September 28, 2012

Gaming: PC vs Console

From time to time I have this eternal debate "PC vs Console", and I'd like to explain my point of view here. But before starting, I'd like to change a little bit the definition of both sides.

By PC I mean the typical $1300+ gaming machine, with SLI, huge amount of RAM, amazingly fast CPU, etc... And by console I mean PS3 or XBOX360. Sorry for the other consoles, they just won't play any role in this debate.

I'll start with the strongest argument that PC gamers have: Graphics are amazing on PC

Yes, of course they are! If they weren't you'd have a $1300+ taping machine! But do you know why graphics are that good-looking? It's because you have the money necessary to buy the hardware that will make that game run smoothly with good-looking graphics.

When a game company finishes developing a game, that game is tested and MR, RR and OR are chosen. (MinimumRecommended and Optimal Requirements). That means that the company can increase the MR, RR and OR whenever they want.

What does that mean? That means that you must upgrade your PC from time to time to get the gaming experience that you're looking for. And that from time to time is a period of time around 1.5, maybe 2 years.

On the other hand, you have consoles. You buy a console with certain hardware and you can't upgrade it in any way. In fact you can't even open the console without voiding the warranty. And because of that, game companies are forced to optimize everything so the end product (the game) will run as smoothly as possible on that specific hardware. And that means that you'll end up with a game running on, in the very worst case, 30 FPS, which isn't bad at all, with decently good graphics. The phrase decently good graphics doesn't sound too well, so let me explain it to you in another way.

Let's say we're in 2007, PS3 was just launched. You get a PS3 (at that time for ~$600) and a PC for around ~$1300. The PS3 has a RSX chip, so you're basically running a NVIDIA 7800. The PC has something a little bit better, as it cost twice the PS3. The really high-end series back then was the 8800, but the 8800 GTX cost was at 650$, so we need to look for something a little bit cheaper for the example. The 8600 GT cost was at 350$, so let's assume that you're on a SLI of 8600GT. That leaves us 600$ for a fast CPU, motherboard, RAM, power supply and keyboard and mouse (your console includes a joystick, so it's reasonable to include the price of a keyboard and a mouse in the price of the PC). According to Wikipedia Core Duo (and Quad, which we won't discuss as the price was really high back then) was just released, so let's assume that you're on the fastest Core Duo that you were able to buy for $400 (you spent around $200 in the other things your PC needs).

So, let's resume all that stuff. You have a new PS3, and a PC with a Core Duo CPU, 2GB RAM, and a SLI of 8600GT cards.

Games back then were looking really good in your PC, right? Your PS3 wasn't bad too.
Let's jump to actual dates (year 2012).

According to Game-Debate your PC won't be able to run Black Ops 2, as it needs a GT430 as minimum and DX11. I'm sorry for that, bad luck. Let's see what does says about the PS3 version. Oh, it says that it's supported.

Ok, maybe that was a little bit unfair, let's get back to the Black Ops 1. Again, according to Game-Debate you'll be able to run it at minimum graphics. Meanwhile your PS3 runs Black Ops 1 at a pretty good FPS rate and graphics aren't bad at all.

But why? you'll ask. Easy. When a game company releases a game for the PC platform they can't optimize it that much as there are infinite combinations of different hardware. But there's only one possible hardware configuration on the console they're aiming at.

That's the exact same problem with the iOS vs Android performance debate (future post). iOS feels so much smoother and stable because everything is optimized for that hardware, while Android needs to fit on 1000 devices.

Basically, the "PC graphics are better" point is valid only if you can include in the same phrase "if you have the money to buy new hardware every ~2 years".

Doing some basic maths gives us a total cost of ~$3900 for the 3 upgrades you would have done to your PC vs the exact same amount of money you spent when you bought your PS3: $600.

I don't know if other console gamers think the same way as I do, but one of my favorite things about playing on a console is the easiness you do everything. I mean, those are the steps I need to do to get a new game running on my PS3:

  • Buy a game.
  • Go home and insert the disc.
  • Play. 

This might be expanded with a couple of if's, like upgrade the PS3 firmware if there is an update and update the game if there are any patches. Anyways, both things don't require anything else from me than accepting the EULA. Once that is done I'm ready to play.

Let's see how things go on the PC:

  • Buy a game.
  • Go home, and start installing.
  • Install .Net Framework (replace with any other framework if you wish so) for the installer/game/anti-copy system/whatever.
  • After 10 minutes and 1 restart, continue the installation.
  • Enter the 40 digits long serial number. After 5 minutes and 3 retries because of typos go to next step.
  • Watch at the screen while my entire game is copied on my HDD.
  • Create an online account to play the game offline. And an active non-interrupted connection online should be available, or else the game will quit.
  • Play.

This might be expanded with an extra upgrade the graphics driver because <...technical explanation here...>. And it could be expanded with your perfectly legal and valid drive emulator isn't compatible with the games protection, please remove your perfectly legal and valid drive emulator software message.

The second favorite argument that PC gamers use is: "Nothing better than a keyboard and a mouse".

Well, yes, this is correct for FPS and strategy games, but any sports game is better with a joystick. So, this really depends of the type of games you play and the way you like playing them.
I, for example, like playing FPS games with joystick, as I play them just for fun, and I don't mind ending with a result of 0 - 30. And I'm really comfortable playing FPS games while I'm in my bed, and that's something that you can't do with a keyboard and mouse (even if they are wireless).

The third and last big argument that PC gamers use is: "I can do other things while I play games".

Yes, of course you can! If you couldn't you'd have a $1300+ console!
Anyways, this argument isn't that good as it could sound. In fact, it's really overrated!
I mean, yes, you can play your favorite game while you're on facebook/twitter, listening to music, maybe talking with somebody on skype, writing your essay and ... But then, are you really enjoying your game?
Because that's just multitasking without enjoying.

The only thing I miss on my console while I play games is listen some music, but that's really easy to fix. It's called a MP3/MP4 player. Yes, of course, you can replace that with a phone, a computer, or whatever will play Justin Bieber Hannah Montana your favorite group.

Also, most games aren't that easy to minimize or hide as they switch the resolution, make your entire system slower for a few seconds, etc... Switching between your game and whatever else you're doing isn't smooth at all. So that's just another problem.

All those problems are caused by the "the lesser things a device does, the better it does them" rule.

So, to sum up:

  • PC - good graphics at the cost of a lot of money. Good control in FPS and strategy games, but not that good control in sport games. Gaming process can be as easy as on a console but because of DRM and a few other technical problems, in may turn into a real die-hard-challenge. Multitasking.
  • Console - decent graphics with just one initial cost and good control in sport games but not that good control in FPS and strategy games. Gaming process can't be easier.