe is that the PC is increasingly becoming the platform choice of the Gearhead, rather than the Gamer.  Of course there is some overlap between the two, but the "Gearhead" market is a very specific and limited one.  This is likely reflected by the increasing disparity between the financial performance of the respective platforms.

And thus concludes our long-overdue rant about stuff.

-The Staff


Anonymous said...

Ok first off you don't find the best games on console. You don't find space and rts or mmo's on console. Pc gaming is cutting edge gaming for reason only that is hardware. What new genre was even created on console none. You don't have any mods on console they don't even come close to pc gaming. Console gaming is garbage compared to pc gaming. So when are you console players ever get to play games like guildwars and guild wars 2 never. How about sins of the solar empire never huh why is that because pc gimsing is cuting edge gaming. We have all the indie game devs. More game devs produce pc games. There is also an increase of better games produced by the small companies. crytek is a small company, so is stardock. How about the guys that made the witcher!ID soft ware will be making wolfenstin on the pc because guess what consoles can't haddle it.project offset will be a pc only game. there is 6 high profile games in the works for pc. the thing is about games they are all going multi plat because games can make more money that take a good look at mass effect 2.Pc gaming will always be cutting edge gaming.

Anonymous said...

Oh gears of war is garbage on the pc we have better games

no pc gamer even cares for it. As for sales pc gaming is world wide and bigger than consoles. mmos,daiblo,starcraft,halflife,sims,spore,nacy drew are the real money makers and they produce way more than an any console game ever could

Juxtapose said...

The honest truth is that all the major platforms have their pros and cons and they each tend to appeal to a certain market:

PC = MMOs, RTS, and the Sims.
Xbox 360 = Shooters and Western RPGs
Wii = Party and casual friendly games
PlayStation 3 = Poorly reviewed exclusives and the Xbox 360's hand-me-downs.

So of course if you want games like World of WarCraft or Guild Wars, then you'll want a PC. If you want solid RTSes, you'll want a PC. If you want Shooters, you'll want an Xbox 360.

Sure, a keyboard and mouse is a superior control method, but the Xbox platform has become the shooter platform. Most major shooters, though of course not all, either are a limited exclusive on the Xbox 360 or are cross-platform with the PC. Yet which version does the developer and publisher always show and demo? It's almost always the Xbox 360 version, not the PC. Some recent examples of this: Dead Space and Fallout 3 (of course, an RPG and not a shooter).

So many games today are designed first on the Xbox 360 and then ported to other platforms.

Of course, the Xbox 360 is limited as a standardized platform as all consoles are, but that to comes with pros and cons. If you have the time to tweak graphics settings, pay for new hardware, deal with several patches (one or two always released before a title even launches), then by all means, go with a PC. But if your strapped for time like many gamers today due to other commitments and have an hour or less for gaming, a console offers a near trouble-free experience that you can spend gaming, not tinkering.

And even though console hardware ages and can't be updated, since it's a standardized platform, developers can really optimize for it. The Xbox 360 is just short of 3 years old, and look at Dead Space. Look at Fallout 3. Beautiful games, absolutely gorgeous and they play well on that platform. Do they look better on a high end PC? Of course, and they should since it's 3 year newer hardware, but the console counterpart looks stunning as well.

The biggest media launches in history are also on consoles. Grand Theft Auto IV, and then Halo 3 respectively, and the sales of such titles, presently console exclusives, also goes to show the appeal of the platform.

Also, isn't The Witcher coming to consoles now with exclusive content? Wolfenstein will also be available on the Xbox 360 as well as the PlayStation 3. From what I recall, they're developing it on the consoles, not a PC, it's Rage that's being developed on the PC, though I may be wrong.

Anyway, to each their own. If you don't like consoles, don't play on them, but as Bethesda Software themselves said years ago about you PC elitists: You're only cheating yourself out of a solid gaming experience.