It's funny that people keep fighting over hardware, honestly. If you're going to put out the money, then of course you're going to have a better system than any console could hope to be.
But that's not really the strength of a PC, is it?
The strength of a PC is that it's an open platform, and this is the one thing that a console will never be able to mimic because the manufacturers are greedy. If not for Google (bless 'em), mobiles would be in the same situation that consoles are now. There's a veritable lexicon of restrictions for consoles, and this is due to their closed nature. Each console manufacturer wants their monopoly to be unrivalled.
If you want to just buy, play, and trade-in mainstream games then there's absolutely no need to get a computer. See, that's fine for the average person. They just want to sit down with Call of Duty, play it until they're fed up with it, then trade it in. That's the cycle of console gaming.
So why even bother with a PC? What does a PC have that consoles can't have because of their nature? Why does the PC go from strength to strength, getting more popular all the time despite the flailing wails of its impending death?
The PC is an open platform, that's why it survives.
There are people who won't ever really understand the benefits of that because they've never been exposed to it. That's fine. Yet there are benefits you can find on a PC which you won't find on any other platform other than Android-based mobiles (because that's also an open platform).
Of course, when someone does understand this, it can lead to jealousy, followed by mockery and rage. There are some people who hate that consoles can't do these things, so they'll go out of their way to demean what an open platform can give you. But all that shows is that they have an inferiority complex about how consoles aren't open platforms, and that they'd prefer it if they were.
Well, hey. So would I! I've said so a billion times all ready.
That's why I hope that the Steambox will be a success on the commercial market, because it will bring all of the benefits of a computer to a console-owning audience. Furthermore, it'll stop this ridiculous brand war that's going on, where you have mindless lackeys on either side screaming the name of their favourite console and ragespewing over everything else. Wouldn't that be nice, eh? Life would be so much more simple if people didn't have the excuse to hate other people for their brand choice.
Instead we have people who'll try to attack a person for their platform choice for any reason possible. You'll have those who'll basically try to will a platform to die, putting said inferiority complexes on display. I'm sure we'll see that happening here.
It's just creepy, you know? That some people are trying so, so desperately hard to will something to die, just because it's different. Creepy, repugnant, and hateful. You've had that happening with every generation of pretty much any entertainment platform, you have people fighting sad little nerd wars when they could just choose what's right for them and be happy with that.
So, yes. I really want this silly segregation and hatred to go away. It's pathetic at best, and insane at worst.
Anyway, I pointed out the strength of a PC is in how it's an open platform and that someone might want to choose that over a closed platform (such as a console). But why? What would make the PC right for you? Well, I can't really tell you that. Everyone is different. All I can say is what makes PC gaming the right choice for me.
This is a very unique element of the PC gaming world that really can't be fond anywhere else. For a while, the interest in mods started to lull, but with Steam Workshop it's more alive now than ever before.
So what can mods do for you?
Mods can fix a game, for a start. They can remove issues which are impairing your quality of life, so those are common. Sometimes, a developer will come out with those fixes on their own, and other times they won't. An example of this is the Werewolf Head costume piece in Saints Row IV which has purple teeth in all versions, I asked a nice modder if they could sort that out for me and they did.
That's not all mods can do, though. A mod can tweak the feel of a game to what you desire, whether it's anything from small balance changes to larger, overarching changes which completely affects the nature of a game. You can take a game and make it yours through which mods you install. Often, not very many people will have the same experience that you do due to your mod configuration, and even then, those mods can have settings.
Mods can even bring people together, because multiplayer mods exist. Perhaps Just Cause 2 or Half-Life 2 felt like lonely experiences that you'd rather share with a friend? There are mods out there which do just that, and bring the experience to those who prefer to play as a group, again changing the nature of a game to suit the player.
So a mod can change the nature of a game entirely, customising it more to the experience you want to play. You can make it yours in really cool ways. But what else can a mod do?
-- User-Generated Content
This is basically a fancy term for 'hey, modders made some brand new content for a game!' And some of it can be absolutely incredible. In the case of the original Neverwinter Nights, there were many player-made campaigns which were better than the one the game came with, and this is shaping up to be true of Shadowrun Returns as well.
And with a game like Torchlight II, due to the way it's handles area generation, you can slip new chunks of content in there, so that when you're playing it'll have even more variety than the stock game would. And not just areas, but new classes with entirely new abilities, with their own graphics and playstyles.
A good example of user-generated content is Falskaar, which is almost on par with the quality of Skyrim itself. In my opinion, with its greater variety, it even often surpasses that quality and makes Skyrim a better game for having Falskaar installed. It's an experience you wouldn't want to miss if you were able.
Boiled down, UGC is just the extension of a much loved game in your library with entirely new content. And you can pick and choose of that content whatever you desire. However, sometimes, an extension is so expansive that it becomes a game in its own right, whilst still being free. DayZ, Black Mesa, Diaspora, and the now legendary DOTA.
Of course, there are some people who aren't interested in making a game last longer. They just want to trade it in, and move into the next big AAA title. And that's fine! There's nothing wrong with that, really. To each their own, I say. Still, there's just so much incredible stuff out there that I just couldn't imagine gaming without it.
-- Indie/Small Developer 'Exclusives'
So, let's talk about why the PC seems to have so very many exclusive indie titles, titles which would either never make it to other platforms, or could only do so after a good year on the PC having built up enough profits to do so.
It's a fair question, right? Games like Shelter, Dungeonland, Beatbuddy, Shadowrun Returns, the Blackwell series, Gemini Rue, FTL: Faster than Light, The Swapper, Gone Home, MacGuffin's Curse, Megabyte Punch, Recettear, and Warframe are all successes, they've all received positive reviews. So these clearly aren't bad games, yet they're just not available to console audiences. Why?
I'll go over the reasons.
In order to list a game on a console's marketplace, it takes more money than it would to sell it for the PC. Why? You’ll often have to pay for the right to publish a game on a console, whereas on the PC you can just host the game on your own site and sell it to people from there. This is something that the Android platform has in common with the PC, as an open platform.
It also means that you’ll never see the likes of humble bundles, where most of the money may go to charity. An entity like humble bundle simply cannot exist on the console due to its overly restrictive and closed nature. The same is true for the iOS, which is why you see bundles being sold only for the PC (Mac and Linux included) and Android mobiles.
Sometimes there's just too much money involved. And if a developer doesn't want to sell themselves to a publisher and put their IP at risk that way, there may simply be too much money involved for it to be worth it.
2. Jumping Through Hoops
This section touches upon something I mentioned above, and expands upon it.
To get something on a console you have to go through loads of red tape, and it always takes up a non-trivial amount of time. So you can't just release your game, you have to send it in for review, pay money, and wait. And then to land a patch, it’s sometimes more trouble than it’s worth, and more costly. This is why you’ll have developers who land patches on the PC first and more frequently, because there’s no toll bridge between them and releasing their patch.
Bethesda often lands PC patches first and more frequently due to this very factor, and this is something they've openly admitted to. It can be a massive hassle, and one that indie/small developers just don’t want to deal with. It can be more trouble than it’s worth.
Even if you get a game listed on a console, it honestly never has the limelight — that’s given to AAA titles which console manufacturers have deals with. Deals involving big sums of money which they wouldn't get from indies or smaller devs. I mentioned above that humble bundles aren't possible on a closed platform like a console, and that also reduces public awareness as the game can't even end up in one of those.
It's worth mentioning then, conversely, that it's common for Steam to give indies and small devs front page treatment. You could go and look right now and you'd find examples of Steam featuring indies and small devs, and giving them as much of a right to advertising as they give bigger publishers. Yeah, sure, it might rub those larger publishers the wrong way, but this also allows indies and small devs to continue to survive.
Steam is unlike almost every other marketplace in that respect. And when you couple that with how many users use Steam, it makes sense for a small or independent developer to find that more attractive.
So Steam will do that for indies whereas console marketplaces favour large budget AAA titles. Another element in Steam's favour is that they won't hold it against you if you go multi-platform, they won't reduce your presence on Steam for doing that. But don't expect console manufacturers to do the same, because the only way to even get seen on a console is to sign into exclusivity. (See: Fez.) Often, that doesn't work out so well.
There have been many stories of indies coming to the PC after a console exclusivity period and earning much more in their first month than they did in the entire time on a console.
Why is that, though? Why do indies not always do so hot on the consoles? Part of it is indeed the advertising, yes. However, it could also be that the demographic isn't there, that the vast majority (over 90 per cent) want to just play big budget AAA titles, and see indies as 'kiddie' or 'amateur' games or whatnot and thus not worth their time. Or it could be that the console gamer feels that indie games are too 'pretentious' or 'retro' for their tastes. That's fine. There are plenty of AAA games out there for them, so why should they care about these other games?
Still, these games by small/indie devs represent experiences that are so unique and novel that I put more value on them personally than AAA titles. To each their own.
-- Gaming Oddities
This is an offshoot of the topic I just discussed, but it deserves to be examined further.
You mostly won't get something like a point & click game on a console. Partly because of the control scheme, but mostly because I believe console owners just don't have much interest in puzzle games of that sort. And that's fine, but if you want them, the PC has plenty.
Games like the Blackwell series, the Myst series, and so on are exemplary, I love them. I still have fond memories of exploring alien ages with friends and strangers in Uru Online. Though you have to actually want different experiences, you have to desire unreal things for games like this. And I'm not convinced that console owners actually do.
You can name the oddities on a console on one hand, but the PC has decades and decades of them, sometimes even outnumbering the more normal games. This was especially true in the '90s, when gaming was just utterly barmy. See, I can't imagine seeing something like Tex Murphy on a console, it's just too cheesy for them.
What I'm getting at is that due to the tastes of console users being more homogenised and common, games that exist out on the edges (or beyond) that are simply just incompatible. It's not something they'd want to sit down and really play.
Be honest with me, would a console owner buy a game like Cargo: The Quest for Gravitiy? Really? Really?
And that's why small devs don't release their oddities on consoles, because the audience isn't tehre. However, some PC owners can be as eccentric as fuck, myself included. So I can't help but love those oddities, nurture them, and hope that they never disappear into the night. So, someone craving entirely new and different gaming experiences might enjoy the PC, but if all you want is the next big AAA title, again, there's nothing to se here. And that's the pattern.
Consoles tend to be for AAA titles, primarily. This is where the PC diverges away from that. And why? Why is it that an open platform encourages diverse gaming?
-- Game Jams, Open Source, Freeware, and Unrivalled Creativity
The PC is all about sharing things and being creative, because it's an open platform, anyone can pitch in. You can have entirely open-ended games which can be rewritten from the ground up. You can have get-togethers to just make a bunch of games to share online, and you can just make stuff to give away for free.
PC owners have been barraged by this from the outset, and I suppose it's a mind broadening experience. When everyone can create whatever it is they desire, everyone <i>does</i>. It's one of the only platforms that openly allows and encourages that kind of unrivalled spirit of making things, just to make things.
Have you ever played Spelunky, Naya, Frogatto and Friends, Dino Run, Knytt Stories, Warsow, or The Shivah? They're all brilliant games which you should absolutely play if you have a PC and haven't already.They exist because the PC is what it is, and without the PC, they simply wouldn't exist. It's a completely open development platform, after all. There's no one to tell you that you shouldn't be able to do something. And when there's no one to tell you that, things like this happen!
Why? No, I believe the more important question here is: Why not?!
PC owners have the will to create and make, to put stuff together from the ground up, and to work together toward that end. So there's just this aura of rampant creativity. And it's all out there for you to play, you don't have to pay any money, you don't have to jump through any hoops, you just download it and play it.
This has been happening for as long as there has been a PC, and this is what allows people to even branch out to create bigger projects to put on sale. A hobby game can eventually turn into a full-priced title, which could then be sold on a person's website or on Steam. So you'll have everything form the unusual, to the rare, to the novel, to the utterly barmy because why not?
The PC is kind of like... well, it's a hackerspace environment, and if you don't own a PC, you won't understand that. You probably just can't wrap your mind around the concept that there are people out there, right now, putting things together for your enjoyment, and expecting no money in return.
You do have to explore and take the time to browse for yourself, though. You have to actively get involved and watch out for these projects. There's no one who's going to directly market them at you and tell you how great they are, other than word of mouth. That's just the nature of it. So for a creature of convenience who just wants another AAA experience, this doesn't seem like an attractive prospect.
Again I say: To each their own. Still, I love this rampant and unchecked creativity, a gaming world where anything can (and sometimes does) happen.
I only wish the mainstream were so creative.
Thankfully though, this is the very heart of what keeps the PC so alive and healthy. Having a keyboard and a mouse tend to be integral to creation -- imagine trying to write in C on a tablet's keyboard. And the development environments just aren't as mature, advanced, or diverse on other platforms, either. So the PC will continue to be a presence because development happens.
I suppose if you're looking at it from the viewpoint of the consumer who's totally ignorant about everything related to development, then the longevity of the PC might be called into question. But I'm a coder myself, so I know better.
And it's that that leads to people making things. The PC is the place to make things, all sorts of things! Programming things, arting things, composing things, and bringing all that together into a cohesive piece of entertainment. On no other platform can you do this so efficiently and in such an uninhibited way. So the creativity keeps flowing and flowing.
I just wish the mainstream would absorb some of that creativity.
When you buy a new console, there's a good chance that your entire collection from the prior model is now useless. This is true of the PS4 and the XBox One. However, the PC retains total backwards compatibility to even the earliest games. Even better, thanks to the nature of open development, you can even find engines which make old games look better!
Want to play a game from 1992? Install it and do so! In fact, this is the very spirit behind the GOG.com marketplace.
The magic of the PC doesn't end there, though, because it doesn't just contain its own history. Thanks, once again, to it being an open platform that anyone can develop anything for, we have emulation. What that means is that the PC contains the history of all video game machines up to and including the Playstation2 and the Wii.
You can play an ancient arcade game looking just as it did in the arcades, or even better with new graphics and filters. In fact, pick whatever system you desire and there'll be numerous emulators for it. Do you want to play Ecco: Defender of the Future, yet you know your Dreamcast has seen its last days? The PC can emulate that perfectly for you. Old or new, the PC pretty much is video games. Given time and enough power, the PC will continue to emulate past machines, too, that'll always happen.
Why? It's a fun challenge for bored coders. There's encryption to crack and hardware to simulate, and it's a complicated process that's very rewarding when you see a game running for the first time.
The consoles have a limited form of this with virtual consoles and such, but that represents less than one per cent of what's readily available to the PC at any given time. And often, more obscure titles which have been forgotten by history are still playable on the PC, and readily available.
The other side of this is that PC games being developed today will be playable twenty or thirty years from now, and the library of games from throughout the history of gaming will just grow and grow. You'll never have as much choice anywhere else.
I recently replayed Ultima VII with a fan-coded engine named Exult, simply because I felt like playing Ultima VII. Though I could have played it via DosBox or via many other means. It's great.
Even better, there are games from the past that you wouldn't have played! There might be some brilliant titles from, say, Japan that were never translated for an open market. But then you have the PC, you have an open system of development where anyone interested can contribute, and what happens? Those games get translated! There are translation sites across the Internet providing English and other languages for games ancient and modern. That's just the way of things.
Once again, though? If you only want to buy, play, and trade-in the latest AAA titles, then the history of gaming is utterly meaningless to you. Why bother with a PC in that case? If that's what you want, then to each their own.
-- My Conclusion
I think that the average person is just going to play AAA titles and not want any of that, that's fine. It only grates on my nerves when they hate on it because it's so strange and unusual, but then, what's new? That's always the case with anything that exists outside of the norm. But it is the player's choice what they want.
If someone just wants realistic games which share familiarity and verisimilitude, playing up to the preconceptions of reality within the common mainstream demographic, then that's fine. A console is the way to go. The PC is just something different, though. It's chalk and cheese.
I'm always sad when I see people talk up graphics. They're really not important, they don't make the PC special, and usually that's just elitist bull anyway because what does all that fidelity really accomplish in the end? No, the PC is special because it's an open platform, one that encourages people to make things. That makes it special.
The difference between a PC and a console is like the difference between going to the movies, or going to a theatre. It's a very different kind of beast, and it's not for everyone.
Though the PC is special because of what it is. And that's either going to appeal to you or it isn't. The PC is less of a product and more of a thing, it's a thing that everyone makes. From the outset, you make your PC from parts to your liking, you make your games what you want with mods, and sometimes you make your own games. That's what makes the PC different.
Not everyone wants to do that, some people just want to sit down and play the latest big budget thing.
A console is a product, much like a mainstream game. It's designed for ease of use and enjoyment. It's rarely someone's labour of love, but it is designed to be enjoyed by those who're playing it, it's what they want. And a PC might not be what they want. So who cares about hardware? I've been protesting the idea that hardware is what makes the difference for years and years now, this isn't a new thing, and anyone who's been around VG24/7 for a while knows how I feel.
At some point though, I do hope there'll be a paradigm shift of sorts and there'll be an open platform console which will introduce console owners to what PC gamers take for granted (not graphics). It'd be cool if the segregation could just go away, and we could enjoy great games. That'd be pretty damned nice. Of course, not everyone would want that, but I think it would vary from person to person.
I can't help but feel that that needs to happen, eventually. I may have people disagreeing with me, but I can't help it. I just think that the way things are now is kind of a sorry state of affairs. I kind of want to live in a future where a console owner would want a more diverse library of games, and where they could actually do that. So a console owner could, if they wanted, play the latest game jam games and whatnot. That'd be nice, right?
Or maybe not, I don't know.
Still, what the PC is is pretty much what I personally want -- diversity, creativity, and openness.