The next generation of consoles have been announced, and third parties have been developing for them for some time now. They’ve been the source of speculation for quite some time and now we’re finally getting some concrete information on them. Meaning we can finally begin to speculate which will be the victor of this newly waged console battle, but the winner probably won’t be the One or the PS4, it’ll be the PC.
Now I’ll give a moment for the shocked murmuring to die down before explaining why… long enough? Thought so.
1) Superior Hardware
While the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are new pieces of hardware and are vastly more impressive from a performance point of view than their respective predecessors, they’re still nowhere near as powerful as current gaming computers. These consoles use technology from AMD called ‘APUs’ or ‘Accelerated Processing Units’.
Essentially, what this means is that you have a chip with the processor on it, and on the same chip there is also graphics hardware. Now, this is good for a number of reasons – it can reduce power usage since there are less components to power, it can result in very good memory bandwidth to the GPU and it certainly can reduce the price of the console.
But they’re not modular hardware – not that we’d expect that from a console, the main thing about consoles is they provide a consistent experience at a consistent price, however, PCs are modular – and even if the hardware of the PC vs these next-gen console is close now, it won’t be for all that long.
2) Backwards compatibility
Backwards compatibility has been a big point of concern for many over the release of the new consoles – gamers are curious if they’ll still be able to play the games they purchased for the previous console on their shiny new ‘next-gen’ console, and for the most part, the answer is no.
Microsoft with the Xbox One straight out admitted that there were no plans to introduce any kind of backwards compatibility, whereas Sony with the PlayStation 4 admitted there would be backwards compatibility, but only through a streaming service called Gaikai where you’d have to pay for your games again. Yay.
But with PC, your games aren’t going anywhere, hell, the games of the ’90s are still very playable for the most part, especially with some community tweaking. What’s better, we’ll soon reach the level of power needed to emulate the Xbox 360 and PS3, which could work as a backwards compatibility solution for both consoles.
3) Open Systems
Xbox Live costs money, Microsoft have no intention to change that. Why would they? It makes them a sizeable wad of cash. Sony are a little better, their PSN service is free with the exception of a ‘PSN+’ service, but it’s still closed off.
With a PC, there are a multitude of different markets to choose from, as well as the option to not even pick a market at all with games that are completely DRM free – alternatively you could pick to install Steam, or Origin, or even uPlay or Desura. There are many platforms to pick from, and the competition results in benefits for the consumer, with reasonably decent sales abound.
Modding games is largely unheard of for consoles, mostly because it’s difficult with the closed systems that they employ. Modding on the current generation consoles is difficult, and requires you to put things onto memory sticks and transfer files between your computer and console and can be a relatively long and tedious process for no real gain.
However, on the PC modding is a symbol of endless possibilities, able to alter the game – sometimes drastically enough to extend the games longevity by several times. For example, DayZ was a popular mod for the Bohemia Softworks game ARMA2 - and now-commercial game Garry’s Mod started off as a mod where you could attach balloons to things in Half Life 2. Modding adds extreme potential that simply isn’t found on current generation consoles, and won’t be found on next-generation consoles either.
DRM stands for ‘Digital Rights Management’, and I shall set up a small preface in saying this – DRM isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not here to slaughter your sheep, eat your dog or sleep with your wife – it’s designed to stop developers from loosing money on piracy by attempting to block it – it also blocks you from selling on your games as pre-owned in some circumstances.
In the Xbox One, it has been suggested that you are only able to pass on your games to a friend a single time, that the Kinect must be plugged in at all times (with no guarantee that it’s not watching you), and that disconnection from the internet for an amount of time exceeding 24 hours will result in your not being able to play your console.
Now, I’m not saying that PC doesn’t have DRM, it does. Steam is a form of DRM, as is Origin and uPlay, but these services are somewhat helpful (by keeping your games available to download at all times and allowing cloud backups), but they are also completely optional. Some game sites like the Humble Indie Bundle and Good Old Games allow for you to get DRM free versions of their libraries – a welcome addition for computer-gaming-anarchists who don’t-want-yer-restrictions.
6) Indie gaming
Indie gaming is a great bit of the PC gaming market. It allows people to write games for the platform without a publisher and turn their dreams of game development into a playable reality which they can profit from. They could do this by getting onto Steam through the Greenlight program, or onto Origin with their partners program or even by promoting their own website and a DRM-free version. Point is, there’s a multitude and more options for indie developers to take on the PC.
Now, this is where the closed-system lark becomes an issue for the consoles. Since these systems are run by the respective console manufacturers, they have the right to dictate what’s actually put onto these platforms, and for how much. Now Sony has been reasonable with their promotion of indie developers, but Microsoft appear to be making independant development for the Xbox One difficult.
Due to the simple fact that the platform is open, PC will be the system that allows for the most indie games, be they of controversial or ambitious nature, and it will allow them to market it how they want, and where.
7) You probably already have a PC
The last console generation dragged on for quite some time, and a comparatively small but numerically large amount of people adopted the PC as their main source for gaming, and those people would likely have reasonable gaming PCs. Just because the new consoles are coming out doesn’t mean that the PCs that people already own are becoming obsolete.
It’s actually much more likely that upcoming games will run better on current hardware because of better ports – some games are developed with consoles in mind, which is to be expected: they get the most money. However, with the current-generation era, PC generally got the short end of the stick with poor performance on some games, and this is because architecturally the consoles were very different to PC – not this time.
This time: the consoles are using the same standard architecture that PCs use – the x86 architecture, meaning that even if games are designed for consoles and then hastily ported to PC, they’ll likely still be very reasonable versions of the game, and developers that take the time on PC versions will very likely come out with some beautiful games graphically and mechanically.
The idea that playing video games on a PC is slowly descending into being a thing of the past. PC gaming hardware no longer absolutely positively requires a high end graphics card, because the integrated chips that come with relatively modern processors are more than enough for most games at modest resolution.
The AMD APUs puts gaming performance into a single chip and then prices it at £100 ($180), which is perfectly affordable for the masses – and of course Intel are catching up with their integrated graphics also.
Now, while you could blow a fortune on a computer, you no longer really need to for a decent gaming experience, and you most likely need a computer as well as your console, so when combining the price of the next generation consoles and a standard PC, you’d likely find that you’d outclass the console many times if you were to build or buy a PC for that price.
Whatever your preference the future is looking to be good for those who enjoy games, be it that you play on PC, or that you play on console – there will be interesting games and advancements in both fields that will likely blow us all away. The best bit though? Your PC will still be able to play them when the next consoles come out.