September 30, 2010

It should come as no surprise by this point that I’m primarily a PC gamer. Of course all I really mean by that is that I don’t game on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. I do own a Nintendo Wii, a Nintendo DS (Lite), and an iPhone. The phone gets used for other things as well, of course, and the DS and Wii consist primarily of games that I can’t get on the PC (and in the case of the DS at least, would be physically impossible).

So I don’t consider myself a “console gamer”, although strictly speaking I own at least two current consoles. And really, this is sort of an ongoing experiment for me – last generation I owned a GameCube, an Xbox and a PS2. And I own plenty of other consoles which are all sitting in my office closet packed away in plastic bins. So it’s not like I have never deigned to own a console or use one.

So why am I doing this? Well, this is the first generation of consoles where I believe there’s something approaching hardware parity with consoles. In the past when a “multiplatform” game was released it would be either vastly different on the consoles versus the PC’s, or it would be reduced in quality significantly for the consoles due to their relative lack of power. Today though, it’s different. DOOM 3 came out on the PC in 2004 and despite famously being developed at the same time, the Xbox version came out ten months later and featured considerably reduced graphics and levels. However Quake 4, which was built on the same engine, shipped as a launch title on the Xbox 360, one month after it came out on the PC.

I knew things were changing when I went to go pick up my preordered copy of Prey and they had put me down for a 360 version by mistake. That had never happened to me before because I had never preordered a game which was part of a multiplatform launch. In hindsight, I realize I never specified which version, I just assumed PC and the clerk assumed 360.

The problem is that these days the console version sells better than the PC version for various reasons, mostly due to convenience on the console side and piracy on the PC side. This has led to a couple of things. First, it means the console version is developed first and the PC version is developed from that, which irks PC gamers because it doesn’t play to the PC’s strengths. They then vote with their dollars and don’t buy the “consolized” game, which exacerbates the problem. Second, some games just don’t come out for the PC at all. Gears of War 2 didn’t come to the PC even though the first one did, and Alan Wake was used by Microsoft as a technical demo for many years to show of DirectX 10 and then they decided to cancel the PC port and put it out on the 360 exclusively, where DirectX 10 is impossible.

But the big problem with PC gaming isn’t console ports or piracy. It’s PC gamers. Besides the fact that too often the PC port doesn’t sell well enough to even justify the time put into it, developers and publishers have to be sick to death of what all grief PC gamers put them through. Mostly the bitching. That’s what PC gamers do. They bitch.

If the game is released six days late they bitch.

If the game is released at the same time and patched later, they bitch.

If the game goes through Games for Windows Live so it can support achievements they bitch.

If the game only goes through Steam they bitch.

If the game doesn’t go through Steam at all they bitch.

If the game has a Steam and non-Steam version but the non-Steam version can’t be added to your Steam account, they bitch.

If the game has DRM on it they bitch.

If the publisher removes DRM then they likely won’t sell enough copies to make back their investment, so they have to make the next game console exclusive, and they bitch.

If the publisher puts out DLC they bitch.

If the publisher doesn’t put out DLC, they bitch.

If the publisher doesn’t put out enough DLC, they bitch.

If the publisher comes out with a sequel “too soon” they bitch.

If the publisher takes too long to make a sequel, they bitch.

If the publisher never makes a sequel, they bitch.

Yeah until the developers/publishers can come out with a game which delivers at the same time but for lower price and with more content than the console version, doesn’t require Steam but can be bought on or carried over to it using all of its features and achievements, uses DRM so mild that it’s unnoticeable, requires no patches whatsoever, never crashes, runs perfectly on every machine in existence, and has the perfect amount of content to keep everyone in the world satisfied with the cost/length ratio while at the same time lasting them until the perfectly timed sequel which is both not a cash-in and not something required either, there’s always going to be something to bitch about.

Oh and the best is that they get angry about it. They get offended by it. They act as if they’re being forced at gunpoint to purchase these things. It’s like a bizarre hybrid between having to buy the latest sneakers or else you can’t play with the cool kids and acting like PC games are like doctor bills where you really don’t have a choice as to whether or not you pay.

Console players bitch but not nearly as much as they buy shit tons of games in volume at whatever price they’re charging.

The console purchasing world has a much higher percentage and number of mindless purchasing drones, mostly as a function of the fact that there’s just so many more of them to begin with.

Console gamers have a much easier time trying out games blindly thanks to used games – they come in, buy whatever is new, and in a week when they don’t like it they take it back to GameStop for credit towards another one. Which is why you see about a thousand copies of Enter the Matrix or Halo Wars at every GameStop.

A lot of people think that console gaming is what video gaming is – as if it doesn’t exist on the PC. The fact that a large number of people spend their day in front of a computer means they want to stay the hell away from them at the end of the day, so they’d rather sit on their couch with a controller. Net result is even if piracy didn’t exist, PC gaming would still be a minority.

I see PC gaming going the way of vinyl in music – never goes away, and offers a superior experience, but is minuscule in purchase numbers and the rigs needed to experience it properly are the domain of the enthusiasts and the insane.