Preferable Choice

Recently, SNESMasterKI wrote up an article detailing why he felt that despite all of the doom and gloom surrounding the previous generation of consoles basically being outdated, gimped PCs, consoles still had a place in the video game market. What a difference a month makes. The PS4 managed to sell a million units on its first day and the future of console gaming is assured for at least another generation. Much to my utter disappointment.

You see, last generation, I came to a realization: the consoles I knew growing up, the things that made them unique and necessary, were either completely gone or quickly fading. The HD twins from last generation were proof positive that the very qualities that made me love consoles in prior generations were gone. Plug and play? Sure, that’s still there …after you download the latest system update and any and all patches for whatever game you’re trying to play. Console exclusives? More and more games that aren’t paid exclusives or first-party titles are getting PC ports, even older games that the PC missed out on during their initial releases are getting re-releases on PC. It’s gotten to the point where Japanese developers, who generally consider PC ports a waste of money due to the lack of popularity of the platform in their own domestic markets, are starting to see the power of PC, mainly via Valve’s Steam platform. Add that to the fact that the heavy-hitters of the upcoming generation run on standard x86 architecture, rather than the custom-built processors of the past few generations, and PC ports are guaranteed to become more ubiquitous in the coming years.

But what advantages do PCs still hold over the next generation of consoles? Clearly, all PC gamers can brag about are their higher-quality graphics and high resolutions. It’s not like there are any other real advantages that PCs hold over their console counterparts, considering they’ve finally bridged the hardware gap…well, for the next six months anyway. I submit for your approval, five major (yet unsung) advantages that PCs will have over consoles for the foreseeable future.

5. It’s an Open Platform

One key advantage that PC gaming has always had over its console brethren is the fact that it is an open platform, which means that anyone can program and distribute games on PC, without the need of any special development kits or licenses from the various console manufacturers. Some will argue that the licenses are in place to prevent the system from getting flooded with inferior games, but given the sheer amount of shovelware we’ve seen since the NES days, that’s clearly not the case. Compare that to all of those promising Kickstarters, Indiegogos and other crowdfunding projects that have come into existence in the last couple of years. Most (if not all) of them have PC confirmed in the basic funding, while console releases are stretch goals. Sure, no one pays for special consideration for PC releases, but the fact that you don’t have to pay to play is a definite plus.

How Long Will It Last?

There’s a reason this one is number five. Sure, consoles will never surpass the openness of PC by their very nature. But lately, console manufacturers have made significant leaps and bounds courting indie developers. Sony and Nintendo are actively courting indie games as console exclusives. Even Microsoft is getting in on the act, claiming that every Xbox One sold can double as a devkit.

4. It Does All Genres

There’s a common misconception regarding PCs: they’re only capable of handling specific genres that are tailored to their unique advantages. This just simply isn’t the case. Even back in the 90s, PC had games in a wide variety of genres, even those that no one would’ve expected. Sure, nowadays when fighting games and platformers are released on PCs, people act like it’s a big deal. To anyone familiar with PC games of old, you’ll understand why this isn’t such a big deal. The PC had classic platformers like the Commander Keen games, the first two Duke Nukem games (which were totally different from the FPSes most gamers associate with the franchise) and Jazz Jackrabbit, to name a few. Fighting games weren’t represented quite as well, but there were PC ports of arcade classics such as the first 3 Mortal Kombat games, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Virtua Fighter 2 and X-Men: Children of the Atom, all of which varied in quality. There were also original fighting games, such as the One Must Fall series, the Body Blows series, Pray for Death, Sango Fighter and Fight ‘N’ Jokes, but these were more proofs of concept that fighters could work on PCs than anything else. Quite frankly, PCs can do any genre consoles can handle. The opposite isn’t true.

How Long Will It Last?

The only systems that have really made any headway with this disadvantage would be the Wii U, 3DS and PlayStation Vita, due to their implementations of touch-screen and other unorthodox non-controller input methods.  Controllers, motion controls and camera recognition peripherals just don’t provide the tactile input methods that genres like strategy games and first-person shooters need, which is why games of those specific genres tend to be watered-down when they’re designed with a console (and by extension, a controller) in mind.

3. Quick Patches

As loathe as I am to admit it, the ability to patch video games has become incredibly important. Sure, the ability leads developers to be far less willing to make sure a game works at launch, but being able to fix games on the fly is fairly important. Consider how many old games from previous generations could’ve been fixed if they were able to be patched. Think about games that had to be re-released (at full cost) with minor difficulty fixes. Games that got fixed when they were released in other territories, while leaving the initial releases in a more flawed state. Patches have done far more good than bad for the industry as a whole, but PC has them best of all. Not only is there less bureaucracy between a fix and gamers compared to consoles, but due to the PC’s status as an open platform, skilled fans can create their own patches and bug fixes for games when they discover these issues in the first place. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternative.

How Long Will It Last?

I don’t see this advantage dropping any time soon. Consoles, by their very nature as closed platforms, frown upon independent tinkering. Also, the red tape that consoles put in place has a purpose: to quash any new bugs that may have emerged in the process of fixing the current ones. In other words, don’t expect consoles to catch up on this one any time soon.

2. Competitive Pricing

Some of you out there who game exclusively on consoles may have heard rumblings about Steam sales. Magical times of year where games can go for as low as 85% of their typical value. Yes, Steam sales are awesome, but they’re really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the savings PC gaming offers you. A lot of that has to do with the fact that PC game retailers are allowed to compete. Sure, Steam’s presence is king, but did you know that there are sites out there that sell you Steam keys (or rather, codes that can be redeemed for games on Steam) at a significant discount? Most brick-and-mortar retailers can’t do that with console games, but with Steam, getting a whole lot for a little is entirely possible.

How Long Will It Last?

I really doubt that consoles are ever going to be able to catch up in this area, considering that prices stay high on new copies of games in most physical storefronts due to the manipulation of Gamestop. There’s also the fact that Nintendo never really considers price drops on their games to be necessary (as they believe it would devalue them) and none of the big 3 really make any major efforts to give discounts on their digital offerings. Aside from Amazon’s incredible discounts (which also apply to PC games), there’s just no push on any end to make pricing even remotely competitive.

1. Backwards Compatibility

Here’s the big one. Something I got used to in previous generations was the fact that newer consoles were able to play games from their predecessors. Sure, this practice wasn’t really implemented all that often on consoles, but the PS2 could play PS1 games, early incarnations of the PS3 could play both PS1 and PS2 games, the Xbox 360 was capable of playing certain games from the original Xbox and both the Wii and Wii U were compatible with their predecessors. However, both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have ditched this practice. On the other hand, even Windows 8 is remarkably backwards compatible with games built for earlier OSes. Even in cases where native backwards compatibility isn’t possible, there are emulators (such as DOSbox) and stores (Good Old Games.com) who are willing to provide a quick fix. Even Steam has begun re-releasing classic PC games on their storefront.

How Long Will It Last?

Even though Sony and Microsoft’s latest consoles boast an x86 architecture which would make emulation easier on future consoles, both Sony and Microsoft have gone on record to say that they don’t consider backwards compatibility important. Considering Sony’s implementation of Gaikai to stream old games and Microsoft’s suggestion to “just leave your Xbox 360 set up”, it’s safe to say that backwards compatibility is dead and buried on non-Nintendo consoles. After all, no one ever profited from letting you play old games on new platforms…unless of course, they can charge you for it all over again.

Of course, in the end, there’s clearly still a place for console-style gaming. Unfortunately, aside from Nintendo, the current console manufacturers don’t really justify their continued existence. At least Nintendo vindicates their existence simply due to their quality first-party titles. Sony and Microsoft pretty much just deliver a weaker strain of the PC gaming experience these days. So much so, that Valve’s upcoming Steam Machines are probably a better choice in the long run. In fact, back before Microsoft announced the XBO, I was really hoping that Microsoft would’ve decided to compete with a gaming-centric living room PC that would’ve been able to play PC games, rather than their own exclusive titles. Alas, they decided to just go with another combination console/entertainment center, just like what the 360 evolved into by the end of its lifespan. What a waste. Oh well, Phil Spencer did mention that Microsoft Studios would be focusing more on PC gaming in the future. So hopefully that means PC ports of XBO games down the line. Regardless, I’m still hoping that Steam Machines end up with a significant market share. It would be for the good of gaming.

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