How many times over the years have you heard the phrase, “PC gaming is dead”? Personally, I have lost count. That phrase has been uttered so many times that I find it hard to believe that anyone still gives it any credence. The last thing the Internet needs is one more rant on the topic of the death of PC gaming, but what else is a blog for? There are two basic options for those who want an immersive (HD video, surround sound, 3D?) gaming experience: PC or console, so I will focus my discussion there.
Lifecycle / Hardware
The most common herald of the death of PC gaming is the release of a new batch of consoles. These new machines are as powerful as the top of the line gaming PCs for a fraction of the price. I find it a little humorous that people joke about a new PC being obsolete the moment you buy it, but not consoles. Consoles are stuck with the same hardware for years, possibly decades. The current generation of consoles has been out for 5 years with no newer versions on the horizon. PCs, on the other hand, can be slowly upgraded. This means that PCs can quickly take advantage of new technologies where consoles are stuck in the past. The first example that comes to my mind is 3D. We’re just now starting to see 3D televisions. I first experienced true 3D gaming (with the funny LCD glasses and everything) on my PC in 1998. That’s right, 12yrs ago. I played games like Quake, Unreal Tournament, and Battlefield 1942 in 3D.
PCs also allow for a great degree of customization. I’m not talking about just changing your desktop background and system sounds. I mean in games. The control setups for PC games almost always allow you map any key to any action (or series of actions). The majority of console games I have seen allow you to choose between several pre-mapped control schemes. And you are not restricted to mouse and keyboard controls. There are USB controllers in all sorts of form factors: console style gamepads, joysticks, flight pedals, throttles, etc. There are also unique, innovative input devices like the Space Orb (which I have used). There are a few cases where new innovations are not available on the PC before they make it to consoles. One recent example is Xbox’s Kinect system. However, the flexibility of the PC allows it to quickly integrate innovations wherever they originate. There are already several interesting projects using the Kinect system with PCs.
There is also the ability to modify or “mod” games. This allows game players to use their own creative talents to leapfrog off of their favorite games and create their own versions. These versions can be shared with other gamers, which extends the life and capabilities of games by providing other users with free content. Counterstrike, one of the most played online first person shooters of all time, was one such mod.
PC gamers have been playing games online for more than a decade. The current crop of consoles have incorporated this feature to some extent, but I would say it is still in its infancy. I will admit that the only recent online console experience I have had is with XboxLive. I tried the free month of service that came with my console (and another free trial period the first time I returned a red-ringed xbox) and was unimpressed. I will never be able to convince myself to actually pay for such a minimal online experience. One of the biggest differences I have seen in online gaming is the lack of dedicated servers on the console. Some may say dedicated servers don’t make a significant difference. That may be true for some games, but try any game where the game play depends heavily on timing (like first person shooters or fighting games) and you will definitely notice the difference.
Another obvious benefit of gaming on your PC is that the PC can be used for any number of things in addition to gaming. Word processing, email, video, etc. can all be done on the same machine. You can even play old console games. And thanks to the customization I mentioned earlier, you can make them as authentic as you want.
PC gaming does have its share of drawbacks, but I think often they are blown out of proportion. “Installing games is too difficult,” is a complaint I’ve heard more than once. I always have to ask if the person saying that has installed a game in the past 7 to 10 years. I remember having to really work to install games in the Windows 95 days, but those days are long gone. It can be still be hard to run 10 year old PC games on a new system, but it is still infinitely easier than running your NES games on your Xbox. “PCs are too expensive,” is another complaint I hear fairly often. There is some truth to that statement, but consoles aren’t any cheaper. You have to choose if you want to spend $400 (plus the cost to buy extra controllers, new TV, etc.) all at once on a new console or in small chucks over the years to keep your PC up to date.
That was a lot of effort to basically say, PC gaming is not dead and will not be dying anytime in the near future. Whenever someone tries to put it in the grave, it will rise again like a zombie. It may not always be mainstream, it may be eclipsed occasionally by new consoles, but there will always be those gamers that don’t want to wait for console release cycles to experience the latest technology, want more control of their games and input devices, and/or want one device that does it all.