Console vs PC revisited

In 2013 I did a post on console vs PC ahead of the launch of the Xbox One and PS4. Given that I own both a PC and a Xbox 360, I gave my thoughts on what to consider when deciding which to buy, and speculated on what I might buy when the next generation of consoles were released. So when the next gen consoles arrived earlier this year, I’d made my decision, and went ahead to buy a brand new PC. I’ve included the points that I made in my previous post below (in black text), and commented on these in blue italics.

1) The cost

For me, the PC has in the past proven to be the more cost effective option. Let me explain: Around the time the XBOX 360 came out, I did an upgrade on my PC. This included a new motherboard, new processor, new graphics card, new memory, and a new monitor. All of this combined cost more or less the same as my friend’s Xbox 360, which he bought with some games, two controllers, and rechargeable battery kits. After we made these initial “investments”, however, he was spending a lot more on his games than I did. On release, console games were sometimes 75% more expensive compared to the PC versions. Overall then, I was spending less on gaming through the PC route.

I need to qualify the above statement by admitting that one of the benefits I had was the knowledge to do an upgrade myself and a supplier that sold the parts well below retail value, which is why I could build a fairly hard-core gaming system at a reasonable price. If you want to buy a brand new PC complete with peripherals from a retailer it can get very expensive very quickly, especially if you are looking at high end gaming systems.

The PC that I opted for this time definitely costs more than the next gen consoles. How much more? Well, it’s hard to say, because there are different options and it seems prices vary a bit depending on which part of the world you life in. If I had to guess I’d say about 30% to 40% more. However, this time I did order a ready built PC instead of building it myself, which is slightly more expensive. Also, I bought a pretty decent system which will outperform the recently released Xbox One and PS4.

Regarding the cost of the games at this point in time – well it is business as usual with PC games being cheaper to buy on average, especially with some of the Steam sales going on.

2) Ease of use

For me, there is no doubt that consoles are easier to use. With the exception of a handful of games, consoles usually do not require an install before you can play a game. It is great to know that you can buy a console game without looking at the system specs, simply pop it in and start playing. This works because console games are specifically designed for the system that the developers know you will be using. With PCs it is a bit more complicated because every PC has different hardware in it. This means that after the install, you will probably be tweaking the game settings a bit to make sure that it is running just right. In some cases, the game might not work at all, leaving you to update software, tweak system settings etc. until you can (hopefully) get the game to work.

If you have the patience to deal with this and you are somewhat techno savvy this should not be a problem. Otherwise, you might be better off with the console.

This seems to be less relevant now. I hardly ever struggle to get PC games working right, in fact I can’t recall the last time it was a problem. Add to that the fact the the new generation of consoles require you to do installation of games, and it seems that the consoles don’t add such a big advantage over PCs in terms of ease of use.

3) The games

This is where it gets really difficult to separate the two. Most console games are available on PC, but there are a few that you will need the console for. One of the reasons I bought my Xbox 360 was to play games like Forza Motorsport (an Xbox exclusive) and Red Dead Redemption (which is available on PS3 and the 360, but never came to PC). However, having only a console means that you miss out on some PC exclusives as well. Some indie titles that I like in particular are not available on console.

Backwards compatibility is probably one of the biggest advantages for PC gaming, especially since we already know that some of the new consoles (like the Xbox One) won’t be able to play your old 360 games. The PC has virtually endless backwards compatibility, and with software like Dosbox, you can even play those old classics.

With the new generation of consoles being released, for me the PC wins in terms of the selection of games it offers. I’m not really interested in playing any of the exclusive titles available on the new consoles, and overall the current selection is rather limited. Yes, of course the selection of games for the new generation of consoles will grow over time, but the PC will still offer a bigger selection and wider variety of games. Not only does the PC offer limitless backwards compatibility, but there are loads of indie games being released for PC every day, which means that the selection is getting bigger every day.

4) Versatility

As versatile as consoles are these days, they still aren’t quite as practical and necessary as owning a PC. If you are reading this, chances are I don’t need to explain why you need a PC. That said, you don’t necessarily need an all-out gaming system, as a reasonably cheap netbook should take care of everything that you can’t do with a console.

On the plus side for the consoles, a lot of console games still offer split-screen multiplayer, something which is almost completely absent on PC games these days. One could argue that online multiplayer addresses this issue, but in my mind it is really not quite the same. When a friend comes over, there is nothing quite like sitting on the couch with a couple of beers to play through the latest Splinter Cell or Army of Two.

I still like the fact that consoles often have split-screen multiplayer games, and in fact most of the time when I’m using my Xbox 360 these days, it’s because I want to play something when a friend comes over. That said, I have recently seen more games on the PC where you can play local multiplayer (either through split-screen or by having all players on one screen in certain platform games).

The current generation of graphics cards allow you to use a single HDMI cable to connect your PC’s video and sound to your TV, effectively enabling you to use it in the same way as you would a console (especially in my case, since I have an Xbox controller for my PC as well). Add to that the fact that you have a mouse and keyboard as well with PC, which is great for strategy games and first person shooters. Overall, the PC is still the more versatile system, especially with loads of software out there that allows you to turn your PC into whatever you want it to be.

5) Performance

With consoles usually taking a while before a new system is released, PCs tend to have more advanced hardware. This means that a few years after the console is released PC games will probably have the better deal in terms of graphics. That is a double edged sword, however, since it also means that you need a more serious gaming system to keep up with the ever increasing system requirements.

Personally I have never cared that much about graphics, or at least not nearly as much as I do about gameplay. On that basis, graphics and performance doesn’t really factor into my decision on which platform to use. Also, the Xbox 360 has been around for quite some time now, and the graphics of new titles are great as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t feel like I can give an accurate reflection of how well the new consoles perform in terms of graphics, load times, frame rates etc. However, I can tell you that you can already buy PCs that have better specs in terms of hardware, and given that the new generation of consoles have just been released, the advantage that PC has here will only continue to grow. I still don’t really care that much about graphics though, and given that I play mostly indie games these days my PC probably far exceeds the recommended system requirements for most of the games I play. Still, when I do play one of the big releases, it is nice to crank up the graphics all the way to the max settings and play the game the way it was meant to be played.

I’ve heard some people say that you need to upgrade your PC several times during a single generation of consoles. This simply isn’t true. The last time I upgraded my PC was just before the Xbox 360 was released, and I’ve been using exactly that exact same system well into 2014. It will still run all the latest games, albeit not with the graphics turned up all the way.

The verdict:

It wouldn’t be fair to say that one of these platforms is “better” than the other, simply because they are tailored to slightly different audiences and do not really offer the same thing. It depends on what your specific requirements are. If all you want to do is gaming and nothing else, it probably makes sense to buy a console. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more versatile system, the PC might be a better option. There are many things to consider and before forking out the cash to buy a new system you really have to consider what you want to do with it, and whether it will allow you to do all those things.

I do enjoy both PC and console gaming, which is why I have both systems. Gun to my head, I would probably choose the PC over the console, since I need it anyway. Also, in my experience PC gaming has been the cheaper option despite the potentially expensive hardware investments. Judging by the price of the soon-to-be-released Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I will likely get more bang for my buck by going for a PC upgrade. Only time will tell though, and chances are I’ll get one of the new consoles eventually anyway.

I’ve often heard people referring to consoles as a PC in a box, and right now this is more true than ever. The Xbox One, for example, doesn’t offer that same simplicity that allowed you to simply plug in the system, pop in a new game and immediately start playing like you could on the Xbox 360. The problem is that while these consoles may merely be PCs in boxes, they cannot do everything a regular PC can. If the new generation of consoles do offer advantages over what you can do with current PC hardware, I certainly haven’t figured them out yet. I have made up my mind for now, which is why I bought a new PC.

My Xbox 360 is still plugged into the TV in my lounge, but now that I have seen the next generation of consoles I have no intention of replacing it with a new console. It is not so much that the new consoles are bad, but rather that PC gaming is so good right now that I can’t think of a good reason to play on one of the other platforms.

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