At the end of the sour, six-year console war between Sony and Microsoft, gamers now know the two sides have been engaged in the wrong fight. First, Nintendo’s Wii heavily outsold both Sony’s Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Worse yet, the console market’s staying power suffered a big blow when gamers realized that not only do they want to replace their old consoles with the shiny new ones, but also they discovered that those old consoles needed to be replaced. This led gamers to PC gaming, which is ahead in the video game format war for several reasons: new consoles are expensive, they have predictably difficult launch periods, they have few exclusive titles, they don’t offer full backward compatibility for old titles, and they have no powerful free-to-play games.
When the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 debuted, both housed powerful computers that wowed gamers, and the Playstation 4 and Xbox 720 will look amazing. But consoles age, and their computing powers diminish as game developers build more realistic worlds with better physics engines. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have been outgunned by PCs for several years because they have hardware from the mid-2000s. The same problem will happen with the new Playstation and Xbox: For the $400 or $500 price tag, the systems will impress for a couple years, but near the end of their runs, Sony and Microsoft will find themselves at the back of the power pack and look to the successor console. For poor console gamers, that means another $500 up front.
On the other hand, PC gamers can upgrade little things throughout a computer’s life. They can spend around $45 for an additional 8GB of RAM. For more important hardware — processor, video card, motherboard — PC gamers can expect to pay around $100 each for modest hardware, and a full upgrade to play most modern games will run someone no more than $400. And as hardware technology becomes more efficient, prices will continue to drop, so that $400 price will decline over time, but the quality of the hardware will improve, too. And that price is for gamers who like to play on higher in-game settings. Getting the rig game-ready is just a matter of installation, but it’s not quite as easy for consoles.
Console launch periods are historically swamped by bugs and hardware problems. The Xbox 360 had overall hardware failures that made the system unusable. Gamers who got their 360s to operate then had their discs scratched by malfunctioning disc-stabilizers. The Playstation 3 had its own total hardware failures. These problems will leave any gamer feeling helpless and frustrated. Overall reliability is an important aspect for gamers, and it’s a plus of PC gaming. All PC gamers need is hard drive space.
Another leg-up computer gaming has over consoles is the big exclusive titles. Some of the most popular games in the world aren’t ported to consoles, and few are ported even to Macs: “League of Legends,” “World of Warcraft,” “Guild Wars 2,” “Diablo 3” and “Dota 2” all are computer-only. The biggest title that crosses platforms is the “Call of Duty” series, which may be single-handedly keeping console gaming afloat. PC gaming also has a large selection of free-to-play games. Consoles, though, have relied on gamers purchasing titles, and unfortunately, during console transitions, not all of the older games are playable on the new console.
It’s not the same for PCs. Even 20-year-old DOS games are playable on a Windows 7 machine, but Xbox 360’s and Playstation 3’s limited backward compatibilities require gamers to set up other rigs for the older consoles, or their golden oldies collect dust in the basement. Some of the best games from the late-90s and early-00s, like “Diablo II” and “Final Fantasy X,” are still in-demand by gamers, but the difference is gamers still play “Diablo II.” However Tidus’ awkward laugh is a moment seen most on Youtube, not on Playstation 2.
Console gamers from the 1990s best recall playing multiplayer games like “Secret of Mana” or “Super Smash Bros.” with their friends. Console games will always have the allure of gaming with friends. PC gaming may never have this type of camaraderie, for PC gaming is, by and large, a solitary thing, even though PC gamers interact with people around the world within their games. Consoles still have years of life remaining with the new generation of systems near release, but the future is inescapable: Computer gaming will continue to boom, and console gaming will continue to wane.