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Op-ed: Is Your Next Gaming Console a PC?

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 13:46 — TANK

I left PC gaming on November 15, 2001 with the launch of Microsoft's Xbox gaming system. I believed in Microsoft's pedigree in the gaming space back then and their ability to build networked systems and data centers. Both of which would be key to realizing their vision for Xbox Live which released a year later and recently celebrated it's 10th anniversary. I had been totally dedicated to Xbox gaming ever since, that is until part way through 2012.

 
                                                                                    Is this the future of gaming?
 
There's no question that gaming over the past 10 years changed a lot. It's big business now and that's probably where most of the problems stem from. We're seeing many innovations in the PC gaming space that we aren't seeing on the consoles such as “Free to Play,” the rise of innovative games from small Indie developers and MMOs, which aren't new, but still aren’t readily available on consoles. 
 
In the meantime, I believe consoles are starting to show some significant issues. Online cheating is just as bad as it was on the PC. Patches cost money to deploy so it takes much longer to get them if we get them at all. PC’s always had active modding communities extending the life of your favorite games, correcting flaws and making them look better. We get little to no support for that kind of thing on consoles aside from a few experiments. Now we're starting to see schemes like season passes for DLC, online pass tokens and increasing fees just to play multiplayer. All this on top of the extra $10 for the console version over the PC version. As a console gamer I feel like publishers have leeches permanently connected to my wallet.
 
     
                                                                                    Or is this the future of gaming?
 
In the past ten years though, Valve changed the face of PC gaming.  Many of the features that drove me to console gaming like friends lists and later, matchmaking, in-game voice and chat as well as achievements are all available on Steam. Valve also released VAC, an automated anti-cheat system that detects and takes action against online game cheaters. Steam eliminates the need to go to the store since you just download your game-in some cases you can pre-load the game so on launch day it’s ready to go, no waiting. Valve also rolled out their big screen interface designed to make it easier to game on the largest screen in most houses effectively freeing you from the typical desk/chair PC gaming setup. EA understands the potential and launched Origin to compete with Steam, and although not yet as feature rich or clean, the competition should drive innovation. PC gaming is still not all roses though, you still have drivers to maintain and since PC is an open platform, not all games take advantage of all the features Steam offers.
 
In the past ten years we've also seen the birth of the tablet PC. These devices allow gaming on a larger screen than traditional portable systems and games are generally very inexpensive.  Tablets are starting to feature quad core processors with combined GPUs that can pump out amazing graphics at a very reasonable $200 price tag.  Since this is really a new market though, it lacks a lot of the extras of PC or console gaming such as friends lists, achievements, multiplayer internet gaming and other social gaming aspects. That's not to say there aren't any multiplayer games-there are. Apple is trying to bring some social gaming aspects to iOS with its Game Center application and Steam is also available in a more limited capacity on both iOS and Android. Overall though, tablets are not quite up to par in these areas but you do gain game anywhere portability.
 
The Real Future of Gaming?
 
At this year's Consumer Electronic Show, two new gaming devices debuted that really caught my interest.  Both Razer's “Razer Edge” gaming tablet/PC and Xi3's “Piston” have me questioning what I really want out of a next gen gaming system.
 
Razer Edge-The “Razer Edge” is a PC Tablet running a full desktop version of Windows 8. It is equipped with a dual core i5 or i7 with 4-8 GB of RAM and an NVidia GPU with 1 or 2 GB of RAM. This is a work horse of a machine for any class of PC device, but the fact that it's all crammed into a 10" tablet is engineering awesomeness.
 
 
With this device you can buy AAA quality games ONCE and play them in the living room console style, play the same game on the go or set it up and play PC style with a keyboard and mouse. The Edge also features a mobile gaming platform accessory with thumb sticks on either side-which I think is kind of ridiculous but also innovative at the same time.
 
 
Combine all these features with Steam, a couple Razer controllers and this is a VERY compelling consideration for a next gen gaming system.  Not only is the Edge a fully functioning Windows PC, it plays today's hottest games and you can take your games and play them on the go!  With a full set of accessory attachments, this is one very versatile package.   
 
Xi3 Piston-Valve is heavily backing Xi3's development of this small PC called the “Piston.” Details are scarce on exactly what the specs are of this box, but it's intent is clear, a console replacement bringing PC and Steam gaming to the living room.
 
 
 
The Piston is expected to be similar to Xi3's current "x7a" line of gaming products offering dual and quad core AMD processors, ATI GPU, SSD, USB3, HDMI and eSATA.  Looking at the back of the Piston, it seems to have dual video ports and fiber out for audio. While this doesn't offer gaming on the go like the Razer Edge, it looks like it'll also be a full Windows 8 PC and would be easy to travel with and hook up to a screen at your destination.   
 
All that being said, with new consoles on the horizon I find myself at an interesting crossroads in 2013. Do I really want to buy Microsoft's next console and maintain the status quo that I've kind of become bored with over the past year? Or is this the ideal time to take stock of all the innovation and question if console gaming is really where it's at anymore.

 

Comments

Great article and very relevent when it comes to the changes the industry is seeing currently.   I built my first gaming PC in over 10 years last May and it has been the best gaming investment I have made in many years.  The next generation for me will probably be Nintendo and Sony only when it comes to consoles.   My PC will handle all the 3rd party needs I have while the Wii U and next Playstation will simply be there for the exclusives.  Microsoft will have to show me something very substantial to make me deal with there nickle and dime tactics when it comes to gaming on the Xbox.  

LocGaw's picture

This is a great topic. Awesome read Tank.

 

I too am in the same boat. It will be very tough to stick with a console.

Doodi's picture

Fantastic Article and strikes a huge cord with me.  I'm just not a console gamer anymore and there is so much more value in PC right now.  Same price for Farcry 3 with a 3rd of the graphics?  Fuck that.  I truly believe that is Valve bridges the gap with the Steam Box we could finally remove the barrier of PC-to-Console.  

DEEP_NNN's picture

I just can't get excited about this new Piston or anything quite like it. I got so thoroughly fed up with PC gaming and all the headaches it caused trying to make games work while maintaining a safe fully operational home computer. If this represents Valve's idea of a console then no thanks. There's already three big players in the major console market and and hundreds of gaming devices for shit ass little time waster games. I don't need yet another console and I like to keep my PC's separated from the headaches of constant hardware changes of gaming.

Piston might look good out of the box for one year but what about the next? XBox 360 and PS3 are still reliably here after +7 years and I have a reasonable hope the next generation of these consoles will provide similar service.

I'm keeping my spigots closed to Valve.

Nice write  up though. :)

ChunkySoup's picture

Tank,

This was a great write up and sums up my feelings as of late as well. I too left PC gaming for the original XBox a couple months after it launched.Four player co-op and Lan tournaments for Halo were too much of a draw to pass up.

I come back every now and then for games like Starcraft and Diablo...even a little Guild Wars from time to time but it doesn't last long. I think it's my setup more than anything else. My couch and big screen setup is way more confortable than my desk.

I have tried many times to bring the PC into the living room and while it works as an HTPC I have never had success with games. In my opinion it was the mouse/keyboard interface that wasthe stumbling block. However, bring that Razr-Edge into the mix with Steam Big Picture and a couple controllers and I think I could get back into this.  

webmonkee's picture

My first gaming PC was a TRS-80. All through the NES amd Sega and PS1 and 2, I kept on gaming also on the PC. The XBOX spelled the end of PC gaming for me eventually, when the first game came out that I would havehad to buy a new graphics card for. it also used ot get old to lose thegame simply because the other guy had better specs.

I understand the point of nickle and dime-ing with XBOX, but it's still typicially cheaper than hardware upgrades every year. While I miss the mod community from PC games, I don't think I posses the dexterity anymore to game witha keyboard and mouse.

I'm not sure what the next gen consoles might bring, but I think they might be wise to take quite a few notes from the PC world.  First, consoles need to be a lot smaller. Second, they need to be upgradable for a non-ridiculous price. I'd buy a new card or processor for my console every couple of years if the games made huge advances. Third, consoles need to allow for a modding community. Mods in the PC world are fun; in the console world they are cheating. Why can't a Call of Duty game have a locked-down playlist and a community playlist where designers can go way beyond the halo-Esque types of custom games? Fourth, let me buy as big a hard-drive as I want, and make it a standard hard drive, not some proprietary bullshit. I need somehwere to store all those modded versions.

I agree that consoles are on a trip to irrelevancy if they don't break many of their long-held standards. Consoles used to be innovative, they better become so again.

Doodi's picture

Since I've switch to almost exclusively PC I can say that most of what you speak of hasn't existed in PC gaming for a long time.  There is simply no reason to upgrade your machine every year anymore and for right around $600 buck you can get  a fantastic rig with all the other bells and whistles a desktop computer brings.  

Also, in terms of stability companies like Valve have made updates, game purchases, and seamless integration a snap.  In fact given the launch issues of most AAA Xbox titles, I can safely say that patches on PC take a 3rd of the time or less to push out.  This is mostly do to the fact that dev's don't have to PAY Valve money just to get a patch certified and out to their costumers.  This can take Xbox games months to get out.

Finally, PC games no longer require a mouse and keyboard to play.  All of them have a user interface that is ported for Xbox Controls, PS3, etc.  You can play the games in anyway you want.  

Oddly enough, a lot of the things you're looking for in Console games would simply be the same as buying a PC.  Things like updates to hardware, moding community, less restriction, and extremely effective anti-cheating is all built right in.

For me is just seems insane to pay the same price for a AAA title and get half the graphics.  Obviously the next gen will reset this issue, but we'll have to wait awhile.

TANK's picture

Mat Catz announced their new Bluetooth 4 wireless PC gaming controller, so PC gaming in the living room can be a truly wireless experience just like todays consoles.

http://store.gameshark.com/viewItem.asp?idProduct=5618&idCategory=461&sc...

 

 

SirPoonga's picture

With new consoles coming in a year or so it is a tough decision.  I would still go console.  However, *if* the next gen console has the same life span as the current gen then I would think about getting a gaming PC in 3 years.

I thinkt he big problem with this decision is that the PS3 and Xbox 360 are old.  Most games on the PC come from console ports.  Because of this current PC games are being held back because of the console.  Let me give you some examples.

First, everyone in gaming thinks 1080p is what resolution games should aspire too.  The problem is this carried over to PCs.  It is very difficult now to find a computer monitor that has a bigger resolution than 1080p.  In the early 2000s I had a 21" CRT that could do 2560 x 2048.  That's a bit more than the 1920 x 1080 we all think is high res now.  I was running HD computer games back then.

Check out this comparison of Far Cry 3 on PC and Xbox 360.  

See video

OnLive has proven something though, right now streaming games will not work well.  OnLive is a cool concept.  Many of these new "consoles" that are just PCs with some branding on them (nVidia or Valve's console ideas) that stream the games won;t do well until the infrastructure to support them exists.  With ISPs having bandwidth caps and not very many people actually having the bandwidth to support htese it isn;t going to work.  The problem is button lag.  Yeah, casual games don't have a problem.  However, games that require button timing are big annoyance with streaming games.  MLB2k on OnLive is a great example.  Because of the button lag hitting a solid hit every time is difficult.  It isn't consistant.

If the next gen consoles keep up this long life cycle trend I would then say PC gaming isn't that expensive.  You could buy a beefy computer now around $1200 that will play any PC game maxed out.  That sounds like a lot, right?  I don't think so.  How often do you buy a new computer?  I get a new computer every 4-6 years.  That's about as often as I would buy a console.  Now, since I am going to be buying a computer anyways we just need to look at hte cost of turning it into a gaming computer.  Really that just means getting a good video card and maybe some more memory and CPU.  That costs about as much as a console.

I would build a gaming PC.  Building a PC today is easy.  Everything is color coded and only fits in one slot one way.  Find review sites like Tom's Hardware and copy their list of parts exactly.  Right now the sweet spot for price per performance wiht PCs is around $1200.  Any higher than that you are spending a lot of money for a little gain.  

Here's what cool, today's gaming PCs, because of hte influence of consoles, will las tmuch longer than before.  If you plan your parts out correctly you can get away with just buying a second graphics card in 4 years and still have a great system for many years.  That sounds expensive, right?  No, it isn't.  Today's computer can have multiple video card, however, they all have to be the same video card.  nVidia has SLI and ATI has CrossFire.  You link the same card together and they work together.  So, if you buya  $300 video card now in 4 years that will be about $90.  Just add the second card and your gaming PC has extended it's life another 3 years.

Ok, one thing console players say is a big reason they play console over PC is they like sitting on their couch with thier big screen TV.  Here's a benefit of PC games being ports of consoles and most computer monitors being 1080p - the same as your TV.  You can just hook up your computer to your TV.  There's some nice advantages you would get witht hat also,b ut I will explain those later.  You want a controller then, right?  Again, with most PC games being console ports they have controller support.  The Xbox controller is very popular on PCs.  It helps that you can get a wired USB one and Microsoft pushed support for it aggresively.

Why else would you want to hook up your PC to your TV.  Get a TV tuner card, you now have another DVR, one you have complete control over.  You can stream videos in format consoles can't support.  You can make it hte center of a smart home.  Have your lights dim automatically when you want to watch a movie.  Remotely monitor your house.

But what if someone else wants to use the TV and you want to use your computer?  Ahh, this is where modern tech has come a long ways.  Get an inexpensive computer monitor and a wireless hdmi adaptor.  

There is one very compelling feature of consoles in my opinion.  They are party machines.  You can play splitscreen or many games allow multiple people on the same screen.  Many PC games don't do these, even if the console version supports it.  If you play video games with your kids or friends sitting on the same couch then the console really is the only way to go.

I don't think the gap between console and PC will be bridged in this next generation, but it will get much much closer than before.  I still think consoles will be disc based but strongly pushing for digital downloads.  I could see during this next generation of consoles that discs become obsolete (especially as 4k TVs come into play).  I bet by the end of the next generation they will have moved to digital download exclusively.  When that happens there will be no major difference between PC and console gaming.  In fact, by that time, I could see everything going to PCs as Microsoft is definitely pushing for people to have HTPCs in their homes.

SirPoonga's picture

The Razor's Edge is a joke.  It's a neat idea but I don't think it will stick.  It has a nVidia 640m.  That is a pretty weak GPU.  For a 10" tablet that is an amazing GPU.  But for PC gaming it sucks.  I would not go less than 660, highly suggest 670, but if you can afford a 680 go with that.  If I was to get a tablet I would consider it, it is about the same price as any other tablet with similar specs.The Surface Pro is about the same, just not the more beefy GPU.

You know what I would do witht he Razor Edge, considering it has an i7, 8gb of memory, and that 640m GPU.  I would run Minecraft with 256x textures.

ErinAS's picture

One of my friends wouldn't shut up about Steam and finally lured me over there with the promised of old adventure games running on windows 7.  We've had a PC hooked up to our main TV for a long time to play old adventure games in SCUMM, watch DVDs in non-North American regions, streaming stuff, etc. but other than adventure games, gaming never felt right because blutooth mice and keyboards aren't fast enough at the distance my couch is from the TV and wired controllers are PITA.  Ditto the interface needing the keyboard in addition to the controller.

Steam Big Picture and getting the adapter to use a wireless XBox controller for Christmas

http://www.amazon.com/Xbox-360-Wireless-Gaming-Receiver-Windows/dp/B000H...

just changed all that.  In that mode you basically navigate the gaming stuff just like the XBox dash.  I find myself wondering why it won't go into kinect mode :)  We picked up a bunch of geams in the Steam holiday say and so far so good.

My only real hesitation is I still have a place in my heart for physical media (although I do also like Steam keeping all my licenses organized in one place).  I'm trying to break it anyways since i have no more shelf space and the industry seems to heading t he DLC route so I probably just have to get over that no matter what.

It will be interesting to see where platform exclusives end up, trends for simaltaneous release dates etc. end up if PC gaming does starting getting a larger chunk of the market again.

KnightofRedemption's picture

Already made the switch back, I have been rewarded with better graphics, much cheaper games and a much better online experience. I recently picked up a suite of racing games for less than a pint of beer in a steam sale and have other titles less than a year old for less than half price, in some cases much less. It's become a no brainer.

Only thing I do wish is that you did not need to load windows to run the games, just a basic cut down OS dedicated to gaming. That would free up all the resources of my PC to run the game, instead of bolting into windows, but even with that caveat my triple screen gaming PC is my new console.

I would be extremely wary of these new living room pc gaming devices.  Pricey and underpowered are two words that come to mind instantly when reading about some of the prototypes that are out there.  Alienware seems to have the best of both worlds idea so far with there X51 line.  Once again though for that same price diy'd it you could build a pc that would smoke the tires off the specs that they are offering.  I'm curious to see how Valve is going to juggle price/performance when it comes to their answer.   Also are they going to try to cut Microsoft out of the equation with most games needing Direct X and in most cases Windows?   These devices won't penetrate the home console market because your normal households won't pay that much for them vs the current big three.  They also won't penetrate into the enthusiasts market like ourselves who are informed enough to know that a self built or pre built machine will still be the cheaper better performing option.  

TANK's picture

I think it doesn't matter what platform you game on, you need to compromise SOMETHING for that platform.  Game consoles you compromise graphics/capabilities and costs to gain 'it just works' and ease of living room gaming.  Game on PC you compromise consistance across titles and driver maintenance but gain an expandable system that can do much more than game.  You game on a Tablet PC you compromise upgradability and cost but gain versatility in how / where you game.

 

And to pick up on one of Poonga's points, Devs a lot of the time are developing for the least common denominator .  If that is consoles, the need for constantly upgrading PC graphics cards is going to be a thing of the past.  If you have decent 2013 edition of a graphics card for PC, it's probably better than what's been designed into the next version of consoles and should last you thru the console lifecycle for most games especially if they're multi-platform.  The only time you'd have an issue on PC is if the Dev actually invested in producing very high res pc graphics.  But you should still be able to play said game with 'console quality' graphics enabled.

 

If this Razer Edge gaming tablet PC thing takes off, that hardware is static just like a console.  So the issues with drivers and such shouldn't be an issue if this becomes more than a niche product.

B1G_KAHUNER's picture

Until I have an IT guy that I can call at home I'll stick to my console. A PC is obviously the better option, but its very intimidating to someone like me who doesnt have alot of time / know how to deal with the issues that can arise.

TANK's picture

Ya, there's no denying the 'it just works' factor of consoles.  That's one of their upsides.

sleepInsom's picture

I quit PC gaming back in about 2008-2009. It was a pretty low point for PC gamers back then, and despite PC gaming bouncing back it's hard for me to go back to it. College me could spend hours researching GPUs, CPUs, mobos, types of RAM, cooling solutions, and all the hardware I needed to get the most out of my games. College me could update drivers, roll them back when a new game didn't work properly with them, tweak config files, and spend hours troubleshooting an obscure problem only me and 5 other people on the planet were experience. There was definitely something empowering, as a gamer, building your own rig and overcoming a slew of obstacles to make your games work for you. Now? I have to balance a full-time job, a girlfriend, social life, continuing education, and adult responsibilities. In other words, I don't have a lot of free time.

Popping a disc in my Xbox and playing a game without needing to tweak a dozen graphics options is much more viable for me. Plus, I've grown to hate gaming with a mouse and keyboard. I know you can hook up your computer to your TV and use an Xbox controller, but keeping my PC in the living room and using a mouse and keyboard to navigate Windows on my cocktail table isn't something I want to do. I'll always have respect for PC games and PC gamers, but with the narrowing between consoles and PCs in terms of graphics and experiences, I'm finding fewer and fewer reasons to go back to PC gaming full time.

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