Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Console and PC gaming

In the open Sunday thread there was a question about console versus PC gaming, and where I see the trends in gaming platforms. Not something I would have blogged about without prodding, because it is somewhat of a dead horse which has been beaten on since the early days of the internet. But I would say that the discussion is a bit silly, and based on a common misconception: People think the gaming market has a fixed size, and any success of one platform or genre comes to the detriment of another, in some kind of giant zero sum game. But that simply isn't true, which removes much of the need of these kinds of turf wars.

I've been around for a while, so I know computer and console games from the days of the ZX81 and Pong. And since then the market for games has nearly constantly been growing, admittedly with some ups and downs. And while of course there has always been some movement and competition between various platforms, the general rule has always been one of synergy: A new game or platform evolves and attracts people that have not been playing before, the market grows, and once people tried one form of gaming they are more willing to also try another.

Thus if you compare lets say World of Warcraft, Halo 3, the Wii Fit, and Farmville, there aren't actually all that many people who would be attracted by all of these games. And it isn't as if the over 80 million players of Farmville are somehow "missing" on the other platforms and games.

Different platforms often lead to different controls. The "lean backward" style of slouching on a couch with a console gamepad in hand is different from the "lean forward" style of gaming on a PC with keyboard and mouse. And different genres of games work more or less well with different control schemes. For example the few companies that made cross-platform multiplayer shooters had to artificially handicap the PC players, because otherwise they would have had too much of an advantage, aiming with a mouse being so much faster and easier than with a gamepad. MMORPGs on consoles suffer from the problem of text input, and a gamepad not having the over 100 keys that a PC keyboard has. But 3D PC games lack the ease of controlling the camera with one thumbstick and the character with another, ofter leading to camera positioning problems.

Much has been discussed about the comparative costs of different gaming platforms. A top notch gaming PC costs significantly more than a console. On the other hand a household without games might already have a PC for surfing the internet, and you don't need a Geforce 480 to play Farmville. If the family bought a computer with enough graphics power and memory to handle daddy's home video editing hobby, the machine will also run World of Warcraft without a problem. In those cases the marginal cost for playing games on the PC can be as low as zero. Meanwhile console makers discovered how price sensitive their customers are, with the Wii being considered to have "won" the last round of console wars not just by offering different games and controls, but also by simply being a lot cheaper than the competition. As a consequence the Playstation 3 today only costs half of what it cost on release, in spite of coming with more features and hard disk space. Not to mention people playing games on iPhones, which is probably the worst cost to benefit ratio for gaming you can imagine.

But all that shows that people choose their gaming platform for many different reasons. While you are waiting in an airport lounge that iPhone is a lot more convenient than an XBox 360 game. If you hang out on Facebook anyway all day to chat with your friends, playing a bit of Farmville while waiting for somebody to reply to your wall post comes easy. When you're tired in the evening after a long day at work, a quick match on some console game might be better suited than a complicated strategy game on a PC. But if you have lots of hours to burn, a PC MMORPG offers the biggest number of hours of entertainment.

Thus I don't see a big trend towards one form of gaming becoming extinct to the benefit of the growth of another. I am pretty sure that in a decade from now there will be more gamers than today, and potentially more platforms as well.
I agree. Completely.
I disagree. Completly.
I am generally ambivalent.
to think the Wii is the cheapest is just wrong

(all prices

to make a Wii friends and party compatible you need:

Wii 180 euro

3 wiimotes 90 euro

3 nunchucks 45 euro

4 motion+ 60 euro

thats 375 euro just to get the basics.

in comparison the Xbox360

xbox 360 arcade with 20gb harddrive 190 euro

3 wireless controller 75 euro

thats only 265 euro to get the basics

and now the PS3

ps3 slim 120gb 295 euro

3 controller 144 euro

439 euro in total.
I don't think the Wii has won at all--its a completely different profit model for Nintendo than for Sony or MS.

Generally, for the Wii, you mostly have crap shovelware games with really low attachment rates (number of games bought per system) while the 360 and PS3 actually have games people play. MS and Sony both make back their hardware costs though software licensing--and they can assume their games sell. Are there any breakout 3rd party hits for the Wii?

I know in our gamer household there are 2 Wiis--with the fitness games--that are barely used for gaming. The 360 and PS3 are in good rotation where we buy plenty of games. (Red Dead Redemption most recently.)
"But 3D PC games lack the ease of controlling the camera with one thumbstick and the character with another, ofter leading to camera positioning problems."

I see the opposite. I can't control the camera in Halo at all, but I can effortlessly move around Half-Life 2 with my mouse and keyboard. Maybe it's just because it's what I'm used to...
It depends really. I think computer gaming is the closest thing left to the gamer hobbyist platform, and the consoles are obviously marketed towards a wider audience in generally. I mean, 20 years ago who would have said frat guys would be playing video games all the time (halo, modern warfare, etc).

The games for gamers so to speak will probably tend to be mostly on the PC, as it is the platform that has the most to offer (and the least user friendly for many of the same reasons.) Frankly, I doubt one will "win" and the others will go away, but the sorts of games I'm interested in playing are probably going to be PC games, by and large.
Thus I don't see a big trend towards one form of gaming becoming extinct to the benefit of the growth of another. I am pretty sure that in a decade from now there will be more gamers than today, and potentially more platforms as well.

While I don't think that PC gaming will be extinct there is a trend that many develop for consoles mainly today and the PC MIGHT get a bad port, some day, if you're lucky. This is often games that originated on the PC. There are quite a few examples of this but the Grand Theft Auto series is one. It's not that strange really that people get p'd off really when their favourite game series moves from one platform to another.

It's not that bad really that some series will never make it to your platform if they didn't originate there. Take Super Mario for example, if you've got a PC (and don't want to buy a Nintendo) you know from the start that you will never play it.

Of course the PC vs console development issue will be blamed on piracy (which is actually another discussion) but to be honest I really don't buy that bullshit. If you make good games they WILL be bought and the losses due to piracy will be marginal. That's my view.
Oh btw, I have to agree with Deg's comment really.

Controlling the character and camera differently is what strafing is for.
There are games that are really ONLY good on the PC, and they are trying to port it to the DS and it is HORRIBLE.

Point and click, search games. Where you try to find the missing thing.

Nancy Drew, mystery adventure games.

There are other games that do better on even a moderate $600 PC than on a console (or control better).

First Person Shooters.
Most Strategy games.

As Tobold said, one won't take from the other.

Console games do well for platforming (I hate platforming on my PC, even with a controller in hand). Sharing games.

@Chris: You really currently need 2 motion plus for Wii, I don't know any game that requires 4, but I could be wrong. Most games that go up to 4 gamers at once, are less likely to require a nunchuck for the 4 players (though it is not unheard of). For the most part, you'd only need some of the accessories you mentioned. So for the "basics" as you put it you would not need all that. I guess I'm trying to say you set up a strawman.

Finally, there's just not that many Xbox 360 games that are sit together and play that would use all 4 controllers. (Yes making it the cheapest of the 3).

I understand you were just trying to make a point that Wii is not the cheapest, but base price is cheaper (especially in the US) by about $60 (compared to xbox 360 arcade + 20gb harddrive).

Ok, that makes the Wii a bit cheaper.
I didn't know that about the MotionPlus.

But for example the party game series Rayman: Raving Rabbits has lots of 4-player minigames which need a Wiimote with Nunchuck.
I don't think the argument is that one platform will "win".

Rather that with the inevitable advent of the internet as our primary media platform, gaming will be amalgamated in as well.

I contend that sooner rather than later all of our media will be centralized. All games, movies, TV, and other media will be accessed from one central location in your home, and from one mobile device you carry with you.

This mobile device will be constantly synced with your home unit, allowing you to download and stream anything instantly on the go.

Now don't get me wrong, this technology basically exists today. The difference will be when it is widespread, cheap, ubiquitous.

I really can't see the need to be held down by any "platform" once everything is accessed over the net. When we-the collective we of all gamers-aren't buying games from a store anymore (I mean the *norm*, not just an option) then I really doubt that the console-makers will remain as we know them.

Of course, this is all conjecture and opinion. Anyone else think that the world of gaming could change dramatically in the near future?

Wouldn't you agree though that the average Wii-owner probably buys hundreds of dollars more on peripherals than any other console owner?

The Wii's money-making scheme is blatant: Cheap system, make kids want it, gouge parents for accessories.

I have no idea of the actual numbers, but I think we can all agree that the *average* Wii-owner (or family) spends much more than any other system owner.

Especially when you consider that kids will lose interest quicker (buy more games), the games themselves have inherently less replay value (much of the time), and the games are far easier (taking less time to complete).

Now I am generalizing to make a point, but do you agree somewhat in this?
I don't want to buy a console. I get mildly peeved when a game company releases a game for console only. I let it pass until something better comes for the PC.
A game made 10 years ago for a PC will likely, even if some twists, run on a today's PC. Please try to run a PS One game on a PS3 or a Nintendo 64 game on a Wii.

You can't do it.
I feel like PC gaming has lost ground in the past decade. The PC is still the only place that does MMO and RTS games well due to the control requirements. However it has lost FPS and most RPG games (e.g. Bioware) to consoles. And by "lost" I mean, as said above, that the majority of games are being developed for console first and the PC gets a later/shoddy port if anything.

I am not sure where PC gaming goes from here. Basically it is the only platform that has Blizzard and Simcity/Civ games, as well as most MMORPG's. Is it worth an expensive upgrade every 3-4 years just to play that library when you could get a console for half the cost and easily play on your big screen? It's increasingly hard for me to justify.

The PC is rapidly losing its status as the technology leader. Crysis may have been the last game that fit that profile. This will lead to a loss of technological innovation as consoles simply don't advance as fast as PC's.
Perhaps I'm straying from the topic a little, but in the realm of "Console and PC gaming" considered side-by-side, I feel like I'm constantly being flipped the middle finger as a PC person (yes, there is a Wii in the house, but only because it was gifted to us).

This was demonstrated by a recent hunt for a baseball sim (one of the genres I enjoy outside of the WoW universe). First, the developers flipped me the bird, once by lack of available titles (only Major League Baseball 2K10 was available for PC - MLB The Show is console only), then again by making 2K10 nothing more than a console port: even the manual started that the instructions contained within were for XBox. Thank God I have a dual-analog controller lying around...

Then, there are the retailers, who devoted about 2 square feet to PC games (I had to make three stops to find 2K10, and even then, they had ONE copy).

The thing about the Wii is that most homes have a Wii AND either a PS3 or XBox360.

Nintendo sort of managed to not compete directly with Sony or Microsoft. I know ALOT of people who have never played video games other than Solitare on their PC who bought a Wii.

It's a step in the right direction to get them to pick up other games. That is also why most people feel Nintendo won the Console war. They didn't try to compete directly with their competition and offered something different, abliet gimmicky.
"People think the gaming market has a fixed size..."

That may not be true, as you state and I agree. But the pool of (competent) game development resources (programmers, artists, software architects etc) is limited. Therefore the resources are allocated to/move towards the projects that generate the best return.

If one platform offers a better return overall then that platform will gather a larger share of resources to the detriment of other platforms. If anyone disagrees ask yourself why are there very few Linux games.

The availability of code-libraries and cross-platform tools provides some fluidity and that keeps things in balance somewhat.

But there's no reason to assume that things will always remain that way.
10-15 years ago virtually every game that didn't include an Italian plumber was available on the PC. Now it's a fraction of that past number. No change?
As far as PCs always needing upgrading, I'm looking forward to OnLive actually working this summer.

@J DangerouS: There are aspects of what you said that I completely disagree with, and others that I do agree with, but for a different reason than what you said.

Wii has a lot of shovelware, but the BEST selling Wii games have a TON of replay value, and are amazing games (Mario Galaxy 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii).

The peripherals were their goal from the beginning (WiiFit etc), and is part of how they make their money. Not everyone who owns a Wii needs to go full hog to 4 players, and you can go step by step with it. Most peripherals are one time purchases, and are used for a variety of games (so less of a waste overall as new games that use them add value to them).

Also, don't forget the other consoles are following the Wii's footsteps (PS3 will require Wand, 2nd wand "buddy" controller, and the PS Eye, and XBox is releasing Natal).

@Andru: That's why game companies are allowing the purchase of virtual games from previous systems.
How did you come to the conclusion that controlling a camera's viewpoint is easier with a thumbstick than a mouse and keyboard? A mouse allows for a greater degree of accuracy and speed, over a controller's sticks.

Find me a console gamer that can competently compete against a PC user in any fast-paced game, whether it be an MMORPG or FPS. Keyboard and mouse beat the console for control and maneuverability hands-down.

Fact is, if a player can play a modern, fast-paced RPG on a console, then there's no reason why a multiplayer element cannot be built upon this. Granted, the versatility of a keyboard will be lost due to the simplified nature of the consoles' controller. But with all players suffering the same lack of buttons, no dominant strategy should evolve. Time needs to be spent on developing an intuitive control system to allow for some level of combat/action depth.

I'd love to see a decent MMORPG on a console. I have a PC and both major consoles, so I'd welcome to chance to play an MMORPG with friends who don't own PCs.
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