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PC vs. Console

A major source of Internet Backdraft, the PC vs. Console wars pit fans of both platforms in battles of nerd rage on forums all over the internets. As with Console Wars, fans of both platforms will argue on which is better for gaming.

  • PC gamers usually cite the computer's modding abilities, keyboard/mouse control along with the ability to use every control scheme you can think ofnote , cheaper games, better graphical capabilities, openness to indie games, free online play, and sheer practicality: ever since the late '90s, the PC has turned from an optional luxury to a necessity for modern life. Usually, it is also cheaper to build a very powerful gaming PC (especially if the more basic PC you have for homework or job-hunting anyway is a desktop model), although pre-built PCs are another story.

  • Console gamers cite ease of use, the "plug in and play" nature of consoles, larger communities, simple (and sometimes unusual) control schemes with the controller, game stability, uniform hardware eliminating concern over technical specs, and easier local multiplayer, especially split screen. They may also cite the ability to resell/buy used games, though that is itself a very controversial issue; let's not get into the Internet Backdraft on that subject in this page.

Naturally, this results in many a Flame War on the web, not to mention high levels of Fan Dumb. According to PC gamers, consoles are holding back the development of gaming due to outdated hardware, while console gamers are either immature adolescents or obnoxious frat boys screaming obscenities into the microphone, too stupid and/or lazy to learn how to use a computer, unwilling to play any game not Rated M for Money, and likely unable to properly type their own name. According to console gamers, PC gamers are elitist nerds with no life who pour hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars into the latest hardware that will be outdated in two years, and consider themselves the glorious master race despite living in their mom's basement. Unfortunately, magazines only reinforce these stereotypes, making gamers who play both or even exclusively one to yell "Stop Being Stereotypical" every time they read the next issue of their gaming magazines.

One thing that's almost never mentioned is the developer's point of view. Consoles are easier to develop for because every single version of that console has (or should have; hard drive size will vary) the exact same hardware and firmware; it's much easier to tailor the game to the platform, and to push the platform to its limits. Meanwhile, the PC world doesn't have standardized hardware; you might be running one of three operating systemsnote , two manufacturers' style of graphics cardsnote , two manufacturers' style of CPUnote , and God only knows what amount of hard drive space and RAM. And to be popular, your game needs to be accessible to as many of these options as possible. Part of the reason that games like Jurassic Park: Trespasser and Ultima IX flopped was because most computers then available could not run them without melting down; likewise, part of the charm of games like League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Sins of a Solar Empire and pretty much all indie games in general is that you don't have to upgrade your computer to run them — you could run them on lower-to-mid-end computers. To further confound it, there's the fact that the PC Format is constantly evolving, and nobody is able to stay "on top", even the most dedicated PC gamers don't bother to stay "on the top" because nobody can afford it. Even buying a dedicated gaming PC can be a lot more expensive than buying one gaming system. Long story short, it's easier to make a game that "a PS3" can run than "computers" can; and in the 2010s, where AAA games have Hollywood-movie-level budgets and expectations invested in them, lower risk and fewer variables makes everyone happy.

On the other hand, while console platforms are easier to tailor a game too, PC's are easier for small indie studios to publish games for with a wide variety of distribution options and technologies available and cheap or free open source game engines and SDKs to work with and no platform licensing fees. The digital distribution model is also more amenable to the smaller cheaper games that indie teams are capable of creating, and these smaller games tend to run well on the lower powered laptops and tablets that are starting to be favored as new hardware purchases. Consoles have been trying to alleviate this problem over the last decade with markets such as XBLA for XBox or the Playstation Store for the Sony systems.

Another thing that commonly props up are issues of cross-generational compatibility. Consoles are rather notorious for requiring one to buy completely new hardware to play the next generations' games, and in only some cases, you can rarely use your new system to play games from the previous generation. (The backwards compatibility of the PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance were touted as selling points for those systems; and the lack of backwards compatibility in the PlayStation 3 caused a lot of Ruined FOREVER cries.) For PCs this is less of an issue, but there have been a lot of bumps. It mostly showed up in recent years, but there have been problems with older games being incompatible with modern systems as far back as the 90s. Some games used to be on different formats, such as floppy discs, and even if you could buy a CD Version, there were still problems with it being unable to run without causing glitches. That is, if you can find them. Some games you just flat-out couldn't buy anymore for various reasons, and if you could get them, you'd have to use an emulator or a lot of fan-made patches so it would actually run and not look really really weird due to the resolution since they weren't made with computers 20 years later. To remedy the problems of backwards compatibility, as well as availability, companies have put up a "virtual console" or "Digital rerelease" version, and the PC in fact has a DOS emulator.

Until it became more common than not to have a console almost always connected to the Internet, PC games had the advantage and disadvantage of patching. Patches for PC games can often add new content and fix game breaking bugs, as well as fix other issues that slipped past the beta testing. The disadvantage of patching is that, for some reason, developers seem to use patches as an excuse to release games half-completed, using the consumers as testers to find issues for them to patch. By no means is this exclusive to the PC platform; it's become pretty much a standard for games to require a couple of patches because they're rarely without a couple game breaking bugs fresh out of the box. (Unless there's an Updated Re-release, like a "Game of the Year" edition, Blizzard's Battle Chests, bundle games, etc.) Currently, there are plenty of clients that automatically patch the game for you, making this better. Bottom line, if you buy a PC game on release, most of the time you can expect to have purchased an invite to the late beta.

It should also be noted that some genres just naturally fit onto certain platforms better. Real-Time Strategy and other Real Time simulations are accepted by most people to be PC-only territory, due to the difficulties with attempting to "click and drag" with a joystick (StarCraft is the most-played RTS in history, but its Nintendo 64 port was a wipe), and trying to do a MMORPG on a console is probably suicidal (Final Fantasy XI has been the only console MMO with financial success). Meanwhile, fighting games belong in Console Country, since those games are designed for local multiplayer, which video arcadesnote  have been offering since the '80s but which PCs only managed around 2006 once HDTV sets became affordable.note  Today, the major battleground is the shooter genres (be it first or third); wars have been fought, only some of them digital, over whether a game's console version or PC version was better. Initially, PCs had the edge, due to the awkwardness of gamepad controls in a shooting environment and the lack of Internet multiplayer, but then dual analog sticks, GoldenEye and Halo 2 came along and collectively made those things work on a console, and from that day forward all bets were off.

Nowadays, consoles and PCs are both powerful gaming machines, capable of online gaming and vibrant effects. It is starting to be unusual to see games exclusive to a platform; releasing a game on not only the PC but multiple consoles is typically where the money is at. This brings us to yet another set of pitfalls: "porting" a game from one system to another. Simply put, it's so easy to do this badly that we have an entire trope for it: the "Porting Disaster." The PC had it so bad that it even has an entire wiki dedicated to fixing these problems, one that's still going strong today.

When it comes to porting a game over from one camp to another, things will go hairy if the port job is half-assed, or if the game in question was never meant to be on the other side. This is especially common with Japanese-developed games, since console gaming displaced PC gaming early on in Japan (where in the 1980s the MSX contended with the Famicom) and ports of those games are sometimes outsourced to Western development teams. Usually though, the PC ends up taking the brunt of sloppy porting jobs, as many games were designed for controller, not mouse-and-keyboard, inputs (though there are plenty of controllers designed to plug into PCs these days including any standard Xbox 360 controller). To PC gamers, this is known as consolitis, where it is claimed that the developers are making their favorite game series easier for the console crowd. If a long-running PC franchise goes multi-platform, the console release often gets blamed for any unpopular changes to the game, particularly those which result in simplification or loss of options.

On the other side of the fence, when PC games try to go over to the console side, things don't always go as well either. Control-wise, there are more buttons on a keyboard than on a controller, and it's almost impossible to translate the speed and precision of a mouse to a pair of analog sticks. As a result, games with a wide range of actions or those requiring quick and accurate pointing don't go over so well on the console. Hardware-wise, the relentless drive of PC component manufacturers to outdo each other results in performance advancements that rapidly outstrip that of consoles, whose specifications remain static for their entire lifetime. A couple of years after the release of each subsequent console generation, even the average Joe or Jane who doesn't care much about gaming often has a PC that is far more powerful (especially if he or she has just bought a new computer), forcing the creators to compromise the console port in ways that degrade the quality of the gameplay experience (such as less-detailed graphics, smaller levels, or Loads and Loads of Loading).

As for the market, it is not as easy to tell, unlike in the Console Wars. While it is fairly simple to measure out the sales for consoles and their games, since the sales of console games is related to sales of the consoles, it is much more difficult to measure it out for PC games, since there are millions of PCs in the world that have never had a game installed on them. And this is just including mainstream PC games. It could be argued that the millions of Farmville players are PC gamers as well (though if you did you might Go Mad from the Revelation). There is also the issue of piracy on the PC side. Developers usually prefer to work more on the console side because it's significantly harder to pirate console games.

One more — and perhaps unrelated — thing to consider is the advent of emulation. If accepted for the sake of the argument, this can easily put the PC over any console it is given the power to imitate. However, there are proprietary and technical challenges when it comes to emulation, such that it is difficult to find working PC emulations for consoles less than a decade old.note 

Chronology and Notable Events

1984 to roughly 1992

Multiplatform galore. Console games (largely a Japanese phenomenon after The Great Video Game Crash of 1983) mostly stayed on consoles, but with few exceptions, every popular arcade or computer game was ported to almost every platform available, even though the common home platforms had widely varying processing power and graphical capabilities, and porting a game to a system with a different Central Processing Unit would likely mean hiring another programmer to recode it from scratch. Still, most computer games were simple in design with relatively unsophisticated 2D graphics, and even arcade driving games built for state-of-the-art dedicated hardware were often ported to far less capable home computers. The gaming audience was diverse enough: some owned Amiga, some owned IBM PC, some owned PC-88; you want to make your games playable in all of them if you want profit. The IBM-compatible PC architecture which would come to dominate computer gaming in the next decade was relatively weak in the 80's, compared to both consoles and other home computers.

1992-2002

With the vast dwindling of competing PC platforms, and flourishing console game development, the port-it-on-everything phase dies off. Both sides pretty much kept to themselves, using the strengths of their platforms to produce games suitable for themselves and mostly not paying too much attention to each other.

The thing that is difficult to believe these days was that during this period, PCs simply were not good enough: accelerated graphic was the exception rather than the norm with the PCs, and developers were not able to ensure that their game run smoothly on PCs. During the first half of this decade, you can't even expect that a PC will have a sound card that works with your game. During the second half of this decade, the jump to 3D happened, bringing to households something that was previously only in arcades and massive rendering facilities. PC hardware manufacturers initially dismissed the idea of PC as serious competitors to 3D gaming consoles, but games like Quake III showed them the potentials. This is also the beginning of the stereotypes: PC gamers must tinker with their rig to get performance that can catch up to PS1, N64, and the like, and they were largely derisive of the kids who simply "did not earn their fun". The console gamers reacted by painting the PC gamers as insufferable nerds with no social life.

Turn of the Millennium

The mainstream success (and profits) of the console market led to PC game developers going multiplatform, while some go exclusive for consoles:
  • Bungie, whose previous games were made for the PC and Apple Macintosh, is acquired by Microsoft in 2000. Halo: Combat Evolved is originally released for the Xbox, and takes almost two years to appear on PC.
  • Epic Games, the makers of acclaimed PC hits Unreal and Unreal Tournament, pretty much goes console-exclusive after Gears of War. There was actually a too-little-too-late PC port, but nobody bothers with it. Similarly, PC gamers became upset when they learned that they would not be getting a demo for Bulletstorm until after the game had come out. You know, because people don't want to test the game before deciding if they want to buy it. Cliff's tweet didn't help matters either.
  • Koei, in the past the makers of many highly complicated strategy games, today are mostly known for Dynasty Warriors and its many spin-offs. Only the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga's Ambition strategy series remain, and to a lesser extent Uncharted Waters.
  • Some time later, the attempt to port some console games to the PC have mostly resulted in bad ports, most notably Halo 2, the first two Assassin's Creed games, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Resident Evil 4, and Grand Theft Auto IV.
  • Modern Warfare 2 was a major front on the console vs. PC debate. Developers of the aforementioned game removed modding tools, the developer's console, and dedicated servers, among other things from the game, making its multiplayer similar to that of the console. In addition, its price tag was $60, which was a console-exclusive markup as far as AAA games go at the time.note  Many big PC games are now sold at this price. Naturally, this didn't go over so well with the PC crowd.
    • The backlash from this was so bad that DICE played up the fact that they had dedicated servers for Bad Company 2 (although they were locked down, unlike the dedicated servers in older PC games). Nowadays, when a game is being released for the PC as well as the consoles, somewhere in the game's fact sheet, dedicated servers are mentioned to be available.
    • Both Call of Duty: Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3 had dedicated servers due to this fiasco. However, in MW3, to actually be able to play on dedicated servers you have to find an obscure toggle in the options menu, none of what happens in a dedicated server counts towards your rank, and it took over half a year's worth of patches before the server browser actually worked, before which it often refused to display any servers for seemingly no reason.
  • Shadowrun allows players on the 360 and PC to engage in competitive multiplayer. The massive imbalance caused by the control differences causes plans for including this feature in future games to be halted.
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was originally planned to allow cross platform gaming between PlayStation 3 players and PC players. To help even out the playing field, PS3 players can use a keyboard and mouse with their console. However, Valve has since decided not to support cross-platform play.
  • Minecraft, a once PC-exclusive game, was announced by Notch (head developer of the game) that the game would also be released to the Xbox 360 with Kinect controls. PC players exploded with fury at the news, saying that Minecraft would now be ruined by retarded Halo/Call of Duty fans who would muck up the Minecraft community with their trollish attitudes and would demand the game to have guns or other things, or were worried that the game would now have even less updates because of how split the development team would be between PC and the Xbox 360. This is after Notch has stated that A) a separate team would be working on the console port while he and his team would focus on the PC version, B) a standard controller would be an option to use should Xbox owners opt to not use Kinect controls, and C) updates were still coming regardless.
  • Console gaming dominates Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and especially the United States and Japan, but the gaming industry in other parts of the world (particularly in Russia, mainland Europe, China, and Korea) is still massively weighted towards the PC, with many commercial titles being released for the platform regularly. Most of the advertising tends to be for console or multiplatform titles due to to the larger potential markets, so now — as always — countless major and minor PC titles come and go without appearing on the English- or Nihongo-speaking radars.
  • Battlefield 3: This has currently been a mixed victory for PC players. On one hand, PC gamers rejoiced when they heard that the PC would be the lead platform, and that the PC version would have 64-player maps, and larger maps than the console versions. On the other hand, backlash occurred when the server browser was stated to be in an Internet browser, rather than in game, and that the consoles would have an in-game browser. The fact that the game is not being sold on Steam has also been a source of Flame Wars on the Internet as well, along with privacy concerns with Origin. The issues with Origin snooping around though can be easily fixed by putting it in a Sandbox environment though. Details on how to do that can be found on the 19th post in this thread.
  • RAGE: PC gamers were upset when it was announced that id Software's latest wouldn't be using the PC as the lead console. Then, when the game came out, it was found that there were no graphics options on PC (other than resolution and anti-aliasing), that the game engine was optimized for home consoles, and most damningly, that stock AMD and Nvidia graphics cards (which dominate the market) had trouble running the game properly and needed to be optimized/patched.
    • One point of contention is the fact that, since the Xbox 360 has just a DVD drive (as opposed to PS3 supporting the comparatively-massive Blu-ray, and PC being able to just download games), every version of the game had to be massively cut down so it would fit on a reasonable number of DVD's for the 360 release.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 already had its share of console version vs. PC version flame wars, but it rose to a new level for the Cold Stream DLC. The DLC was released to the PC players in beta in March 2011 and over time, Valve released ports of the Left 4 Dead campaigns for the DLC in beta as well so players could give feedback on what needs to be fixed. 2012 rolls around and Valve announced in their blog that the DLC is in certification process by Microsoft to which the DLC will be released to the PC and Xbox 360 after it is done along with last minute bug testing. An entire year had passed since the DLC was released in beta and no word has been shown for a release date (due to Valve Time). The long wait has caused PC gamers to blame Xbox owners for holding the DLC back (due to the certification process) while Xbox players flame PC gamers because they feel the PC version is taking so long to test that it's holding the DLC back. It's basically a flame war over which side gets content the quickest.
    • Now that Cold Stream is finally, finally out, many Xbox 360 players are angry about the fact that the Xbox version is releasing a week later than the PC/Mac version.
    • On the other hand, many are excited for the upcoming Linux version of Steam and Left 4 Dead.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The game itself and the DLCs are available for Xbox at least a month before PC due to an exclusivity agreement. What's funny is both platforms are Microsoft.
    • On the other hand, the modding tools are PC-exclusive (which has been the case since Morrowind, the first multi-platform Elder Scrolls game). In addition, Skyrim was the launch bed for Steam Workshop, which allows user-made content to be shared online and added to the game with a single click. The modding community for the Elder Scrolls series is very extensive, and within days of a launch of a game or DLC, modders will have already patched all the bugs left untouched by official patches, which are essentially PC-exclusive.
  • On PC, Civilization is a Long Runner 4X series, much beloved and often known for its complexity and depth. When brought to consoles as Civilization: Revolution? Massively simplified with a very whimsical and cartoony art style. Firaxis may have been making a statement with that.

Steam was released in 2004 to launch Half-Life 2. While initially received with mixed response, with many finding it to be a hindrance to playing games, it gradually picked up greater and greater acceptance over the course of the decade. The digital distribution platform allowed distributors to sell games directly to consumers without going through middlemen - no packaging or shipping or retail stores required. This allowed quick price adjustments, smaller overhead on distribution, and massive, short-term sales. Old games declined in value much faster than console games, with even year old games sometimes going on sale for $5-10 - or even less in some cases. The ease of distribution made indie games much more accessible. The net result was a massive increase in the ease of purchasing games for the PC, a huge number of games becoming available via a single store (which could advertise games for distributors), and incredibly cheap games. Arguably Steam's biggest claim to fame is its sales. Originally it started with sales during the holiday season (typically the last two weeks of December into the first week of January). It soon expanded into the Summer sale, Autumn sale, weekend deals, and midweek madness.

By the end of the decade, Steam had become a major player. Not to say others didn't crop up to compete it, namely Direct2Drive which offered full PC games to download (later merged with video game rental service GameFly) and Good Ol' Games which offered older games that were configured to work with modern OSes.

Another aspect of Steam that sparked a bit of feuds was over time Steam was integrating social features such as a friends system, text and voice chat, and integration in games to send invites. Those from the Xbox 360 crowd were pointing out how Steam was copying Xbox Live (even though services such as Team Speak and Ventrillo existed before hand and quite a few games supported voice chat).

On another end, anytime someone asks if a PC game has controller support, expect PC elitists to come out of the woodwork with varying levels of replies. This has become less of an issue now and days since the PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers can plug into a computer and work right away (the Dual Shock 3 may need tweaking to work) while the Wii Remote can connect via Bluetooth with some tweaking. Ironically, even though the USB specification defines "Human Input Devices" with controllers in mind and Microsoft had a working API for controllers, the Xbox 360 and its accompanying API, XInput, became the de facto standard for PC controllers. Games that have controller support will work with a 360 controller beautifully, while devices that only follow the older API will behave strangely.

The New Tens

With the success of Steam, other publishers tried get in on the act. Sony and Microsoft started to sell digital versions of games on their digital stores, with Sony even creating a version of their PlayStation Portable that forewent the UMD drive entirely and relied on downloading games. EA notably released a competitor to Steam called Origin, which launched with mixed results and controversy. GameStop, traditionally known for its chain of brick-and-mortar gaming stores that mostly cater to the console crowd, also tried to get in on the action, buying the Impulse content delivery platform from Stardock and rebranding it as GameStop PC Downloads. All four also followed in Steam's wake with sales or other perks.

Additionally, the era saw the advent of the "good enough" computer. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, a PC just a few years old would often have a great deal of difficulty running new games. Today, four year old computers can regularly play top of the line games on fairly high settings without issue. This dramatically drove down the price of getting into PC gaming, as everyone has to own a computer, and the price of a console + a low end PC is higher than the price of a reasonable gaming PC which will be good for many years worth of gaming... and gives access to much cheaper games, despite (or indeed, arguably precisely because of) the absence of the used game market.

However, during the 2000's and into the 2010's, the public's PC preferences have shifted from desktops to laptops. While today's laptops can squeeze more than enough power for basic PC functions like word processing, Internet browsing, and email into small and light packages, many of PC gaming's advantages apply only to mid-to-high end desktops. Indeed, a lot of laptops, especially smaller ones, have trouble running 3D games at all thanks to low-end integrated graphics cards. Many people, because of their job and/or lifestyle, prefer or even need to use a laptop for their PC needs and would balk at the idea of having a bulky and expensive second PC in the form of a desktop, preferring to game on cheaper, smaller, and simpler consoles.

Soon into the decade, there were rumors about Sony's upcoming PlayStation 4 (then known as Orbis) and Microsoft's Xbox One (known as Durango). Rumors were heavily pointing to the x86 architecture and other components found in PCs, which lead to the following conclusions:
  • The new generation of consoles for all intents and purposes are specialized gaming PCs, abandoning the unique hardware architecture (Cell, Emotion Engine) that could cause troubles for developers (like it did for PS3 at the start of its life) and raise the already high costs.
  • When only considering the raw numbers, they are noticeably weaker than the above mid-range PCs, when at the start of the previous gen you needed a top of the line PC just to have a slight advantage.
  • When rumors surfaced that the new consoles were going to be built using AMD APUs, it didn't help much since the PC gaming community considers these low tier.
  • The announcement of the Playstation 4's specs caused many PC gamers to scoff at it, stating that the console will quickly be outclassed by a more powerful PC. It also did not help that developer Linus Blomberg openly stated that the Playstation 4 would outperform most PCs for years. Most people found the statement hilarious.

However, similar hardware architecture gives hope that PC ports will be cheaper, easier to make, and/or more importantly actually financially feasible. Not to mention there's hope that since developers can spend all of their resources on a single architecture, it will deliver better results for everyone. A common complaint (if misinformed) from PC gamers is that consoles are limiting what PC hardware can do, because everything has to run on a common denominator... which isn't much.

In late 2012 Wing Commander's Chris Roberts comes back from his ten-year vacation from game-making and pitches Star Citizen, a PC-exclusive space MMORPG. A large part of his reasoning for the exclusivity seems to be PC fanboyism: he wants to prove once and for all that PCs have more power by creating a game with uber-realistic, ridiculously high-poly graphics. Although some commenters noted wryly that in the promo video Roberts was controlling his ship with an Xbox controller instead of a joystick.

In 2013, the Xbox One was announced. Game journalists have been weighing in on this debate in favor of PCs, as they claim the Xbox One has announced draconian DRM the likes of which even PCs haven't seen. See its page for details.


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