September 3rd, 2014

The PC is Dead. Long Live the Console!

It’s interesting that several people are spelling the death of the console because consoles are becoming more and more like PCs. Recently, John Romero said, “My prediction is that the game console in the vein of the PS3 and Xbox 360 is going to either undergo a massive rethink or go away altogether. The hardcore gamers are going to either be playing on their PCs or a new PC-like platform that sits in the living room but still serves the whole house over Wi-Fi, even the video signal.”

John Romero’s lost some credibility since nothing he’s worked on since Id has turned out well, but Blizzard’s VP, Itzik Ben Bassat, said the following: “The PC is becoming an entertainment hub – you use it to watch videos and TV, play games, listen to music… With wireless, you can send your content from your PC to anywhere in the house, to your TV, something I already do. You can play PC on your TV because it’s an LCD screen. Consoles are becoming sophisticated PCs which sit in the living room. We’ll have to see how all this develops. Maybe in five years you won’t need a console because you’ll have one PC which delivers content all over your house.”

Finally, Paul Steed said in a recent interview that “The future of gaming is really mobile games and PC games. There’s more computers in the world, there’s more cell phones in the world than there are consoles and that’ll never change.”

They are right that consoles and PCs are starting to fill the same void. If you look at Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, there is very little difference between them and computers. They basically replace your PC for entertainment purposes. You can surf the web, watch movies, download TV shows, and play games on your big flat screen HDTV. Now, these developers are suggesting that the console will go away and the content will all come from the PC rather than the console basically transplanting the PC into the living room.

This is where I think they are wrong. These developers all come from a PC background, so they may have trouble imagining that the PC could be replaced. Firstly, I’m going to talk about why the desktop PC is becoming less and less important in homes. Then I will talk about why the console makes more sense in you living room than a PC (either located physically in that room or connected wirelessly). This should explain why I think the desktop PC at home will die and the console will emerge triumphant.

So, why is the desktop PC going to die? You’ll notice, I qualified that statement. The desktop PC at home will die. The desktop PC is always going to have a place at work, but at some point there, it may be replaced by thin clients. That’s another article for another time. In order to see why it’s going to die, we have to recognize what people use their desktop PCs for. Firstly, there is the communication aspect of it. This includes e-mail, messaging, surfing the web, etc. Then, there’s the entertainment aspect of it. This includes playing games, watching movies, TV, and browsing the internet. I’d say for at least 80% of PC users, that’s it. An astute reader will notice that consoles already do all the entertainment aspects of a home PC, and a cell phone does all the communication aspects of it. Presently, they might not do them as well, but that may change.

The real question is how are these devices going to replace the PC? I don’t think cell phones will replace the PC for all communication purposes immediately, but I think that over time, it will become the device of choice for communication. The main things it is lacking is a good text entry system (although the bluetooth projected keyboard is pretty awesome), and a big enough screen. The screens resolutions will increase over time, and perhaps they will come with a mini-HDMI port, connect to a TV/monitor wirelessly or have an internal projection system in the future. Communication is something important that people want to be able to do anywhere. Having all your e-mails with you wherever you go and being able to access and reply to them is a huge win. Often, someone e-mails me the time I’m supposed to meet them or location, and I completely forget, but I don’t have access to my home PC. E-mail is something that you really want to take with you wherever you go. Having all your contacts for e-mail, messenging and phoning all in one place is very convenient also.

The portable aspect of the phone is a big advantage of the mobile phone over the PC for communication purposes. But, the real question is why do I think the console will win over a PC in the living room? As all the quoted PC developers purport, the PC can live in the living room hooked up to the TV rather than a console. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the one that will win is the one that delivers a much better experience to the user. That is clearly the console. I’ll explain why.

Firstly, and most importantly is the price advantage. Console hardware is subsidized by the hardware manufacturers, which really make them more attractive to the budget minded consumer. The other main advantage is the plug and play aspect of them. You plug it into your TV, and boom! You can run everything you could possibly want. There is no installing software (besides the automatic updates), there’s no driver incompatibilities, games not running because of your system specs, and the applications are generally more stable because they only have to support very few hardware configurations. You don’t have to worry about virus protection on your console. There’s no defragmenting your hard disk.

Here’s a good example. When the very first Rainbow Six came out, I was excited about the game, so I downloaded the demo for PC. I installed the game, updated DirectX, got the latest drivers and all that, and was all set to go. I spent quite a while setting up all my attack routes, strategies, and weapon. Finally, as it was loading the actual level, and I anxiously awaiting the loading bar to finish, so I could enjoy my well laid plans, the game crashed. I was so fed up with it, I uninstalled the demo and never played again. Now, I program for a living. I’m not your average Joe consumer who doesn’t know what a driver is. If I don’t want to struggle to get a game to run on a PC, troubleshoot all the potential problems, then this platform is not ideal for the average Joe consumer. Console sales are increasing and gaining market share over PC games. Why would this trend miraculously reverse just because consoles share a lot of the same functionality? They share a lot of functionality, yes, but the consoles do it better and cheaper.

http://ps3.gamespy.com/playstation-3/unreal-tournament-2007/771700p1.html
What can PCs do better than consoles? The real advantage to PCs are the input devices – mice and keyboards. Besides tradition, there’s no reason they HAVE to be PC exclusive, and more and more console games will use them. Xbox 360 as well as Playstation 3 work with USB keyboards out of the box for all their text entry. Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus as I mentioned previously works with the keyboard and mouse for Playstation 2. Unreal Tournament 2007 for Playstation 3 will work with a  keyboard and mouse. I haven’t heard if the 360 version will support them or not, but they’d be silly not to. It would make sense for Shadowrun the first cross platform competitive game to include keyboard and mouse support on the 360 version, but I don’t think it does. Hopefully, they’ll patch it later to rectify this oversight.

Something that lends credence to my theory is that Apple, Microsoft and Sony are trying to get into these two new platforms for computing. Three huge companies, the two main competitors in the home PC platform and one of the biggest consumer electronic companies, and they are trying to get into these two spaces. I imagine this is because they see the writing on the wall and that these two areas is where the money will be in the future – not the desktop PC. Microsoft saw it before Apple since the Xbox and the PocketPC platform predate the iTV and the iPhone from Apple considerably. Sony may have had the vision of the entertainment PC first with the Playstation 2. The Xbox was apparently developed in reaction to the idea of this new Sony computing platform being in everyone’s home – without running Microsoft’s operating system on it. The PSP is trying to move into that area as well, but from the entertainment side of things. I think the communication mobile PC/phone device will be used for portable entertainment, but I would argue that’ll be the icing on the cake rather than the prime usage just because as Steed said, there are more phones in the world than gaming consoles. Certainly, the Playstation brand commands a larger market share than Sony Ericsson, so that makes sense for them.

I could reiterate my point in my typical fashion, but I think I’ve actually made my point without my usual verbosity. If you don’t believe me, numbers don’t lie. Here’s some graphs from the ESA:

  

13 Responses to 'The PC is Dead. Long Live the Console!'

  1. 1Hey Matt Fanboy.
    April 21st, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Guess what system was used to make your precious Gears of War and all other modern console games. Noob. PC’s are not going anywhere and will only get stronger and more dominant. BTW. Enjoy Crysis and DX-10 on your X360… oh wait.. you can’t, it can’t handle it.


  2. 2Anonymous
    April 21st, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Consoles are for all dem ma’roons who shouldn’t even be allowed to even buy a pc. waste oxygen they do!


  3. 3Droniac
    April 22nd, 2007 at 3:44 am

    You’re thoroughly overestimating cellphones. I’ll tell you now – they won’t replace desktop PCs for any internet browsing functionality. That technology is simply too expensive for both provider and user, with the exception of a tiny percentage of users. As for screen sizes increasing in the future? Not going to happen. Consumers don’t want bigger machines to carry around – they want smaller and lighter equipment! Cellphone services are – and will remain – expensive… which is why reading emails on your cellphone likely won’t become a major consumer product… particularly with free internet-based alternatives such as Google Mail.

    You talk about a price advantage for consoles, yet there is no such thing. Any ordinary consumer (non-gamer) will be better off with a PC in terms of both functionality and price (decent consumer PCs can be bought for the price of a Wii).

    As for gamers? Yes, the basic system is more expensive than a PS3 right now… but prices are dropping INSANELY quickly and even now (in a relatively expensive time considering the price drops in May) the difference between a PS3 and a near-top-of-the-line PC gaming rig (which vastly outperforms a PS3) is only about 400 euro. After the initial purchase PC gamers will soon see their investment returned – as the actual gaming is less expensive, their system actually supports all technologies (unlike PS3/Xbox360) and should they decide to purchase a monitor – they’ll be good with a budget of $300, rather than the $1000+ required for serious console gamers. Yet both will be doing their thing in 1080p goodness… (1600×1200 == 1080p).

    Yeah consoles are – currently – less hassle free. But that’s changing rather quickly, as PCs are getting more and more user-friendly (Vista anyone?) while consoles are getting less and less user-friendly (bug fixes for many console games, firmware updates, much more complex to set-up and get started if you’re serious about gaming/media, etc.). As for viruses – don’t worry, those are already appearing on consoles as well – that’s what you get with internet accessibility. You can’t seriously believe that the complete inability to defragment your console’s hard disk is a GOOD thing right? It’s one of the major reasons as to why a PC currently serves as a BETTER media center: your console’s hard disk will get slow over time and it wouldn’t be surprising if your games and even videos turned all choppy – that’s what happens with fragmented hard disks (and yes, the files on your console’s hard disk will be fragmented just as much as they would on a PC).

    Better yet – in the modern market there is very little room for errors and outright game failure due to hardware incompatibility – unless you have a highly unusual setup. In the three YEARS I’ve had this PC, I’ve only ever ran into a single hardware incompatibility issue: Black & White 2 didn’t like my Audigy 2 sound card – a piece of hardware no average consumer would have anyway. The crashes and hardware incompatibility issues with PC games are largely a thing of the past – even more so with Windows Vista and DirectX 10. As for bugs – can’t really complain about those in PC games when they’re more than prevalent in console games nowadays as well…

    Console games ALWAYS held market share over PC games. As for gaining market share? No they’re not. The PCs market share is increasing rapidly, as demonstrated by multiplayer giants like Lineage and World of Warcraft as well as online distribution stations such as Steam.

    You appear to be basing your market share statement on such statistics as those of the NPD group. Those are horridly inaccurate, at best. They only demonstrate statistics of sales in the United States (a console-dominated market). They do not show statistics of a large number of retail stores throughout that country. They do not incorporate online sales. They do not incorporate revenues from subscriber fees. Even just in the American market they’re excluding easily 40% of PC game revenues – not one World of Warcraft subscriber is tracked, not one Steam game is tracked, not one online indie-game (out of tens of thousands) is tracked. PC game sales have long surpassed the stage where they could be tracked simply by following retail outlet sales… unlike console games.

    There are many further arguments to name as to why PC gaming will not “die”… but ‘response’ has gone on for long enough :o


  4. 4Matt
    April 22nd, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    As far as cell phones go, you are looking at cell phones as they are now. Cell phone technology is advancing even faster than PC hardware. As far as screen size, what I meant was that it could take up the entire top surface of the device, rather than having a border. Yes, the devices shouldn’t get bigger, but the screen can comparatively. I don’t think you are correct when you say cell phone services will remain expensive. I remember when they charged internet access by the KB, and it was pretty darn expensive – maybe 50 cents a KB or something. Now, you can get unlimited internet access for $10-15 a month. My first cell phone plan 7 years ago had 120 minutes prime time and I think 300 minutes nights and weekends for $30 or 40 a month. You can get a lot better deal now for $30-40 a month. Why do you think that trend of cell phone service getting cheaper will stop?

    If I were to buy the cheap PC, I couldn’t play games on it. Cheap PCs usually come with a pathetic video card, so then you can’t play games. I am talking about the average consumer here – and I think the average consumer wants to play a game or two. I’m finally biting the bullet and building a gaming PC, and I’m looking at over $1000 and that’s including current components I already have. The other thing that I wanted to touch on, but didn’t get a chance is that while PCs can be more powerful than consoles, that’s not always reflected in the game. When you create a PC game, you have to target an old computer. The problem is that if you target the current top of the line gaming PC, no one will be able to run your game because the average PC gamer has an older or cheaper machine. So, if you target the bleeding edge, your sales will be very weak. If you target the $200-$400 super cheap PCs, then your game won’t look very good, because you are getting a very cheap video card. The reason why consoles look better than PC games with equivalent performing hardware is that for console development, you are targeting fixed hardware. You have 1 (or 2 platforms if you are releasing for both) that you have to squeeze every ounce of power out. With PC game development you have to make a scalable engine that supports a number of hardware configurations, and you can never test and optimize them for the million of PC hardware configurations that are out there right now. This is a huge win for console developers (myself included). With PC development, you even have a moving target. You have to predict what the average PC game buying market will have when you plan on releasing the game and try and develop for that. The problem is that if you slip your release date or estimate incorrectly, you have improve your game graphically, or release a bad looking game. That’s one of the problems with Duke Nukem Forever. They basically had to start from scratch several times over because what they were targeting when they started development no longer would look competitive.

    Let’s do a little case study. Here’s a cheap PC for $300 from outpost.com. This has a GeForce 6100, which although can run some games, certainly cannot run games that rival the 360 and the Playstation 3 graphically. So you can get a PC for the same price as the Core Xbox 360 pack ($300), it won’t have nearly as good graphics. On top of that, it doesn’t have surround sound capabilities, nor does it even have a DVI port (although currently, the core pack for the 360 does not either, but I suspect that will change by the end of the year). The 360 is also monitor compatible, so that’s not a big feature that’s exclusive to PCs. HDMI is DVI plus audio, so you can get a cable that converts it to DVI. I have one. Also, the Xbox 360 has a VGA cable available too. Although PC prices are always dropping, so are consoles. I guarantee you the Xbox 360 will see a price drop this year, and many are speculating that the PS3 will drop as well. So, the console seems like a better deal to me than a cheap PC. The console hardware gets cheap at the same rate the PC hardware does, it will be a better deal until the very end of its lifecycle when it is replaced.

    I don’t know if you’ve used Vista yet, but it has tons of game incompatibilities. There are plenty of people complaining on forums that their favorite games don’t work. Also, I think your average PC consumer does not defragment his/her hard drive. I don’t have evidence to support it. I used to do tech support, so I have first hand experience that the average computer user is pretty ignorant when it comes to computers. Now, I’m not sure about the FATX file system that the Xbox 360 uses, but it is possible to develop a file system that doesn’t need defragmenting. Mac OS X does it. They intelligently space out their files in order to prevent fragmentation and as well, they defragment the drive in pieces when you computer is idle.

    I disagree that PC market share is increasing rapidly. Do you have any facts and or figures to back that up? Although the NPD data is not perfectly accurate, can you provide me with any better figures? They do not track a number of retail outlets as well as online sales, but they have analysts who try and estimate the remaining sales. Although I don’t put much stock in analysts, it is their business to study the numbers and to make educated guesses, and I imagine their guesses are better than yours or mine. Also, online distribution has taken off with Xbox Live Marketplace. I’ve bought quite a few games over there as well as many other 360 owners. On top of this, MMOs are beginning to move to consoles also. Final Fantasy XI has been released for PS2 as well as Xbox 360. Age of Conan will be released for Xbox 360 as well as Huxley. I expect this trend to continue. There’s no reason that MMOs have to be PC specific, and the console market is largely untapped for MMOs, so I expect more and more MMO makers will try to get a piece of that pie. As far as keyboards, both consoles work with keyboards and on top of that, Xbox 360 will soon see a keyboard controller attachment.

    Now, I don’t think PC gaming will die outright, but I think its going to continue to decrease. My hyperbole was to match the people casting doom and gloom over the console. There are still a number of reasons to develop PC games. The main one is that development is free. There’s no licensing expensive dev kits, trying to pass certification, and working with publishers to get your game in the store (unless you want to). If you make it, you can charge for it. The indie and shareware development communities are specific to the PCs and although XNA for 360 is trying to change that somewhat, it’ll never take over.


  5. 5Droniac
    April 23rd, 2007 at 1:45 am

    When talking about cellphones taking over the communicative aspects of internet-connected PCs… it’s not only unlikely, but if it were to happen the entire design of cellphones would have to be altered drastically. It’d have to become a voice-controlled product, the screen would have to take up the entire cellphone (as they are in terms of size now) and even then I’d imagine most people would still prefer communication on PCs for multiple reasons:
    - A vast majority of consumers doesn’t trust new services/technology.
    - Those kinds of services will remain more expensive on cellphones than on PCs (which can use fixed connections).
    - PCs offer ease of use that cellphones cannot. It’s much more comfortable typing on a PC than on a cellphone – and what are you going to do if your cellphone doesn’t properly recognize your voice (if they’re going voice-controlled)?

    Yeah cellphone technology is advancing rapidly… in the area’s of replacing credit cards, home keys & ID cards. As for internet services… no not really – not right now anyway. We might see some advances in that regard… in a couple of decades… but not anytime soon.

    When thinking about the average consumer – I think about the actual average consumer. That is, your grandfather who buys a PC so he can see his e-mail, browse the internet and maybe play some basic webgames or even offline games (with absolutely zero graphics card requirements). What about your IT dad who just wants to use his PC for checking e-mails, managing databases and some basic programming/internet browsing? Or your mom who only wants to check her e-mail and use Word to be able to work at home? THAT is the average consumer. Gamers, even casual ones, aren’t anywhere near the average consumer. And the average consumer will already have a way overpowered machine for less then $300.

    Indeed even casual gamers can do well with those $300 machines, because just about any indie-game works on them, all those webgames work, all those tiny pinball games and the like work, many of those free quality games (savage, wolfenstein: enemy territory, america’s army, allegiance, etc.) work. Sure you might not be able to play Doom 3 or Crysis… but you’ll definitely be able to manage playing games as recent as Unreal Tournament 2004 on such a system.

    Oh yes – when developer create a PC game they don’t target it for the bleeding edge PCs, instead they target it for the bleeding edge PCs of next year. Look at games like Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights 2 & Company of Heroes which couldn’t be run properly in high detail until recent hardware developments. Look at more recent games like Armed Assault and Supreme Commander, which still can’t be run properly on top-of-the-line PCs when you set everything to maximum detail. THAT is PC gaming, not your supposed “targeting the weak machine” nonsense. Yes, some developers do that – particularly mass-producers of poor titles such as Electronic Arts… but most don’t – and particularly the most enjoyable games tend to be targeted towards the bleeding edge PCs of next year, or the one after that. And does it hurt sales? Heck no. Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights 2, Company of Heroes, Supreme Commander – they all sold VERY, VERY, well. Indeed all of them already have announced expansion packs/sequels (except SupCom, but that one will surely be announced soon enough).

    The reason why console games look better on consoles than on PCs with nearly the same hardware is because consoles are optimized for gaming and PCs are not. Not that that matters in the slightest, because *superior* pc hardware will already be released prior to a console launch – that was true for both Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 launches. Hence games released on both consoles and PCs continue to look better on PCs, regardless of launch dates. Compare Oblivion or Quake 4′s PC and Xbox360 versions if you will – the PC version looks considerably more detailed and beautiful… and these are already *old* games. What about such games as Age of Conan, BioShock or Unreal Tournament 3 – the difference will be even more astounding.

    Indeed a console might be less expensive than a similarly capable gaming PC right now. That’s exactly what I said too. What I said was that the difference for hardcore gamers lies in the gaming itself. In the long run the PC comes out as the less expensive alternative – as it easily lasts just as long as an Xbox360 (if not longer, with all the hardware failure stories I’ve heard of that beast) which should be 5 years. In that time you’ll be purchasing Xbox360 titles at $60 or $70 – rarely any lower. PC games on the other hand come in at around $35 and that’s only if you buy solely the latest games, which most PC gamers don’t do. Better yet – there are countless FREE games for the PC, not so for your Xbox360 or PS3. You can get amazing games like Allegiance, America’s Army, Rappelz Online, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Savage and Tribes entirely for free. In essence you get a vast library of thousands of free quality games upon purchasing your PC and internet connection… not so with your next-gen console.

    As for console hardware decreasing in cost equally fast as PC hardware does… I’m sure it does – but consoles don’t. If they did then we’d be looking at over 5 price drops for the Xbox360 so far already and a MASSIVE price drop coming up in May… yet we’re not. All processors and video cards will drop in price, significantly, by the end of May – yet the Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 will not. Surely by the end of the year we’ll be looking at budget PCs ($400-ish) that are technically superior to Xbox360′s.

    Vista 64 has plenty of game incompatibilities – but the 32 bit version is actually pretty decent and runs just about all the most popular games. Indeed, many sites have spend some time and work creating lists of games they tested under Vista and I’ve yet to come across a list featuring a game that didn’t work outright. Most work flawlessly and some have tiny incompatibility bugs (mainly driver-related) such as intro movies not playing. I was talking about Vista in reference to it’s unification of video card technology – which will very significantly reduce hardware incompatibility in the future. As it stands Vista might have a fair few incompatibility issues – but that’s to be expected of a new Microsoft product. No one with half a brain will be using Vista for gaming until later this year anyway – and by then nearly all those incompatibility issues with less popular games in Vista will be a thing of the past – no different from when XP was released.

    Yeah the average consumer probably doesn’t defragment his/her hard drive at all – or nearly enough. That still doesn’t mean the complete lack of defragmentation capability on the Xbox360 (unless you resort to hacking) is a good thing. And yes, Xbox360 files get fragmented. Anyway I thought you were talking about the average gaming consumer? Because the average consumer doesn’t play games at all – or if they do they play then it’s Patience or Solitaire or some web game. As for the average gaming consumer – you’d be surprised how many of them know to defragment (or even format) their hard drives. And yes, I’ve done tech support too. Sure sometimes you’ll come across a person who doesn’t know what the power button for a PC is or doesn’t even bother to check whether all the connectors are plugged in prior to calling – but those aren’t the casual gamer types, at all.

    As for the PC market share increasing – the first indicator was the most recent NPD announcement that PC game sales were on the rise. That’s pretty peculiar, since they do not track (or guesstimate) web shops, other online sales or subscription fees whatsoever.

    Another indicator is the increasing number of MMOs with more than a million subscribers (there’s dozens nowadays such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, RF Online, Ragnarok Online, Lineage, Lineage 2, Dekaron, etc, etc, etc). Is there an overview anywhere that lists them all? No I don’t think so, unless it’s in Korean. Regardless you should be able to find plenty of them on google – because there’s more and more of them out there every day, much more than a few years ago. Similarly the number of successful and sustained MMOs (with less than a million subscribers) has increased dramatically (games like EverQuest, Ultima Online, Merdian 59, EVE Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, etc).

    How about those browser-based games or little known MMOs with optional subscription fees, like Planetarion? The number of those has increased dramatically in the past few years – and many of them are still around after running for several years, which indicates they’re certainly successful.

    Then of course there are web shop sales. PC gamers are more likely to use web shops, because you need a PC to do so – and games are a lot less expensive in most web shops. Indeed nowadays I and most of my (PC-gamer ; not the console gamers curiously enough) friends solely purchase our games through web shops. Yet none of that is really accounted for by the NPD group unless it’s a web shop of a major retail chain. Oh and I’m Dutch, which means I live in a country where less than 1/4th of the population owns a credit card.. yet even here web shops are extremely successful. I can only imagine in a country where credit cards are the norm (United States) that web shops would be even more successful – and could indeed account for the ‘supposed’ loss of profits and sales PC games have endured these past few years. After all – why purchase an expensive game in stores, when you can get the exact same game $20 less expensive online?

    As for an aspect of PC gaming which might be having a negative impact on PC game sales and not console game sales: modding. There isn’t nearly as much incentive to buy a new PC game as there is to buy a new console game. Just about every PC game released nowadays gains extra free content after release AND allows gamers to modify it significantly. So why should a Neverwinter Nights player bother to purchase Titan Quest? He knows he likes NWN’s gameplay, not so with Titan Quest – better yet for his NWN he can download a user-made module that lasts twice as long as Titan Quests, costs absolutely nothing and is guaranteed to be enjoyable. There is no such thing for console games… hence the incentive to buy a console game is FAR greater. After you finish a game, it’s finished on a console. Not so on a PC. Indeed that is why the original Unreal Tournament still rakes in over 2000 consecutive players (online!) every night, it’s why NeverWinter Nights still rakes in 4000 consecutive players (online!) and why Unreal Tournament 2004 continues to hit 6000 (online!) to this day.

    Console games are frequently disposable, PC games are not. The fact that NPD still reports a rise in PC game sales regardless of this fact, means that PC game sales are obviously on a major rise… the average consumer won’t be easily persuaded to buy a new PC game when they have Neverwinter Nights + expansions (at budget ($25) price) and over 5000 user-made modules that can keep them entertained for many years, literally. The logical conclusion: many more people are playing PC games than in previous years. And that is just the NPD stats – how about those browser-based game revenues, those indie-game revenues and those subscriber revenues for MMOs? Oh yeah, NPD doesn’t bother with them and they’re clearly on a massive rise… so yeah – what was that about PC gaming decreasing? I don’t see it.

    As far as keyboards for consoles go. Yes they exist, yes they can be used, but they’re no different from console gamepads on the PC: you can plug them in – and for direct ports they’re generally good – but for the majority of games they’re useless because those games are designed from the ground up to be played on controllers. Keyboard support is nice, but console games don’t really ‘support’ them. Unreal Tournament 3 – is being toned down for PS3: it’ll be – significantly – slower on consoles, regardless of keyboard and mouse ‘support’. Who cares for keyboard and mouse support – when games aren’t designed to use them? Keyboard and mouse demand fast-paced, action-packed, intricate & complex FPS games… those are simply not available on consoles unless they’re ported directly from… indeed: the PC. It’s the same situation as controllers on PC – yeah you can play Sands of Time with a controller on your PC, but it’s a console port. Are there really any PC games where you’ll benefit from having a controller? Not unless you’re going to look at games from the previous century.


  6. 6Smood
    April 23rd, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    A big factor is innovation and evolution of technology (technical innovation I suppose). This is something that is going to be MUCH harder to do on the console so relatively quickly you are going to hit a ceiling in the capability of the console and its going to stay like that. However the PC scene is always evolving and game developers can constantly improve their games or even make/license new engines knowing that PC hardware will eventually catch up to what their offering. They don’t have to worry about an ABSOLUTE limit of 512 MB of memory in a certain console. Again Matt mentioned scalability and although this adds more development time to a game, it is something that WILL NOT impact the original vision of the company. They can still make the cutting edge technolgy (like in Crytek’s Crysis) and then scale back to accomodate lesser systems by decreasing texture resolution, shadow detail, post-processing effects, special effects etc.

    With the consoles you are simply far more restricted. You don’t have the flexibility in the gaming scene and you don’t have the flexibility in doing other high profile work (which of course wont be of any use to the average consumer but will be to many hardcore games/mod makers). My point is there is a very strong niche that is at the base of PC gaming and it grows with the increasing ease and impressiveness of PC games.

    Going back to Crysis here is an example of a game that is pushing the evelope so far that its already beyond the scope of consoles. You can already read voluminous amounts of console players whining that they wan’t the incredible technical and even gameplay aspects of crysis on their 360′s but its simply not happening as of now. Yes the engine is being ported but its undoubtedly going to be downgraded.

    Yet another example of the advantage of PC’s is the port of Lost planet:Extreme condition which is graphically looking a lot nicer then the console version. Again once developers have the freedom to really scale up their work or already start with high end assets that do not have to be downgraded to meet the restrictions of a console you end up with games that are simply a lot more impressive.

    Of course I’m speaking of technicality here rather than game content or creativity, but these are factors that are more depedent on the developer and their motivations in making the game.

    Finally I will say that console have their place as well… as a device for people who do not want to think very much about their gaming and simply want to play hassle-free. Especially for people who enjoy gaming with friends (together) at their house where consoles are far superior. But for the intelligent and thoughtful gamer nothing can match the PC. Try playing X3: Reunion on a console. It will never EVER happen unless Keyboards and mice are REALLY pushed into the console market. Try to play FPS games with precision, speed and effectiveness you get with a mouse/kb setup that is not even dreamed off by a console player. PC gaming is really the heart and soul of high-end, deep, customizable gaming and will remain so.


  7. 7Sheep
    April 24th, 2007 at 2:41 am

    “If you look at Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, there is very little difference between them and computers.”

    Uhm, the PS3 and X360 _are_ computers!
    Why, for maybe a year now, are people suddenly saying they’re not?
    That’s like saying cactuses aren’t plants or something like that.


  8. 8Matt
    April 24th, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Droniac – Thank you for your well thought out response. Let me clarify a few things. Firstly, I am thinking about 10 years ahead in terms of the PC getting replaced by consoles, and maybe 15-20 for it to get replaced by cell phones. I’m not sure about these numbers, but I am sure it’ll happen. As you said, it not something that will happen immediately. So, yes I agree with you in that respect I think there will be advances in one decade. Technology advances very rapidly and cell phones is one of the fields that has seen the most rapid growth. Now you may think it’s silly for me to try to predict this far in advance. Or maybe that there’s no point. Companies that don’t think that far ahead are in danger of getting left behind. Look at Polaroid for example. They completely missed the switch to digital and had to file for bankruptcy.

    The average consumer’s PC who is only interested in casual games has a PC that is already overpowered for what they use their PC for. Your example of an IT professional who does software development is a bad one because that’s not an average user. That’s someone more advanced. I’m going to be using a PC for the rest of my life because I develop games. PCs are by far the best platform for software development and will be for quite a while (although eventually, we may switch over to thin clients). The mobile phone may address most of their needs better in the future. If you look 15 to 20 years in the future, people who are 15 right now, will be 30 or 35. I don’t know how much time you spend around people that young, but they are inseparable from their mobile phones. They send text messages and do as much as they can on them. So, maybe 40 year old computer users may be afraid of doing everything on their cell phones, children being raised today hunger for it.

    Now, I’m proposing that the console will replace the PC as an entertainment platform. Video gaming as well as video decoding both require a fancy expensive processor. If the average consumer isn’t interested in the entertainment aspects of their PC, then the console isn’t for them. I’m not sure if you’ve tried to play a Blu-ray or HD DVD movie on your PC, but mine old one (I just bought the components for a new computer yesterday) wasn’t compatible with the software because it’s hardware was too crappy.

    PC developers do not create games for the bleeding edge PCs of next year. If that were the case, then there would be a ton of DirectX 10 games on the market, but as of right now, there are none. Now, although they make their engines scalable, the reason they don’t run well with all the settings turned on is not because the top of the line PC can’t handle it, but for two reasons: firstly, PC developers focus on getting it to run on the average PC and they are just plain sloppy. If you are developing a game assuming people will have a top of the line PC one year from now, then very few people can purchase it. Many people do not upgrade their systems all that often. So, perhaps the average PC game buying consumer’s PC is two years old. Now the other reason, is that PC developers have very unoptimized game engines. Part of this is because it’s difficult to optimize for a moving target, but also, I’ve heard there are many wasteful practices engaged by PC developers such as mallocing memory per frame, using virtual functions for small objects such as particles and many more. There rationale may be the same as what you said. More powerful PCs are just around the corner, so they’ll be able to run the game. I’ve run into the problem where I had a very powerful system and tried to run an old game at its max settings, and it still ran poorly. This is indicative that the game was written poorly, not that it was designed around hardware that hasn’t come out yet.

    Regardless, none of your comments are addressing my point that for $300, a console is a better gaming platform than a PC. Superior hardware is not available to the Playstation 3. Look at the Folding @ Home results. The Cell is a floating point beast. If you look at the Teriflops for Playstation 3, it’s over twice what is is for PCs, http://fah-web.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/main.py?qtype=osstats with 1/6 of the CPUs running. Perhaps by the end of the year, a $400 PC will rival the Xbox 360, but the Xbox 360 will have had a price drop by then.

    Do you KNOW that the Xbox 360 can get fragmented? Do you KNOW for a fact that Microsoft didn’t plan some way to prevent this? As I said, Mac OS can prevent fragmentation without an explicit defragmentation. I worked on the Xbox Software Services team, and they are a bunch of smart people. I’m sure someone thought of that problem before they released the 360, so I would expect they have some sort of solution possibly similar to OS X.

    Although PC gaming may be rising this year, it presently is dwarfed by console games (in the United States) presently. Probably one of the main reasons for this turn around was the release of Burning Crusade, which sold amazingly well. A large portion of the revenues that are increasing are tied to the MMO market. But, as I mentioned previously, it’s not long before consoles start getting a piece of that pie also.

    I disagree with your point that console games are disposable. If you look at the Xbox 360 charts, Halo 2 was STILL the most played game until Gears of War came out. People are interested in replaying console games if they have a network component. Mods currently don’t exist on console games, but Epic has announced that it plans to bring mods to the console game. You could also argue that Epic and Insomniac adding new multiplayer features after the launch of the title is similar, but they won’t continue to support that as long as the modding commmunity does.

    You cannot use a keyboard and mouse on a console game unless it is designed to use them. The consoles don’t support remapping. So, starting with Unreal Tournament 3, some console games will be designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind. If that is taken into account, there is no reason that it can’t behave exactly like it’s PC brethren. Where did you hear that it’s going to be toned down for consoles? I have read quite a lot about the game and have yet to read that.

    None of your comments really debate the key evidence I put forward as to why consoles are going to take over – they are a better experience to the consumer. Maybe with Vista things may catch up a bit as you suggested, but there is a big gap in ease of use, and although it will close somewhat as consoles take on more computer like tasks, but being designed around living room gaming is a big plus that computers don’t have. Once my new computer parts come, I’m going to play the few PC games I’m interested in hooked up to my HDTV. The console definitely has the advantage that it already there.


  9. 9Matt
    April 25th, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Smood – I’m not sure if you are a software developer or not, but as a programmer myself, I can tell you that you don’t hit the ceiling of a console until close to the end of its lifecycle. A great example is God of War 2. I’m not sure if you’ve played it or seen it, but it is an amazing testament to the power of the Playstation 2. It came out this year in the twilight of the Playstation 2′s life cycle. Creating console games is a learning process. The engine team work with the platform for 5 years and study it constantly creating better engines and finding ways to better optimize their code. There comes a point where there is diminishing returns. I think if Sony Santa Monica where to continue on PS2, they would not get much more out of it. Sure, they could get some, but not the graphical leaps that they’ve done so far (especially if you look at their first game Kinetica).

    With PC development, people try to create engines and graphics that will scale, but they have to keep in mind that in order to be mass market, their game has to run on a fairly poor performance computer. A good example is that Unreal Tournament 2004 had a software renderer, so that people without a 3d card could play the game (although not well). Now, Unreal Tournament certainly was an impressive game from a technical standpoint, but imagine if that effort supporting those who don’t have a 3d card was spent on making the game run even better on the EXACT system configuration you have! That’s one of the reasons why console games look better with a lot lower system specs. They are optimized and tuned and tweaked to look as good as possible on the hardware you actually have. (There are several other reasons like not running Windows in the background, no user to kernel mode transitions, etc)

    Crysis is going to be ported, yes, but it doesn’t HAVE to be downgraded that much. Obviously, DirectX 10 features will have to go, but the 360 and PS3 can make games as technically impressive as the current generation of PCs. In order to do so, the game has to be designed around the radically different hardware. If you want to make a PS3 game that looks great, you have to intelligently use the SPEs, which are amazing at doing floating point calculations. The SPEs are more powerful than any consumer PC hardware available for floating point calculations. That is The PS3 video card is obviously not as powerful as a $600 one, so designing your engine to do as much as possible on the SPEs is crucial to creating a good looking PS3 game. If one were to create a game just for PS3 using its strengths, it could look as good as Crysis.

    Lost Planet (at least the portions I played) didn’t seem to be all that graphically impressive for a 360 game. If they didn’t make very good use of all three cores or didn’t intelligently write their functions knowing that there is no out of order execution, then it makes sense that it would run better on a PC. Gears of War, although is the best looking game on the 360 right now, was developed by a PC developer with a PC engine. The 360 could do something better than that and definitely will as developers gain more experience with it. Maybe Halo 3′s graphics will blow people away. We’ll see.

    Despite all this, you are correct about PC hardware being more powerful, and I never disagreed with that. In a year from now, you can build a PC costing $3000 with eight cores, two SLI video cards with a gig of memory on each and 8 gig of RAM. That will have way better specs than the PS3 and Xbox 360. But, it will cost $3000. The Xbox 360 and PS3 will be close to 1/10th of the price then. Who has $3000 to spend on PC components? I suppose I could spend that much money, but it just doesn’t seem worth it since the hardware will be out of date in 6 months anyway. Games designed for consoles will still look comparable to PC games. Not as good as PC games running on a $3000 rig, but my point was that consoles hardware are a better value for equivalent performance both because the hardware is sold at a loss and that developers can make better use of it. Plus, most people don’t want to upgrade every year or two, and although there is the hardcore PC die-hards who have a lot of income to spend on hardware, that is hardly mass market. I guess I’m trying to say that PC gaming will grow into more of a niche than it already is.

    Having developed for both PC as well as consoles, I can say that to some extent you have it backwards. I find console development is much more liberating than PC development. The reason is because you have a fixed set of hardware. This means you have much, much, much more control over the end user’s experience, which is very important.

    One of the things that is nice about doing PSP development is that you get all the benefits of console development, but you also know exactly how gamers will view your game since the dev kits have the same screen. Designing a console or PC game is more difficult in that there are millions of displays out there and each has thousands of combinations of settings. It’s impossible to know how your user will actually view your game, which is frustrating.

    PC development is like this only exponentially more frustrating because not only do you have to make your game look good on any monitor with any color/brightness/contrast setting, but you have to do it with every hardware configuration. Being liberated from designing your game around all sorts of hardware configurations really leaves the developers to concentrate on the most important thing – making the game fun.

    Now, I’m not sure if you come from a programming background, but squeezing power out of one fixed system is a hell of a lot easier than creating some super scalable engine that should run optimally on every single PC out there that meets the minimum requirements. A good example is the console games that are cross platform. If you have to support 2 or 3 platforms, you are constrained around the minimum requirements. Sure, you can throw some extra polish on the platform that is overpowered, but your engine has to be designed to handle the lesser requirements. That’s why Wii is getting the PS2 ports and not the PS3/Xbox 360 ports. A Wii/360/PS3 game would have to scale far too much to get the best graphics. If you look at a game that’s designed around one platform, like God of War 2, they can squeeze every ounce of power out of that system and make it really look amazing. PC game developers doesn’t have that ability.


  10. 10Matt
    April 25th, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    Sheep – When I was using computers in that sense, I was referring to PCs – like your Mac or Windows ( or Linux?) machine you use at your desktop. Defining computer is hard to do with so many devices (phones, PDAs, home theater equipment) having lots of processing capabilities as well as programmable features. Presently, you can buy a wristwatch with a more powerful processors than a computer of 30 years ago. To some people, computer is synonymous with PC, which is how I was using it. Sorry for the confusion.


  11. 11Matt
    April 27th, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    Smood – you want me to delete the post about consoles being restrictive?

    http://www.binarycreativity.com/games-ive-developed/

    -Matt


  12. 12Smood
    May 2nd, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Post number 12 please.

    You have an impressive resume and certainly more experience than me in the field so I do respect that. However it seems to me the projects who work on are mainly console-centric with PC being an afterthought/port. Am I wrong?


  13. 13Matt
    May 4th, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Smood: Yeah, my professional projects have been developed for consoles, and the Incredibles was targeting consoles, so the PC version was a port. I have done PC development for a number of things including tools and personal projects, so I have experience with the problems of PC development. For example several years ago, I was developing a game and my computer had a 32 bit z-buffer, but when a friend ran it, he only had a 16 bit z-buffer, so there was a ton of z-fighting. It wasn’t much of an issue for the scope of the game I was working on, but creating a game that handles different features is very difficult. For example, if you target DirectX 10, how do you make your game still look good for a large portion of your audience that will have DirectX 9? That’s a tough call. I imagine most people who will play Crysis will have DirectX 9 just because you need Vista and a brand new video card in order to run DirectX 10. So, the question is – where are they putting their efforts? It’s just something to think about.


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