PC vs Consoles : An Earnest Opinion

I am a gamer whom has a combined 30 years of gaming over a range of different devices, including PC's, Consoles and Handhelds, and I thought I would offer my opinion to the historical battle for supremacy that has raged between the fans of PC's and Consoles ever since the two coexisted side by side.

First off, I want to make clear that there is no overall winner here. The fact that these two platforms have coexisted for 40 years now and yet both are still flourishing should be a clear indication that there has never been a winner. As a PC gamer I don't think games have ever been as accessible or as popular as they are now, and in terms of consoles the Xbox One is tracking ahead when compared to the highly successful Xbox 360, whilst the PS4 is has the potential to become the highest selling console of all time. So I've got a special bin next to my desk here that I'm happy to send any feedback from anyone whom suggests that either PC gaming or Console gaming is dying.

Therefore, rather than needlessly try and force a redundant argument that one platform needs to be superior to the other, I will instead list what I believe to be each platforms 3 greatest strengths, as well as what I believe to be their single greatest weakness. Which platform that you prefer is completely down to personal preference.

Everything that follows is opinion. If you don't agree with a point, please don't take it personally.

PC: True Customizable Gaming
Consoles use fixed hardware, and therefore the games released to them are developed specifically for those hardware specifications - there is very little in terms of graphical scalability, it's more of a 'one size fits all' approach where everyone gets the same graphical fidelity and performance.

PC's on the other hand have customizable hardware, and with the right budget a user can expect performance that far exceeds that of a console for high end games. Frame rate, resolution, graphical enhancements, load times; these are all tangible elements of a gaming experience, and these can all be greatly improved on a PC compared to a console.

This can be even further enhanced using mods, depending on whether the game supports them and your PC has the appropriate hardware, meaning that the graphical differences between the two platforms can be even further amplified. Take the highly popular RPG 'Skyrim' as an example: A highly modded version on a PC looks leagues ahead than its console counterparts.

If you want a game to look and perform the best it can, then the PC is a more suitable platform than the consoles.

Console: A Streamlined Gaming Experience
There is something quite special in the convenience of console gaming; there is no confusion with the hardware, you simply walk into a shop and buy one. Likewise there is no confusion about setting it up, you simply plug it in and turn it on, you can have your brand new console running in a matter of minutes. And when you buy a game there's a certain satisfaction in knowing that is will simply work, without tweaks or hassles.

After being a PC gamer for so long there is something magical in the pure simplicity and convenience of console gaming. It's a singular piece of hardware that is designed wholly for one purpose only - to give you, the user, the best gaming experience possible for that price.

It's PC gaming without the clutter. On my PC I have a Steam account, a Battle.Net account, a Uplay account, an Origin account. And those are just some of the the ones I need just to launch my games. I've got a dozen other accounts to support my PC gaming experience as well, such as GOG, GamersGate, Green Man Gaming, Humble Bundle - they are but a few. Yet on my PlayStation I have a single universal PSN Account. My entire catalog of digital purchased is tied to that one account. My entire collection of game trophies are attached to that one account. All of my social activities and friends are all linked to that one account. Any entertainment purchases I do, such as rent a movie, I also do though that one account. And I use that same one account irrespective if I am gaming on my PS3, my PS4 or my Vita. In a way that illustrates the difference between console gaming and PC gaming; it's a cleaner, more streamlined experience.

Similarly when you buy a game you do so in the confidence that is was designed to run as optimally as it can on your device. It doesn't matter if you purchased your console 7 years ago, or if it is brand new - the experience will be the same for you as it will be for every other gamer whom also plays that game on their console. There's never the uncertainly that you get with PC gaming when your what was once a high end gaming machine starts sliding further and further towards recommended requirements . And there's never the tweaking to find your optimal graphical settings.

Consoles lack those awkward surprises that you can get with PC gaming. You know the types of surprises I am talking about; like when you're scratching your head only to find that an element of your game is being blocked by your firewall. Or like when you get an unusual graphical display problem that is specific to your graphics card and driver. Or like when you get a new game only to find out you have to jump through a number of obscene DRM implementations before you can first start playing it. Or those times when any number of other PC peculiarities gets between you and your gaming. Console gaming is designed to have you gaming as painlessly as possible, and as a result there are far fewer of these types of surprises, meaning that console gaming can be a more comfortable platform to game on for those who want as few distractions as possible

If I were to try and summarize it, I would do so as follows: I've spent most of my life as a PC gamer. And I've spent all of my working life using a PC. Sometimes, when I get a little time to myself, all I'm looking forward to is the simplicity of console gaming.

PC: Uncompromised Precision
I'll be the first to admit that I quite like both the PS4 and Xbox One controllers. They have taken several generations worth of revisions and now are not only comfortable to hold for an extended duration, but also feel like a fluid, visceral and natural way to control console games. And there is no doubt in my mind that controllers are the best way to play certain games, such as platform or specific action genres.

However you can also use controllers on your PC, meaning that the controller experience is not exclusive to consoles. Keyboard and mouse support however is generally exclusive to the PC, and while there is some support for them on the consoles, there are very few games that take advantage of this; console games generally are only ever designed with a controller in mind, and therefore it means that for the most part it is a severely limited experience on consoles for games outside of this range.

There are a great number of games that I play on the PC that I know simply would not control well with a controller. Strategy games sit comfortably at the top of that list, however there are a number of other genres, such as Shooters, MMO's or Role Playing Games that, whist are perfectly playable with a controller, lack the precision compared to a keyboard and mouse. Fantastic PC games such as Starcraft 2 or Civilisation V will simply never control well with a controller, and therefore its unlikely that we will ever see a diverse range of games of this nature on the consoles.

As an example, when I played the turn based role tactical game 'XCom Enemy Unknown', I did so on the PlayStation 3, and whilst it played as best it could using a controller, I was fully aware during my play-time that a keyboard and mouse would have made it a much more natural experience. As a further example, my gaming mouse has an additional 12 buttons on the side where your thumb naturally rests. Used in conjunction with Shift and Control keys as modifiers, it means that I have 36 different button combinations that are possible using only my left hand pinkie and right hand thumb - this is a game changing experience for many games since it gives me a level of control that far exceeds what is possible with a controller. And it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for games that have a large number of action buttons, such as MMO's or RPGs.

There is no doubt that console controllers in this generation are fantastic pieces of engineering, however there is also no doubt that there is a wide range of gaming genres that simply control better with a keyboard and mouse.

Console: Unconfined Social Freedom
My PC and Console gaming experiences are quite distinct. On my PC I sit at my desk, in front of my 24 inch monitor, with my two logitech speakers either side of me. On my console I sit on a bean bag, in front of my 60 inch TV, right in the heart of my 5.1 surround sound system. In this respect my console gaming is a far richer experience than my PC gaming.

PC's can be made lounge experiences, but never quite as natural as the Consoles. Currently not only do you need your PC Rig in the vicinity of your TV, you're probably still using an operating system that prefers a keyboard and mouse, as well as likely have a number of games that haven't been optimized for controller supprt. Consoles on the other hand are specifically engineered to operate only from the controller in your hands. The entire operating system, as well as every single game, has been designed from the ground up to be run wirelessly from where ever you find most comfortable, whether that be lying on a couch, sprawled out on the floor, or in my case deep within a bean bag.

Steam Link / Steam Machines may alleviate this somewhat, but that is for one gaming platform only and there are still a lot of questions and doubts about the technology. Therefore in it's current form PC's will never quite match Consoles for playing 'away from desk' as consoles are the only platform that has been truly designed, from the ground up, to be played only with a controller.

This is even further illustrated with some of the social aspects with console gaming that is just not possible with on a PC. I've got around 20 years of history playing competitively against my friends in games like Tekken, us all sitting in the same room in front of the same TV, throwing playful insults at each other while we spend hours trying to best each other using our favorite characters. And whilst my days of having friends over to play Tekken are somewhat over, I let my 2 children play Lego Marvel Superheroes together in split screen on my PS4 and there is something quite comforting in watching them and knowing that they are getting a taste of the social gaming joy that myself have a great passion for. This social element is largely a console exclusive experience.

PC: Unparalleled Access To A Huge Gaming Library
The PC has a tremendous amount of games; it has a list of exclusives that dwarf that of what can be found on the consoles, and with its considerable history of other titles there are countless games available to satisfy any gaming taste.

Furthermore, the games are so accessible these days. Steam. Green Man Gaming. Humble Bundle. Good Old Games. GamersGate. Origin. Uplay. GetGames. There are so many distributors trying to win your dollar in a highly competitive market where game prices are regularly slashed and on sale for absurdly low prices.

Once you get past the initial cost of the hardware, PC gaming is a very affordable hobby, much more so than buying those same games on the console. Straight off the bat a new release game will likely cost you $10 cheaper on a PC than a console, and the price of that new release will also come down much faster on the PC platform too.

If you're like me you've probably got a backlog of PC games that you've got no hope of ever finishing simply because the prices are too cheap to turn down. If I think back on some of the Humble Bundle packages I've purchased in the past I still find it mind blowing the value that I've received for such little money. In a world where Console manufacturers may offer an occasional sale of an older game, that same game has probably been on sale from a number of PC distributor at some time for a handful of dollars.

This is even further compounded by the fact that PC gaming isn't confined to generations like consoles; PC supports several decades worth of a backlog of games, where as consoles usually only support titles released to that device only, usually with little support for backward compatibility.

The end result is that the PC is a platform that offers easy and affordable access to a ridiculous amount of games for any given taste; so many that you can drown in an endless sea of titles, having so many for such a cheap price with no hope of ever playing them all.

Console: The Exclusives
I will preface this by saying that I have a far greater sum of hours playing PC exclusives than I do console exclusives. In fact I am pretty sure that if I added all of my hours playing console exclusives that they wouldn't even match the number of hours I've put into World of Warcraft, let alone the thousands of hours I have spent over countless other PC titles. Basically what I am trying to illustrate is that this shouldn't be interpreted as an insult to PC exclusives, because it's not.

However as much as I love and adore some of the many PC exclusives I've played, if I think back over the last decade on some of my most memorable experiences they are all for console exclusive titles; being emotionally drained (in a good way) after finishing 'The Last Of Us'. Staring dumbfoundedly at the screen in disbelief during the revelation of the killer in 'Heavy Rain'. Losing myself in the visceral joy of slaughtering enemies in God Of War 3. The captivating joy of playing the last level of Journey. Staring at the colossus form of the MAWLR in Killzone 3 and thinking 'you expect me to beat that?'. And in more recent times, the feeling of accomplishment after beating some of the chalice dungeon bosses in Bloodborne after nights of failures. There were all genuine 'WOW' moments.

These were all from console games, and it's been quite a while since I've been mesmerized in a similar way from a PC exclusive - the last would have been from my old raiding days in World of Warcraft and that was some time ago now. It's really how I feel about the two platforms; PC exclusives are often great, really enjoyable games, but some of the console exclusives are total experiences above what the PC usually can offer.

A major factor is because consoles have first party developers and publishers, where as PC's only have third party developers. Generally these third party PC developers will be a smaller outfit than the console first party developers, with fewer resources and a more confined budget. And since the first party developers are funded from the console manufacturers they can afford to have less restictions on their scope and are less at risk if their product doesn't financially meet expectations.

PC: Too Many Distractions
PC's are open platform, which allows for a wonderful amount of customization options. However it also gives the distributors a little too much freedom to run wild; You can only buy this game on Steam. You can by this game on Steam, but even if you do, you need to run Uplay to play it. You cannot buy this game on Steam at all because it's on Origin. These are only little, minor distractions, but the PC is full of distractions like this.

It gets even worse when each publisher wants to implement their own version of DRM. Having to install applications that monitors your activities, such as PunkBuster, or losing 30 minutes of progress in a single player game due to a network dropout with always online DRM - these are the types of issues that PC players have had to endure for over a decade now. And just when you think the publishers have finally sorted themselves out, they find new ways to reinvent the same old problems. The plagued launch of SimCity 2013 is a well known example, where the game was hamstrung for weeks due to shoddy DRM that the E.A eventually quietly removed under a siege of criticism. It astounds me that publishers seem incapable of learning from their past mistakes.

And as I alluded to in one of the earlier sections, I've got dozens of unique accounts for the different gaming services for the PC. At what point does it become too much? Sometime I really do wish it was an overall less segmented platform.

Also due to the customizable nature of the PC, software errors specific to certain combinations of hardware comes with the territory. I doubt there's any long time PC gamer that hasn't at some point gone through the frustration of starting at some random error code when trying to launch a game. The worst offender in my case was for the Witcher 2, a game I had a lot of anticipation for and purchased on the day it was released. The game simply wouldn't start, and it took me hours of scrolling through forums and hacking away at config files before I was able to get underway.

Add to that the PC Operating System is maintained completely independently to your games, which means that often you can have software conflicts too. And there's no certainty that even if you have things running well that a mandatory windows update isn't going to break something somewhere. It doesn't happen often, however events like these do happen and it's an incredibly distracting task when it does.

In the end it's just unrealistic to expect an open platform to have the same stability as the closed platforms on the console

Console: You Are At The Mercy Of The Manufacturer
Consoles are generally closed platform, where all software released released are controlled by the manufacturer. Whilst this does lean towards having a more stable environment, it also puts you completely at their mercy.

The manufacturers have complete control, and it means that you can't have that feature you desperately want until they get around to implementing it, if at all. As an example it took over a year and a half before Sony finally released the a Media Player on the PS4.

That dictatorial relationship that the manufacturers have with their hardware is leading to a more troubling trend now too. A lack of competition means there's no real pressure to drive the price of games down, and now both Sony and Microsoft have locked multiplayer behind a paywal, meaning you need to pay a subscription fee just to play with your friends online. And most manufacturers have little interest in providing full backwards compatibility when they are able to find new ways for you to pay for your old games. And with the complete control that a manufacturer has, we have no idea what else the future has in store for us.

Overall it makes for a far less customizable experience than a PC, where updates can be slow to come out and you have little choice in the meantime.