I have a confession to make. After a lifetime of owning consoles as my primary gaming machine and the past year reporting on ever aspect of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, I've decided to buy a PC, and I feel terrible about it.
Did this long-time console shooter maniac lose his mind or get smarter? I'll try to convince you of the latter.
I've been a console gamer ever since that matte gray Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) appeared under my Christmas tree back in the 1980s. Years of button mashing through the Nintendo and Sega systems my gamer life changed the first time I got my hands on a PlayStation. About the same time I convinced my parents to buy a computer, you know, for school work. Yet quickly discovered a whole new world of games had opened up. Which led to my love of upgrading pre-cable modems and a deep affection for games like XCOM: UFO Defense and Wolfenstein 3D
But everything changed in 1998 when I picked up Half-Life. It blew my mind with a level of immersion and graphical quality that I'd never seen before. But somewhere along the way I, and many gamers got disenfranchised by a bloated computer gaming industry that released buggy products and gimmicky games. In the time before easily downloadable patches when developers shipped a buggy game that's what gamers got, end of story. Ultimately I couldn't afford the high performance video cards that games required to run so I switched back to consoles again jumping into new worlds with the original Xbox.
But this latest generation turns a new page on gaming. Many gamers, like myself, are getting a little older and a little wiser to marketing and hopefully have a few more dollars to our name to make a choice based on what we really want. My choice was to skip this newest generation of consoles - possibly the last – opting instead to by a Gaming PC, why? Did this long-time console first-person shooter manic loose his mind or get smarter? I'll try to convince you of the latter.
Cost, Was Here
Let's get this out of the way first. Most consoles are a great deal. Its an all-inclusive box with everything you need to at least play with yourself, extra controllers are always more. Games, even at $60 are a good entertainment value when compared to movies.
PCs on the other hand can be quite expensive. Even a modest gaming PC can run about $1000 but does a lot more than play games alone.
The Xbox One was the most expensive of the next-gen systems at $499 which is half as much as the lowest level gaming PC but for the laymen not concerned with how many t-flops your getting out of your machine they're roughly equivalent in power.
This is the main feature of consoles; a miniature, easy to use computer with lots of power. Computer companies generally don't sell their computers at a loss but Sony and Microsoft barely break even on the construction cost of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and have taken losses regularly on the sales its hardware. All the while knowing that they'll have to make up the difference with games, subscription fees and extra content.
There's Gold in Them Graphics
The PlayStation and Xbox brought on a revolution in affordable, jaw-dropping graphics at a time PCs were still very expensive. In a long-lost heyday before nearly every Hollywood movie was solely made around CGI (Computer Generated Images) and the novelty to mutliplayer gaming on your TV was wonderfully new and addictive the accessibility to near movie-level graphics was amazing. But as the generations of console releases slowed, PCs started getting cheaper and leap-froged consoles is the cost/power trade off.
Consoles on the other hand remain stable after release. Another way to put it is that a console's graphics are stagnate. As great at the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One's graphics are, they became dated the day it dropped compared to a PC gaming rig. This is where both Sony and Microsoft know they can't compete so they offer lots of alternatives.
Oh, the Games You Won't Play
Consoles have moved away from being committed gaming rigs to being entertainment delivery systems. From completely unnecessary downloadable content, micro-transactions for content that should be included, to subscriptions to features which were previously free (like online multiplayer). Consoles can even require users to pay for access to services that they may already own on a different platform. Requiring users to have an Xbox Live Gold account to stream a separately paid for Netflix account, just doesn't make sense to me.
Now that gamers have had the next-gen consoles in their hands for a bit, it'll be interesting to see just which features they really need. It's very cool that I can talk to my console, do I especially want to? No. It's amazing that I can live-share games I'm playing, but If I wanted to expand my social experience in games I would invite a friend. But this logic probably won't sell many consoles, I realize that.
Ultimately my biggest fear when moving away from consoles isn't what features I would be missing out on, but what games will be exclusives. So are there really exclusives anymore? It's hard to say.
The Exclusivity Myth
If I didn't own a console when Grand Theft Auto V came out I probably would have bought one. But will GTA V come to PCs? Probably, every other Grand Theft Auto game has and PC gamers can look forward to all the bugs being worked out long before they get their hands on it.
Sony and Microsoft back exclusive titles for their systems, but they rarely stay that way. While a big deal is made about exclusivity, Sony is really the only one who sticks to it. For practical purposes and because of their PC business, Microsoft releases nearly everything on PC and is happy to sell its titles on the PlayStation as well.
Some new titles like Titanfall take a hard line saying they will be exclusive forever. But the reality is that console exclusives have fallen off in this generation. While being temporarily reinvigorated by the next-gen launch developers are a lot more interested in offering games on multiple system now than ever before. If we can judge by the last generation of games, this generation's launch exclusives will make their way onto the others; it's just a matter of time. Although surely there will still be killer games. I bought a PlayStation solely to play The Last of Us and haven't regretted it a bit.
Confession of a Console Gamer
I'm sorry Sony and Microsoft, I feel like I've let you down. I’ve been a longtime owner of both systems, but the cost/graphics benefit that kept gamers like me coming back has flipped the other way. PCs are at their lowest prices ever. Equivalent graphics and processing power can be matched cheaply by PCs right now and I can even buy the new Dualshock 4 or Xbox One controller and plug it into my computer where it works just fine.
What do you offer in return? I will continue to buy and play games on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 until the blue screen of death or the red ring of shame, both denoting critical system failures, take them away from me. But when I buy a new title, it's going to be played on a PC.