The '2 grand PC required' lie & proprietary hardware

· by Steve · Read in about 5 min · (969 Words)

Ok, rant time. I’m a multiplatform gamer, and my PC is still a key platform for me. Every time a new console comes out people predict the death of the PC as a gaming platform, but it never happens - sure, the traditional retail model continues to favour the consoles, on account of them having the marketing muscle of the console manufacturers behind them, plus the ‘idiot proof’ nature of the devices means that there are less issues with support (although the advent of patching on consoles does appear to be engendering more of a ‘release it and patch it later’ attitude in some quarters that we used to only see on PC). And, there’s something nice about playing many kinds of game in the living room of course.

Nevertheless, for those of us who have to keep a decent PC running anyway, it’s a great gaming device for many things. A modestly priced PC you buy today is likely to outperform a 360 or PS3, the games are 25% cheaper, for FPS’s there is no other platform like it, both from the standpoint of the control system, simple mod support and performance. It’s a great device.

What annoys me is when people start using price as a reason for the PC not being a viable gaming platform.  Even just recently I saw one of the Eurogamer guys (who frankly should know better in his position) claiming that he hadn’t played Crysis because it needed a £2000 PC to play, which is total, unadulterated nonsense. My PC plays Crysis perfectly well (not at the very top detail level, but it still looks gorgeous), and it costs a little over £500 (minus LCD - but then you don’t count the TV in the price of a console either ;)); and let’s remember that Crysis is the most demanding game out there. Pick up The Orange Box or Bioshock and you’ll be playing on the top detail level with frame rates the 360 and PS3 versions can only dream of, and you won’t be compromising on the mouse/keyboard control either.

The PS3 cost just about the same amount on release as my PC did, and I can do a hell of a lot more with my PC. Even now, once you add on costs of extra controllers, the 25% premium on a few games, and the cost comparisons are really not as clean cut as some people make out.

Sigh. I’m not anti-console, I’ve always owned them myself (I own 3 right now), but the anti-PC rhetoric you sometimes find in gaming today bugs me, because most of the time it’s totally inaccurate. It’s never been easier to run games on the PC, and in fact never been cheaper either (sure, it used to cost £2k to get a machine to play the latest games, if you go back a few years, but not anymore).

Related to this, I still stand by the prediction that eventually we’ll all have media hubs in the home which will support gaming, and won’t be proprietary, because it makes no financial sense when content is what sells. Look at the 360 - it’s basically a slightly modified PC. The PS3 cost millions to research and develop, and yet in practice it’s esoteric proprietary nature doesn’t give it any particular edge, and has just made it cost more and content developers have to give Sony a slice. Eventually living room hardware will be irrelevant, it will all be about the content. Right now the proprietary platforms are the gatekeepers to living room gaming, which is why they can set the rules, and why they’re riding high in the mass-market gaming economy right now. But it won’t last forever.

Think I’m nuts? What if I told you that to play a CD, you had to play it in a device manufactured by the same people that published it? Sounds stupid - yet that’s the exact situation we’re in with console gaming. I say it only survives that way because it hasn’t matured into its final state yet, when ‘player’ hardware becomes irrelevant, just like every other medium has, so right now the concept of selling a proprietary platform works, but it’s inherently unnatural, a non-stable state. Look at the ratio of multiplatform games to exclusives these days. Content creators have to go multiplatform because they mostly can’t afford not to be able to reach the maximum audience. The proprietary platform is a barrier to doing business. How about all the money that’s going to platform holders for doing nothing more than allowing a game to be published on their platform? It’s a huge slice, and that’s money that could be going into creating content instead of paying for specialised hardware. And the consumer? How they hate not being able to play a game just because it’s exclusive to a platform they didn’t buy. They don’t care about the platform (excluding fanboys), they just want to play the game. So the content creator is not getting revenue that the consumer wants to give them! How does that make sense?

Because it’s in the content creator and consumer’s interest to do away with exclusives, and the proprietary platforms, I think it will eventually happen across the board and we’ll look back on the model we have now as a quaint and sub-optimal relic. I think it’s more likely that some kind of universal gaming / multimedia platform will evolve out of existing TV and PC technology, it just needs to get to the stage where specs don’t matter. Every year we get closer to that mark, it’s just a matter of time. It won’t be within 5 years, but maybe by 10, or 15 at the outside. Anyone who disagrees with me can meet me at the bookies 😀