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Why the next generation of consoles might be nothing but a reason to switch to PC gaming instead

The new console generation, hmmm? Is it coming soon? Is it, Daddy? Is it coming soon? Ooh, exciting! How long do we have to wait? Will the PS4 come with four terabyte Green-ray drives? Will the new Xbox project hologram controls into my mind so that I can socially-network my generic social “experiences” in my social sleep (while streaming Netflix)? Will the Wii U’s innovative new soul-powered controller bring about gaming experiences so sociable and all-welcoming that I actually physically bond with my family. Will it also be more powerful than all of NASA and be so hardcore that Call of Duty goes exclusive, along with all of the rest of Activision forever?

Above: That exciting Xbox 720 "teaser" joke in Real Steel? It did not excite me

You know what? I sort of don’t care at the moment. Even if all of the above were confirmed at E3 2012, it wouldn’t be enough to get me fired up. Because whatever tedious social marketing buzzwords and third-party advertising deals Microsoft decides to build the infrastructure of its new console around, whatever old-tech-repackaged-as-a-new-gimmick Sony steals from Nintendo at the last minute, there’s a fundamental problem with console gaming that I can only see getting worse across the board.

The more powerful consoles get, the bigger and more impressive games can be, the more expensive, duller and samier they actually become. Like a room full of cloned accountants. We knew that higher development budgets would become an issue at the start of this last generation, but the list of devs who've gone under or been forced to lose their identity in order to survive is stark proof of how bad the problem is. Free Radical, Bizarre Creations, Pandemic, Kaos Studios, Rare...

Above: Modern console gaming

Because the more impressive that games can be, the more expensive their development will be, and the less exciting developers will be allowed to be, lest the investment doesn’t pay off. It’s a situation that’s become increasingly troublesome throughout this console generation, and it’s only going to get worse with another one. This is the generation in which high development costs and ultra-closed, ultra-controlled console platforms really started strangling creativity and steamrolling any games not coming from the big publisher model. And if those big publishers don’t drop their insistence on an expensive, blockbuster-driven mentality, console games are only going to get safer and more sequel-centric as they get more expensive.

Medium and small-scale indie development is thriving of course. In fact in many ways it’s doing better than it ever has. But it’s doing so on the PC. Because on the PC, it’s allowed to.

More so than any generation before it, this console age is driven and controlled by the industry big guns. There’s more cross-media marketing than there ever was. There are more promotional deals with platform holders than there ever were. In fact, the explosion of online functionality has given console manufacturers and their partners more control than ever before over what you see and play. Between dashboard marketing updates and console functionality changes, the men with big budget games and big budget suits have more influence over the less engaged gamer than ever. And that’s before you even get into the financial and logistical hoops developers have to jump through in order to even release and support a console game.

Above: A developer pondering a hoop he must jump through

Example: Fresh off his kickstarter success, Double Fine’s Time Schaferhas revealed that even patching a modern console game costs $40, 000. That’s not publishing DLC I'm talking about there. That’s just releasing a patch. This kind of set-up can only ever push smaller, less mainstream developers and publishers out of the race before a gun has even been fired.

Consoles are increasingly a place in which only the big budget, safe bet titles are nurtured. Where once consoles made games more accessible, now they’re the equivalent of an expensive, exclusive, slightly wanky night club. Only the rich, fashionable friends of the management stand a chance of getting in, and once inside the clientèle is so conscious of looking respectably en vogue that everyone in the building stands still, stays sober, avoids doing anything controversial and has no fun at all.

Right, a caveat for the rest of this feature. If you're perfectly happy with glossy commercial games, and if all you want from your gaming is a string of shiny blockbusters and sequels to your favourite stuff, you don't need to bother reading on. But if you want more from your gaming experiences, and if you care about games as a developing creative medium, then just ahead I'll explain exactly why I currently think a move away from console gaming is going to be important to you over the next couple of years. 

142 comments

  • Robelicious - February 19, 2012 8:54 p.m.

    I love my PCs but I find it hard to compare the experience with my consoles. I remember growing up patching everything, tweaking this and that to get games to play, and dreading the games that would not like my video card for some reason. I recently bought a PC that I could easily upgrade for Diablo III but aside from Abobo's big adventure and buying a bunch of cheap games on Steam that sit in my owned games tab, I don't really play my PC. I like turning on my console, putting in the game, installing if it's something I am really serious about, and playing. The patching and the tweaking and the unpleasentness is all taken care of. Unless it is free, completely out of left field, or PC exclusive I simply don't have the time or money to stay on top of PC gaming.
  • Elementium - February 19, 2012 3:40 p.m.

    I think either consoles need to become more free or pcs need to become cheaper. I'm buying a pc for gaming.. Now I know it's not as much if you build your own but buying a premade pc for gaming is expensive.. The day I can buy a pc for 600$ that is already built and plays everything on ultra I'll be a happy man.
  • RedOutlive10 - February 17, 2012 7:12 p.m.

    I was thinking about the increasing prices of console hardware for the manufacturers the other day. If they already sold the PS3 and 360 at release not making any profits, can you imagine the next gen ones? I think this is the biggest reason they want this generation to last for long, they will need quite some money to make the new hardware prices lower than they should, since the big money comes from the royalties of gaming sales. It's also something quite interesting, I don't think there will be a crash or anything but maybe the focus won't be on graphics in the future but in digital stores, selling games directly from the networks and so on.
  • Gruff182 - February 17, 2012 2:22 a.m.

    Good read Hooters. As per usual, a bunch of the disussion comes down to price assumptions which are mostly wrong. Also, no one ever seems to account for the price of the actual games. I play the better version of the same game for ATLEAST £10 less at launch. Add that up over the year.
  • TR4rulez - February 17, 2012 1:13 a.m.

    I have had this feeling that the video game industry was heading for another crash since CoD4 Modern Warfare. Ever since then it has been point blank, about everything covered in this article. Its sucks its disgusting that a medium so many of us love and treasure is coming to this. It was always a buisnes and yet now after 20 some years since the NES revived the industry this is the first generation where the bottom line has been so blatantly made known that it is the first priority. I have a PC and I am quitsure that is where I will be, as well.
  • fortheroflz - February 16, 2012 6:26 p.m.

    i am switching over to pc gameing anyways, tired of spending 60 bucks a game and 30 bucks for live every 3 months. if anyone can help me find or tell me how to make a very good ameing computer that isn't 1000s of dollors, thatwould be apressiated
  • coltsfanca - February 20, 2012 9:33 a.m.

    PC Games are also 60 bucks a pop, Online play on the Playstation 3 is free, and too bad...a good PC for gaming usually costs about $1,000 minimum unless you get a great deal, upgrade an old computer, or buy a used one. And I'm not trying to troll...but learn to spell.
  • mentalityljs - February 16, 2012 5:37 p.m.

    Well said David, well said. My PS3 stays in the livingroom for Netflix and gets about as much game play as a benchwarmer, my PC does all the rest, just short of making me food. If you're a console gamer and have a newish/decent PC, I suggest joining the Steam comminity (ie buying Left 4 Dead 2) and see if you don't get more involved than XBL or PSN. With PC, you literally have everything at your fingertips, plus no yearly GOLD or PLUS subscriptions!!!
  • matthew-baker - February 16, 2012 11:02 a.m.

    www.hardware-revolution.com I was able to build a computer valued at around $2,000 for about $1,100 after tax and everything. I play every game I have with maxed settings--Skyrim, Arkham City (no dx11 initially due to bugs), rift, tor, fallout new Vegas, and the list would go on if I could remember other titles I have.
  • Megazell - February 16, 2012 4:52 p.m.

    With the right rebates, deals and coupons lined up you can get a killer rig for away under $500 + have it bundled with games. It's all about timing and whether or not you want to build the rig yourself or get it pre-made.
  • purple_omlet - February 16, 2012 4:42 a.m.

    I love console gaming. I have always loved it. Since my NES, I can't put the controllers down. That being said, I am not excited for the next generation. Microsoft is going to fuck us over, and that's become very apparent from how they've already started. Nintendo has moved into the casual market and doesn't look like it's going to move from there any time soon. I don't care for Sony and I don't know what they have planned. I also don't really like PC gaming. The PC gaming community is full of snobs that have their heads up their asses. Elitist jerks that I don't want to play with. Plus I'm shit with a mouse. It seems that for people like me, there is only going back to old video games because the future of gaming looks so bleak.
  • Andy_117 - February 16, 2012 6:33 a.m.

    "The PC gaming community is full of snobs that have their heads up their asses. Elitist jerks." Unfortunately, I think you'll find that they are the vocal minority in this case. The silent majority are very much just normal people who play games on PC. The elitist jerks aren't worth your time, but with servers on PC, it's easy enough to find a group of people you'll enjoy playing with anyway. It seems a bit of a misconception that PC gamers are "elitist". Most of them own a good mid-spec PC and at least two consoles because, that's the thing, they're not "PC gamers". They're just "gamers". They like playing games. And being shit with a mouse is no excuse either. Plug in that Xbox pad to your PC and you're good to go! There we go, I just dispelled the two problems that made you not play on PC. You may call me Jesus. ...or not. Actually, I'd rather you not.
  • purple_omlet - February 18, 2012 2:38 p.m.

    Thank you Jesus.
  • nathstyles - February 16, 2012 3:56 a.m.

    This couldn't be more timely for me - between Skyrim, Humble Bundles and a bit of Civ I have been glued to my PC for gaming for months now. The last game I played on console was Arkham City and that really is the only calibre of game that seems to be able to distract me at the moment. While we can all see console gaming isn't in a crisis (well apart from creatively perhaps)it will be interesting to see if there is a more widespread decline in interest amongst the gamers that do enjoy a wider range of experiences. The problem is that people like us aren't really the core of the market any more, or at least we certainly aren't seen as such. Gaming has always been a business - the problem is in the COD era it is big business and look where that has taken mainstream Hollywood's creativity.
  • Shinn - February 15, 2012 9:12 p.m.

    The only time my 360 sees use is when I want to play something with my girlfriend, for finish an exclusive storyline I've been emotionally invested in for years. The only advantage a console has, as far as I'm concerned, is its social ability. I can play Halo with my girlfriend next to me, I can throw in Gears when a mate comes over. But we are seeing games which get this simple advantage wrong more and more often. Having a co-op mode that isn't local as well as lan or xbox live is pointless. My girlfriend does not have her own 360, my friends at different universities will not be heading home to pick up their 360's before they visit me. It's getting ridiculous, a console these days is just a disproportionately expensive pc dedicated to running games poorly.
  • xarab4lyfex - February 15, 2012 9:08 p.m.

    While PC gaming is more advanced and becoming better than console gaming, it's just so damn expensive. Not everyone has a thousand dollars to spend on a gaming pc. I'd rather just pick up an xbox or a ps3 for $400 which is much cheaper. So what the games aren't as pretty. I think the idea of graphics are a little overrated anyway. I don't wanna spend hundreds of dollars every year just to upgrade my pc, just so I can actually play them/look prettier. Plus that would just totally erase going over a friends house and playing some games with them, even though it's a dying breed, is still not cool. Plus, while the pc does have unique exclusives, I'd still prefer the exclusives on the consoles/mobile consoles like uncharted, gears, resident evil, pokemon, Okami and other stuff. Plus I doubt we'll ever see any Mario or Zelda game on anything other than a nintendo console and I doubt I can without those games.
  • aaron-pan - February 15, 2012 9:55 p.m.

    For about $500ish you can get a decent video card to go with your computer to run all the current games decently. Not only that but the PC can be hooked up to your TV and also be used for anything else you want like surfing the internet, watching movies, or what have you. People forget that theres a lot of games that are blockbusters being ported to the PC, and therefore PC games have been hindered by the consoles themselves in terms of graphics despite still being better. Right now it is cheaper than EVER to get a gaming rig.
  • xarab4lyfex - February 15, 2012 11:12 p.m.

    Yea and that's why I've contemplated switching to pc gaming. And if this was a few years ago I might have done it. But now im in college, on a college budget, so yea =/. I don't have time to deal with a pc and downloading and steam. Even if it's easy and considerably cheaper, it'll never be simpler than just buying a game, putting it in the tray and start playing on a console.
  • DukeNukeThem - February 16, 2012 1:17 a.m.

    To buy a gaming PC here in the UK it costs about £1500-£2000, thats about $2500-$3000. It may be cheaper than ever but still way out of my price range.
  • Jcookie11 - February 16, 2012 2:23 a.m.

    I've always thought this too, but i looked into it a bit further and you can get a really decent P,C if you're willing to put some time in, to build it yourself. If you build it yourself you can cut out the crap that some PC makers include such as unnecessarily flashy cases. it makes the whole thing a lot cheaper; you can get a normally £800 PC for about £250. its also surprisingly easily to put it all together, as i'm sure you know, there are loads of videos on the internet and guides to help you.

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