There’s an on going debate in the world of IT regarding the PC vs. Gaming Consoles war. You might wonder why there is a war between such resembling groups. I mean PCs were the first gaming machines before consoles came on the market. And today’s consoles are well engineered multimedia machines. Why wouldn’t they get along?
Well, there’s really no simple answer to this question. To try and make an overall idea about the problem we have to go back in time and see why did it all start (when it actually began is not really that important).
The Nintendo Entertainment System (also known as NES) was not the first console on the market. It was launched in 1985, and before it’s time there were at least 7 or 8 other consoles offered by companies like ATARI or Magnavox. The truth is that the NES was a huge success. It was followed by the Super NES (SNES, 1991) and the Nintendo line of consoles never knew the word failure.
But why where consoles invented? The answer is simple. Computers where very complicated in those times. Nobody (except for geeks) would ever use a computer to play a game.
They were also expensive compared to gaming consoles. So companies saw a money making opportunity in designing easy to use gaming devices. And they where right.
It is true that at some point computers became more user friendly and began catching up to consoles. Actually, at some point they even were ahead as the keyboard/mouse combo gave game developers some pretty nifty controlling capabilities and when graphic accelerators came to the market console manufacturers began worrying. With multimedia capabilities growing more and more powerful. PC gaming was gaining ground. Especially since CDs offered increased storage space. Most gaming consoles used cartridges in order to store games.
Console manufacturers didn’t stand by doing nothing, they pumped their R&D; full of adrenaline and came up with optical media devices (mostly CDs). In 1995 Sony invaded the console market with the PlayStation.
This was the first successful CD based gaming console. Panasonic attempted to license a multimedia console concept called 3DO, but failed miserably. An later, the Sega Saturn was also a failure. The interesting thing about this mid 90’s generation of consoles is that the Nintendo 64 (N64) did not use CDs, still relying on cartridges. The N64 was still a huge success offering a great collection of games and could support up to 4 players joining in one game.
Later on came the Sega Dreamcast and so on and so forth. While I kind of strained from he main title of this article, the point is to show you how consoles have evolved over time. The thing is that from the mid 90’s to the computers and consoles evolved at comparable rate. So you are probably still asking “So why the hell didn’t users just use computers?”. Well, here is where the technical part comes in the equation.
One of the first reasons was still simplicity. You could simply buy a console game, insert the cartridge/CD and just play the game. Loading times where minimal (or none at all) and a console controller was easier to use than a keyboard/mouse combo (or at least easier to configure since most games where made for the controller, and there was no keyboard setting required at all). But the truth is that console games where problem free. You will understand what I mean by reading the next lines.
I already said that computers where evolving at the same rate as consoles, but what I didn’t mention was that different companies provided different graphic acceleration solutions like a laptop for adobe. Also AMD and Intel (and even VIA) provided different CPUs. Add to this the not so stable Windows OS (95-98) at that time and you will understand why pc games weren’t problem free.
A computer game was required to run on thousands of different PCs, all different from each other. Taking different driver versions in consideration made the problem even uglier. Sometimes users would buy a game, install it, but when it acme time to launch the thing all they got was a black screen or (if lucky) an error.
So of course consoles were still very popular. Developing a console games was easy since you would only test the game on an unique configuration. As so developers could optimize games for the best experience possible. Even today most console games are bug free although they have grown more complex than ever.
The one on one evolution of PC and console games was drawn to an end in 2000 when Sony released the PlayStation 2 (PS2). Even today the PS2 is one of the most popular gaming consoles on the market, although it’s almost 10 years old. The PS2 had amazing graphics and made users forget about the first PS generation. Game physics looked incredible for that time. The PC was no match when it came to gaming. Since the PS2 also had DVD playback support it was a real success among gamers.
You may have noticed I mentioned something about “exclusive titles”. What are these? They are exclusive games that are only released on one gaming platform. Sometimes a developer may choose to offer a PC version of the game (Microsoft only), but this is done after at least a year from the original game release and no exclusive title developed by the console manufacturer will ever be released on other gaming platforms. So if you’re really looking forward to play such a game, then buying the exclusive platform it was designed for is usually the only way to go.
As you may wonder, exclusive title where another reason why PCs where loosing the battle. More and more titles became console exclusive and even if at some point they made it to the PC, they were poorly ported versions only released to earn some extra money from an already developed game.
Another reason PCs were loosing was the piracy problem. Illegal copies of PC games were used all over the world and companies were loosing money. Of course they didn’t like that so they turned to consoles. Some may know that even console games ha illegal copies, but for someone to be able to play such a copy was difficult and most consoles users wanted in fact problem free gaming. You can see how arguments are building an unfavorable case for the PC.
The Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft X-Box (2001) made things even worse. The GameCube (although not a power house) provided interconnectivity features for up to 16 players at once. And later, in November 2002, Microsoft launched it’s Xbox Live on-line gaming service which proved to be a huge success. Multiplayer was on the loose on consoles and the PC stood by and watched.
Between 2005 and 2006 the world witnessed the launch of next generations consoles, namely the Xbox 360, the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. The power of these machines was more than any computer could match at that time. They offered a huge list of multimedia and Internet features that, for a lot of users, would make a PC absolute.
As you can see the trend when releasing a console is to manufacture something that is way ahead compared to PCs, but before the next generation is announced the current will kind of be absolute compared to PCs. The thing with this is that it makes the computer look bad. You can buy a new console and remain careless when it comes to upgrades for the next 5 to 7 years. This is not the case with PCs. In order for a PC to remain a suitable gaming machine it will need to be regularly upgraded (depending on how much you spend on an upgrade, regular;y could be something between 1 or two years). So you can again get a felling of the “problem free” concept.
Today pc gaming has degraded to such a state that a group of users formed the so called PC Gaming Alliance. Its soul purpose is to resurrect pc gaming by pressuring game developers in releasing their games not only on consoles, but on the PC platform as well. This is obviously stupid, since developers are not obligated to release their games on any platform they don’t consider profitable.
Bottom line is: if you want to play games, BUY A CONSOLE! If you want to do a lot of stuff and sometimes play games, then sure, a PC is fine. Just don’t expect the same experience as you would have with a gaming console.