The War Wages On: PC vs Console
A paltry mere week ago, the now statistically proven best selling entertainment product, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, hit store shelves. Being the game-but I am, most of my writing duties have been skirted in favor of jumping into an online match. Most of my coworkers are experiencing the same affliction, but with different strains of the digital virus. It’s an age old debate that rages stronger now than it has in years: PC versus Console. The back and forth started up again this week between the mouse-lovers and the joy-pad junkies in the rare debate where Xbox 360 and PS3 fans stand firmly hand in hand on the same side.
Before I get into the meat of it all, I want to point out that I’m an upper middle-class 30 something who grew up playing PC games within arms reach of my NES. I’m a gamer, a critic, a wannabe developer and an artist, so I think I can easily qualify to fairly present both sides. I’ve written on this topic before, and I likely will again, but I believe both sides are at a point technologically that they can compete on the same grounds fairly in sound and visuals without the scales tilting immediately to one side or another.
So at the risk of starting a hate mail deluge, let’s break it down.
Money is always the first stepping stone when picking a gaming medium and at first glance, it might be difficult to spot a clear winner in this round. For the purpose of consistency, I’m going to choose a mid-range Windows Vista rig and pit it against Microsoft’s Xbox 360 for the contenders running Modern Warfare 2 (since I can’t seem to get that out of my head at the moment anyway). The game itself, whether by console or by PC will set you back $59.99 for the standard edition. A brand new Xbox 360 (with hard drive) will run you $299.99, and you’ll need an additional $60 bucks per year to play online (Xbox Live Gold). So now you’re floating in around $420. A mid-range Studio Desktop from Dell starts at $399. No online subscription here, but you’re already hit up for $460 assuming you have a display device already (tv or monitor respectively). The console has a slight, immediate edge here. After a year though, you’ll have to pony up another $60 for Xbox Live, which gives the PC that slight edge.
After that initial year though, things get tricky. PC games inspire innovation by not forcing developers to live by strict hardware guidelines when creating their software. Conceivably when Modern Warfare 3 comes out, your two year old Xbox 360 will be able to run it just fine, but developers like to push the limits with each new title and there’s a good chance your speedy PC is already showing signs of old age. More RAM, a bigger hard drive and a more powerful graphics card are all likely candidates for required upgrades in that short period of time. Any PC gamer will tell you that a decent video card will run almost as much as an entirely new system, and now you’ve doubled your cost. Console owners only need to buy the new disc to play the sequel. Of course, PC proponents will argue that a new console will come out almost as quickly, but console viability runs around 5-6 years.
This one is a no brainer. Content is King and the PC has hundreds of thousands of gaming titles. Add that, for the most part, a new PC will be able to run titles from decades past without hiccuping. The console title market has plenty to choose from, but pales in comparison, and being that there are three big-name consoles that have multiple generation models, the likelihood of playing a game from even 5 years ago is unlikely. There are exceptions of course, the Xbox 360 for example plays most original Xbox games, but don’t expect to pop in Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Wii unless you purchase it again via digital download.
The Indie gaming market helps drive the point home too. Far more developers are coding, animating and composing for the PC, simply because it’s considerably more accessible to amateurs. Now, again, there are a few stand-outs that have made it to consoles, but the effort and investment involved in creating a small game by one’s self or in a small team and distributing it on the web is a paper cut compared to the festering open wound that is console development.
This category weighs a little heavier. People have different rigs, whether it be their computer desk or their home theater setups. Obviously not everyone is privileged enough to have big-screen HDTVs, large widescreen monitors or surround sound setups. Having said that, current generation HDTVs start off in the 30″ range, quickly trumping all but the highest end computer setups. Now true, it’s possible you’ve got your PC connected to your plasma, but that’s a fraction of the gaming populous. Computer gamers are more often than not tethered to their desks, their faces about 14 inches from the screen. Console gamers can crash on the couch in a room of the house better suited for surround sound on a potentially much larger screen.
The PC has ruled the co-op and competitive gaming market for a long time. It was the first device to make use of local networked gameplay, evolving into online matches and the communities that support them. First person shooter fans in particular take advantage of huge multiplayer matches, sometimes involving up to 64 people simultaneous firing assault rifles across a post-apocalyptic landscape. Console matches don’t have such luck. It’s only been in the last 6-8 years that online play has been viable, though there’s no doubt the two big boys, Sony and Microsoft, have done online very well. Most matches, depending on the game, top out at around 24 players. That gives the PC a quick leg up.
Multiplayer is more than just the sheer volume of players on a server though. Communication has become essential, particularly in team-based titles and typing messages in the middle of a firefight is a bad idea. Your voice is your passport and computer junkies fall prey to either poorly implemented voice chat or need to run a third party program that not only eats up additional processor power, but bandwidth as well. Consoles make up for lost time here (well most of them anyway… you hear me Nintendo?). As much a part of the console as the game pad, voice comms are found in just about every title from humble board game titles to Modern Warfare 2.
The third point in this golden triangle is local multiplayer. I’m not talking about Local Area Networking, I’m talking about sitting next to 3 other people and playing a game together, everything from a house party to family game night, the PC can’t help but fall on its face. There are a few turn based titles, like Worms, where players can swap out the keyboard and mouse to make their move, but otherwise the screen is often too small to support split screen, and in the case of shooters, you simply cannot plug in additional keyboards and mice for simultaneous gameplay. Even being able to connect online with other players, PC gaming is a singular experience that strengthens the lonely basement-dwelling nerd stereotype.
The final point deals more with the players than the actual devices. PC only gamers often take an elitist attitude to their chosen platform. Players will go to the ends of the earth to lament how the mouse and keyboard are superior to any game-pad or joystick you can throw at them. A standard keyboard gives you around 104 buttons to do with how you will, which is perfect for simulation titles but ultimately overkill for anything else. PC-only players display alpha male-like behaviors and frequently refuse console gaming as if it was beneath them. The reality being that PC owners outnumber console owners by the tens of millions. Console players represent a less cavalier market, particularly when factoring Wii owners into the mix.
Whether that becomes a plus or minus is in the hands of the player though. Some prefer a more serious, competitive environment while others are more community driven, casual players and the fact is that both types of players exist on either side.
Congratulations for reading this far, but your princess is in another castle. AND if you’ve been keeping tally, consoles are up 3 to 1. Which should send the PC players over the edge about how unfair I’ve been and that obviously I’m not a PC player myself or else I’m biased. Unfortunately, I doubt it matters which side I rule on here, the other would surely whine about my lack of intelligence on the subject and provide a list of reasons why or insult my mother. In any case it’s an ongoing debate with no end in sight, so even though I’m ruling in favor on the console, this debate will run long into the next millennium.
I do have one thing for you to ponder before I close. I said at the beginning, technologically, the PC and the game console are virtually on equal ground where the PC will tend to be a half jump ahead since it can be perpetually upgraded. So why is it, dear readers, that I still have to install 3 gigabytes worth of data from 2 DVDs on my PC version, but simply slip a single disc into my console to play the same game? It boggles the mind.