A console gamer would not have to worry about whether or not his machine is capable of running his game. Going to a gaming party, he need not have to lug around a rig weighing more than twenty pounds, along with a keyboard, mouse, LCD screen, and various plugs. If he needed to bring anything, it would probably be a bag of Doritos and maybe a controller if the party was running short. In any retail game store, console games are in full display, while the PC section is unceremoniously cordoned off to a tiny corner like a bargain bin.
In spite of all of the above, it seems that PC gaming is alive and well, and even outperforming the console market according to the likes of David Cole from DFC Intelligence.
While Digital Rights Management (DRM) was begrudgingly accepted by the PC community, it was absolutely rejected by its console counterpart; Microsoft changed its used-game policy for its Xbox One following a major uproar following E3 2013.
Digital distribution became more necessary for the PC, as most developers took notice of PC gamers pirating their products with impunity; Cliff Bleszinski vowing never to port the second and third Gears of War games after the first game got pirated in record numbers.
Some developers have tackled the issue by requiring the user to install software such as Starforce or forcing the user to constantly be online as was the case with Command and Conquer 4. Other developers got creative and forewent restrictive software, only to deploy punishing elements in the game that would seriously dampen the experience, such as the invulnerable, incredibly agile scorpion monster in Serious Sam 3: BFE, and a major decline in sales for the player in a Game Dev Tycoon, obviously because the “game” that the player is “developing” is being pirated.
Other developers realise that some gamers just do not want to spend a dime on the core gaming experience, and thus games such as League of Legends and Mechwarrior Online were released, only charging players for personalised features that are unessential to the main experience.
The same cannot be said for the console market; Sony’s PSP Go, a version of their portable handheld that went download-only, was discontinued in 2011. The newest Killer Instinct, the most prominent example of a console free-to-play game is more a glorified demo whose full version can be purchased at market price, and it remains to be seen as to whether or not it will be successful.
Nevertheless, it is much harder to steal a console game than it is to steal a PC one; the latter only needs an access to a file-sharing website and a client to download the files. The former needs to modify the console, something that requires advanced techniques such as soldering a chip into the board, and even then, there is a great chance that he might find his subscription to Xbox Live or Playstation Network terminated. Of course, a console gamer could just do things the old-fashioned way and rob a gaming store, but that usually does not turn out very well.
Yet, it is not easy to play a PC game. By its very nature, a PC is complex, and therefore games for that platform must maintain that same complexity. Console players are not able to adjust the resolution to their liking, or download third party mods to enhance their experience. Xbox 360 and PS3 gamers bemoaned the fact that they were unable to marry Serana from the Skyrim Dawnguard DLC, but PC gamers were able to circumvent that restriction with a booming mod community providing several solutions.
It could be argued that Dragon Age II was developed with console gamers in mind; some of them complained about the predecessor’s gameplay being too clunky. They were only able to access a few spells at a time, the combat was done on a strange rotation mechanic, and instead of taking all the enemies at once, the console version had to send the enemies at the player in waves.
There is also the issue of scrolling through the various menus, whether it was the inventory or the dialogue options, one flick of the analog stick at a time. One can surmise that the Dragon Age II got a worse reception because it did away with the depth that was included in the PC version. No more customisable armour for party members, no more tactical view, and the dialogue tree was curtailed into a Mass Effect-style dialogue circle.
It goes without saying that PC gamers are largely pretentious, believing console games to be inferior and dumbed down versions of what they can easily play on their own platform. No matter how much more advanced consoles are becoming, the PC version will always boast better graphics. There will always be a slew of extra features for the PC version, unless the developer decides to release a “Director’s Cut” for consoles.
Console gamers would fight back such condescension by pointing out that while PCs crash, slow down, and catch viruses, such catastrophes are rare for a console (unless it’s an Xbox 360). They might also argue that is also easier to figure out a controller than attune to a mouse and keyboard. There are approximately 16 buttons on an Xbox 360 controller. A keyboard has at least 61 keys, and that is not counting the three buttons on the mouse.
But it seems that for simple experiences, people are looking elsewhere than dedicated game consoles. While gaming on mobile devices was seen as a joke ten years ago (hello, nGage), the advent of iOS and Android have introduced tablets and smartphones that are able to run more than just Snake. For simple gaming experiences, more are turning to iOS and Android for the likes of Candy Crush, and 2046. While the PC occupies the in-depth gaming experience and the smartphone and tablet take up the simple, low-commitment experience, consoles occupy a middle ground, offering a comprehensive experience that requires an attention span beyond five minutes. Nevertheless, that middle ground is uneasy, and people seem to desire an in-depth experience or a simple experience, not both.
Perhaps these fundamental changes in the industry have turned the tables and allowed the PC market to gain the upper hand by adapting the changes that the console industry could not.