Many years ago I was a kid without a game console. I begged. I pleaded. I cajoled. I negotiated. I even attempted to save my own money to buy a bare bones Nintendo Entertainment System. No matter what I did my father always vetoed my console desire with the exact same rebuttal.
“You have a computer. There is nothing a Nintendo or a Sega can do that your computer can’t do.”
And when I would extol the virtues of Super Mario Brothers 3, or any other console exclusive title, my dad would drop some PC exclusive in my lap. Case in point, I was the first kid in my elementary school to ever play Jill of the Jungle, Duke Nukem, and Wolfenstien 3D. Consequentially, I was also the first kid to get sent to the principal’s office for regaling my friends with Nazi killing adventures.
Now, after reading the highlights and watching various clips of Sony and Microsoft’s E3 presentations, I’m inclined to agree with Peter Molyneux’s recent sentiments. The console wars have devolved into a frat boy pissing contest between Sony and Microsoft. There’s nothing genuinely next generation about either of these consoles-who-would-be-king. They seem like little more than content delivery devices for AAAA franchise titles. Whooo Metal Gear Solid 5 you say? This time with less David Hayter? Well I’m sure to jump on that and hump it all the way to the bank. An always on Kinect and games which require a constant internet connection for no reason other than Microsoft’s clumsy attempt at DRM? Nah. I’ll pass.
So you know what, Sony and Microsoft, I’m out. I’m taking my PS2, my Xbox 360 and I’m going home. Twenty some years later you guys have proven that my dad was right. Anything I could ever want to play I can now play on a PC. From both a financial and gaming ideology point of view, it makes no sense to keep picking sides in this pointless heavyweight slug fest.
On cost, allow me to illustrate with an example from six years ago. Back then I wasn’t sure if I wanted a new gaming PC or an Xbox 360. The decision ultimately came down to the fact that in the mid-2000s a game’s development cycle began on the consoles before being half-heartedly ported to PCs. Even a game as brainless as Guitar Hero demanded a top of the line PC because lazy porting from the then powerful Xbox and imposed upon most Pentium 4 systems. Absent today’s vibrant indie and middleweight studio renaissance, and cheap multi-core processors, it seemed stupid to spend $1000 on a new gaming rig when I could drop less than half of that on an Xbox. In retrospect, that initial $400 investment plus six years of Xbox Live Gold fees balances out to what it would now cost me for a decent mid-range system. If we assume the PS4 and Xbox One will share a lifespan similar to their predecessors, either console plus five years of their premium online service puts would-be gamers in the ballpark of spending as much on a console as they would on a PC. Thus does the argument that console gaming is cheaper than PC gaming die.
In terms of digital rights management, which since the announcement of the Xbox One’s always online requirement has become an in-vogue discussion among even the most pedestrian of CoD players, it’s hard to make a case for the PC being second fiddle. Yes, EA’s Origin service sucks the devil’s ass. But Valve’s counterpart, Steam, more than makes up for Origin’s shortcomings in terms of ease of use, a deep game library, an indie friendly distribution model, and an offline play feature.
Superior to both Steam and Origin, and arguably the next big thing even though it has been around for a while, is gog.com. No longer just a vault for Dos Box enhanced versions of old games, which in and of itself is pretty fantastic, there are indie and medium scale publishers that now release directly to Gog.com. And all of the games on there are DRM free.
This means there are publishers out there who actually want gamers to feel a sense of ownership when they buy a game. Though I’m not sure from which magic land of faeries and pixies they hail. Possibly, Seattle?
Even in the darkest days of safedisc showing up on seemingly every PC title, there were always the digital libertarians distributing cracks to work around those control measures. Good luck finding a similar software analogue for the PS4.
From my point of view, the only thing Sony and Microsoft accomplished at E3 is to demonstrate how the biggest parts of the console market are attempting to rebrand themselves as the RIAA: locking down content whenever possible, reminding customers they own nothing but a licence, and generally acting as the gatekeeper through which all fun must flow. Meanwhile PC developers, in spite of stupid things like Windows 8, generally seem more apt to embrace a philosophy of letting end users use the content as they like, knowing full well that if they try to be overly-officious dicks about DRM, they will just drive paying customers to piracy. Granted there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. For example, Blizzard never really gave us a satisfactory reason for Diablo 3’s always online requirements.
It’s time for Microsoft and Sony to stop treating the console wars as a struggle between super powers. They are not the Soviet Union and United States of America, fighting for the hearts and minds of proxy players within their respective spheres of influence. They might be the biggest kids on the block, but the time of their unchallenged hegemony is over. The PC has endured marginalization and now presents itself as a viable third way. For those who still want a controller based experience, the OUYA is branding itself as the people’s console, promising a $100 retail price and games in the $10-$15 range. If Microsoft and Sony don’t react to these developments in a meaningful way, then they will spend the next year alienating more and more people whose first loyalty is to the content, not the console.