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November 17, 2006


Nathan Mates

You're not the first to ask "why get a console when computers are cheaper/better/easier to upgrade?" And I really doubt you'll be the last. Having been on the sidelines of many of these debates, here's my summarized version of the debate. (Disclaimer: I make games for a living, and for both consoles & PCs.)

Console plusses:
- Games "just work." Because games must be approved by the console maker (Sony, Nintendo, MS), then that's an additional level of sanity and stability checks. Also, traditionally, console games couldn't be patched, so there was a greater emphasis on making it work.
- A lot of people have larger TVs than computer monitors. Almost always, nicer seating in front of their TVs than computers.
- Consoles have supported 2-4 way splitscreen multiplayer out of the box, making "social" gaming more accessible.
- Certain types of games, especially the fighting genre (e.g. Street Fighter, Tekken, Soul Caliber), party games, RPG (e.g. Final Fantasy) are much more prevalent on consoles.

PC plusses:
- Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. You can upgrade your hardware at will, and download a LOT of shareware/demos for free. There's a bit more innovation by hobbyist coders on PCs.
- If you spend $$$, you can usually get hardware that'll push more polygons at higher resolutions/qualities than consoles. A system for the same price of a console will tend to not be as pretty as the console.
- Certain types of games, especially the RTS (e.g. Command & Conquer, Starcraft, Warcraft 1-3), and Massively Multiplayer (e.g. Everquest, World of Warcraft) are much more prevalent on consoles.
- Online multiplayer tends to be more prevalent on PC games, with more games supporting that, and of more players than on console games.

As someone in the industry, I get a lot of questions saying "what system(s) do you recommend buying?" My answer is pretty general -- figure out what games you like playing, and figure out what system(s) support that best. Game systems aren't interchangeable. My list above should demonstrate consoles vs PCs. Even within consoles, each has its strengths and weaknesses -- e.g. I think that the PS2 is better for RPGs, XBox 1 better for sports, Gamecube for party games. There's some cross-polination, where games that don't normally play to a system's strengths still get made. My second rule is that a system has to have 5 games I want to play before I'll buy it. That prevents me paying the early adopter premium, but wait for prices to come down a bit.

Nathan Mates

Just a few more points I forgot earlier:

Console plus:
- "It just works, quickly." Because there's almost zero variation in consoles, if it works on one, it'll work on all of them. No driver hassles, no patches (slightly less so these days), no problems. Also, there's no need to install a game -- just stick it in, and you're at the menu in ~30 seconds, and can be playing in under a minute.
- Also, since things work on all, then graphics can be optimized for that system. PC games (except for some marquee titles) try and work pretty well on 2-year old hardware, as that's where the biggest marketshare is. The latest and greatest (and $$$) graphics hardware usually isn't taken full advantage of by games that are released about the same time.

PCs plus:
- Game modifications (aka MODs). A lot of PC games are extensible, so you can download new maps, models, and other fan-made tweaks to games. Or, you can have fun creating them. So, budding artists, programmers, designers can scratch an itch by tweaking games more to their liking, or get a start towards a career in commercial game development.

As I mentioned in passing in my earlier post: at a given price point, consoles will tend to be prettier. If you don't want to spend 500+ on a PS3, you can buy a PS2 for $129, or a Gamecube for $99. Odds are, you can't get a comparable PC for that kind of $ unless you're dumpster-diving. A $500+ PC will be pretty good at games (especially if you already have a monitor and that's not included in the cost), but the PS3 has the equivalent of a GeForce 7800/7900 -- a $250+ card, plus a high-end CPU, a ultra-high end Blu-ray drive, etc.


I've got a PC, a Nintendo N64, and a GameCube. When I use the PC for games it's generally because I like having so many options in gameplay. A keyboard and mouse combination gives you a lot of things you can do, and in first-person-shooters, that's a good thing. It's also easier to multitask, perhaps taking a game break in the middle of a project.

On the other hand, computers aren't very good for parties unless you happen to have a bunch of them daisychained together. For games like Madden Football or Super Smash Bros. a controller is much more effective and intuitive.

I think console makers are being foolish in trying incorporate things like DVD players. Which is a better value: a $500-600 system or a $300 system and a $50 DVD player?

Even more, a GameCube costs less than $100 and I bought a used N64 for about $20, as the only games I really use for it are Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart.

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