Two years ago, if you had asked me what I thought about PC gaming, I would have told you it’s irrelevant. I would have said something like Why the hell does anyone want to play on a PC when the console is there, with a compatible controller, and I can just stick it in and have fun. Past me had that kind of mentality.
And, a few short years later, it’s a personal testament to how wrong I can be. Between then and now I built a gaming PC, and it is fabulous. Never before have I known what it’s like to be able to play ANY game. Absolutely any game I want to play. If I wanted to, I could attach four monitors to a computer and play the most insane racing game ever. Or have a 3D monitor. Or a sound system that makes the basement rumble. It’s a completely different world from the console experience. Like watching The Dark Knight in high definition after years of Uwe Boll and Tommy Wiseau films.
Some of the things you can do are truly ridiculous.
And it’s no secret that the console generation is holding back PC gamers as well. It’s not like console games are ugly, but game companies often produce with the minimum abilities of consoles in mind and then try to tack on some extras for the PC crowd.
If you’re into better graphics and way more gaming options, the PC is the way to go, but it’s not for everyone. You do have to build it yourself, unless you buy a pricey pre-build. And even when you build it yourself the the cost of a true gaming system is still substantial. And there’s the matter of how involved you are. A lot of perks you get outside of graphics and loading speeds include game modifications and ancillary products. In short, if you just want to pop the disk in the machine and play the game as is, then the PC probably isn’t for you.
Which is why console developers should start taking their cues from PC gamers.
Wii U aside, the big consoles have been in operation a legendary amount of time. The Xbox 360 has been out since November of 2005. PlayStation 3 almost exactly a year later. That’s 7 years on one platform with several more months before we see something new. The 360 has been out so long that Microsoft redesigned the shell and most of the component parts to accommodate trends like WiFi capability and touch pad controls.
I choose to look at that lifespan the same way I do computers, because that’s what a gaming console really is. Check out these prospective statistics Kotaku has for the upcoming Playstation 4:
- System Memory: 8GB
- Video Memory: 2.2 GB
- CPU: 4x Dual-Core AMD64 “Bulldozer” (so, 8x cores)
- GPU: AMD R10xx
- Ports: 4x USB 3.0, 2x Ethernet
- Drive: Blu-Ray
- HDD: 160GB
- Audio Output: HDMI & Optical, 2.0, 5.1 & 7.1 channels
Hard drive, RAM, GPU–these are the exact same parts you find in a gaming PC, but at lower quality and capability. It should be noted that these are specs for the test kits given to developers so the consumer Playstation 4 could have better, and it’s not terrible. The video card is competitive a 8-core processors are the new standard for high-end computers. The hard drive is garbage but, again, it’s a developer kit. The rest of it is pretty standard, so it’s not altogether terrible.
But it won’t last. The new system could have a shelf life that goes as long as 2021 if it’s anything like its predecessor. Who can seriously expect to have the same computer for 4 years and be able to keep up with the demands of new innovations, much less 8? So why should we have to deal with it in a gaming console when the solution is SOOOOOOO easy and potentially profitable.
I, not wanting to bemoan the creative failures of others without suggesting a solution, have an idea. Why not create modular gaming consoles?
I envision a platform not so different from what we have today, but instead of a single package wrapped in a plastic shell, put different ports on the thing that allow consumers to buy their own components like one does with a PC. People could buy their own RAM and their own Hard Disks and their own video cards and just attach them to the console at the desired capabilities. Basically there would be a standard mother board (upon which all of the parts listed by Kotaku would be mounted), and people would choose how hard they want to game.
The platform companies already do this to a degree. Memory cards and hard drives are detachable from the current generation of consoles. And, there are all kinds of accessories for controllers and such.
So Microsoft and Sony could sell games in packaging that details minimum system requirements (like PC games do), and when the standards increase, instead of launching a whole new platform they could just let consumers do the necessary upgrades. Obviously, there are some things consumers couldn’t do on their own, like mount a processor. That’s tedious and easy to mess up. So at some point down the road folks are going to need to replace their system to get a new processor and motherboard, but then they’ll have all the associated parts already, lowering the cost.
This is normally the place where someone would explain that it’s all too complicated and it kill consumer accessibility. And that is correct, to a point. Anyone that doesn’t know the difference between RAM and a hard drive is going to have to catch up. Luckily, most of these things are sold in the home entertainment departments of your various chain retail stores. That means there are already people, trained to sell computers, in the same space as the gaming console ready to answer questions. It’s barely employee training at this point.
This isn’t an attack on the gaming console so much as a critique of the annual launches we have to do every decade. Instead of a big thing where everyone read the reports about how the Playstation 3 is unprofitable or that no one wants to buy the Wii U, there would be a constant flow of money and a more regular interaction with the consumer.
This is a new era. Game consoles sit at the heart of home entertainment systems. Maybe we’re due for a new paradigm.