Why PC Gaming?

Why PC Gaming?

As a regular reader of ours may have noticed, Mana Pool is deliberately and exclusively a PC gaming website, and we like it that way. That’s not to say we have anything against video games which are played on consoles or console gamers, but we are very fond of the particular features of the PC which are not present on consoles. If you are not typically a PC gamer, you may ask why and, in fairness, this is a perfectly reasonable question.

Lots of the time, as is the case on many issues in life, it seems that one must fall decidedly into one camp or the other – console or PC – and dedicate oneself solely to that platform to a degree just shy of religious fervour. Rarely discussed beyond knee-jerk flames and reaction to flames, however, is the reason why many gamers prefer PC gaming, as well as a serious look at some of the pros and cons surrounding PCs and PC games. Herein, dear reader, I shall attempt to enlighten (enrage) you. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Controllers and Interface

The standard input method of the PC is the keyboard and mouse, although joysticks and other means are sometimes available. For many games, this combination is fantastic, and there have yet to be serious contenders, especially when it comes to the precision of a mouse. Not only that, but the keyboard allows for a great many different hot keys/buttons, allowing the player to quickly and easily have access to a large selection of abilities or options.

Mana Pool - LotRO Action Bars

And this is only 1/2 of the buttons.

Take many MMOs as an example. In a game such as World of Warcraft, by maximum level a player can easily have dozens of different class abilities available to them, as well as racial abilities, mounts, items, macros, pet abilities, targeting buttons and so on. Attempting this on a gamepad, wii remote or other controller for a console would be at once a hilarious and miserable experience, as there simply aren’t enough buttons available.

Similar advantages are present in other genres, RPGs and strategy games especially, where one wants access to a large number of available abilities or variety of unit groupings, to a degree that is made much easier with a keyboard + mouse than other forms of interface.

The mouse plays a similar role in terms of precise movements and pinpoint targeting. In FPS games on the console, players need some nudging of their fire when targeting enemies, and other gameplay elements are made less destructive due to having a less suitable input mechanism, as discussed in more detail below. Attempting to select units or pinpoint precise locations on the screen is simply far easier with the mouse.

Of course, this is not to say that the keyboard and mouse is always superior. I would say that some kinds of racing games greatly benefit from the joystick/thumb sticks of console controllers due to the ease of smooth turning, for instance. The games which benefit from the keyboard and mouse interface of the PC happen to be the games I prefer playing, thus it is only natural that I gravitate towards the PC.

Console porting

One may ask at this point why there is any form of conflict between PC and console. If PCs do some games better than consoles and consoles do better than PCs than others, why do some PC gamers complain about console gamers and gaming, typically with phrases such as ‘dumbed down’, ‘consoleification’ and worse, the dreaded ‘casual’.

Take a game, such as Oblivion, which was made for the console and then ported to the PC. In the standard game, the interface is a pain. Whilst the player can have dozens and dozens of spells available, along with different weapon/shield options, one can only ever have one spell ready for use at any one time, and can only hotkey up to eight items/spells. A whole eight. On my keyboard, I can hotkey a few dozen different abilities, and that’s before I make use of Alt, Ctrl and Shift modifiers, yet I am limited to a mere eight options.

This is even worse when one takes a game such as Fable, where the selection of different spells is done via scrolling of the mouse wheel, despite the fact that one has dozens of unused keys which could have been used.

Other parts of the interface have clearly been designed for the console user as well, such as the layout. All of the display is huge, which is required for the console where one might sit on a couch a considerable distance from the television screen. In the standard Oblivion, I can make out 4-5 items per screen within my inventory, meaning that I have a massive amount of wasted screen real estate.

Mana Pool - Assassin's Creed Controls

4 buttons only.

Another game which does not take into account the keys available on PC is Assassin’s Creed, which requires the holding down of several different keys at once, especially depending on whether one wishes to perform low profile actions (subtle, small movements such as blending in or stabbing someone discretely with a hidden blade) or high profile actions (such as leaping or slashing someone with a sword). On the console this is fine, as controllers are designed ergonomically with the expectation that players will have their fingers on several buttons at the same time. On the PC, there are so many keys available that one could have made high profile actions use completely different keys entirely, making it a far more comfortable interface.

Many more issues are present in games featuring less than optimal ports from console, such as endlessly nested menus to make up for the limited number of keys/large icons. Ultimately, this problem could be fixed by simply porting the game well, or designing the game from the beginning with the understanding that some things should not be fixed in stone to accommodate the eventual port to PC.

When it comes to the mouse, the comments from John Comes regarding the desire of PC players of FPS to be able to play against console players speak for themselves. PC games have, I find, a far more immediate feel to them because my input is so precise, and none of my commands are being massaged by the game. What I do translates directly into what happens next.

‘Casual’: the slur

Part of the problem, then, is due to porting, which harms PC gaming by granting an inferior experience when games are ported poorly from the console. What of the dreaded casual?

First, it must be pointed out that this is an apparent insult bandied about by people to others on the same platform, but it is one I have seen used by some to describe console players as a group. I have also seen the reverse, with some console zealots describing PC gamers as being far too focused on their games, as with the recent PC World article.

Mana Pool - Peggle

Peggle: Casual and brilliant are not mutually exclusive.

I’m of the opinion that this derives partly from the more immediately social nature of console games. When playing on a console, one can sit on a couch with friends and hand out controllers and play for a little while, in a way that is far easier than attempting to arrange a LAN party. Even when not doing this, the fact that consoles typically take less time to boot up, and can be played on a couch, makes for a different gaming ethos. This is a fine way of playing much of the time, however it lends itself to a far shorter game experience which assumes that people will come and go, in which there isn’t much continuity and in which people can dip in and out of easily.

Long have PC gamers been portrayed as those who will sit in front of their grey towers and the eerie glow of their monitors until the early hours, and in part this is accurate. The significant difference is that PC games are often quite lengthy affairs, designed to suck one in for long stretches of time, rather than providing quick relief in between other tasks. Playing an RPG or a TBS can be quite a lengthy engagement, and not to everyone’s tastes.

Console games (along with flash games and games hooked into social networks) are typically designed for a different audience, and their apparently shallower gameplay is something that has a place, but is not something I would wish to see dominate the gaming market. I like my all-consuming PC games which last for dozens of hours.

Community content

Another reason to play PC games is the customisability present from mods. In the above example of Oblivion, for example, a judicious use of mods can fix many of the problems with the interface, and much more besides. On top of that, they can extend games in many other ways, such as new areas, quests, graphics, radically altered gameplay, bug fixing and so forth.

Mana Pool - TES Nexus

Without this and similar places, Oblivion would not have been nearly as worth playing.

In addition to mods, strategy games especially benefit from large amounts of additional content developed by the community in the forms of maps, often of even greater quality than the official content. A PC game is rarely limited by the budget or failures of the developer, and a community can vastly improve on a game, as well as extending its life cycle. Until console games offer anything like the options available to PC games, they’re not a serious contender.

The PC Price Myth

Often it is said that PC gaming is far more expensive than consoles. After all, one allegedly needs a PC of more than £2,000 to play computer games, compared to a few hundred for a console! That’s not really the case, and I am of the opinion that PC gaming can actually be cheaper than console gaming.

Firstly, let’s take computer price. For about £700, one can acquire a PC more than capable of playing contemporary games on reasonable settings. It’s possible that the graphics won’t be quite as pretty as on a console for some games at that price, but they should still be good looking. One can spend considerably more, of course, but I expect that many people don’t, and they certainly don’t need to. We’ve now shaved off a large chunk of money, and the price is a bit more reasonable, but still more expensive.

Next, though, consider that many, many households will already have a PC. I know that even if I didn’t play many computer games, I’d still have one, as they’re pretty useful for watching films, browsing the internet, writing documents and so on. Just as people typically don’t factor in the cost of the television when discussing console prices, including basic PC costs into the price of a gaming PC seems pretty disingenuous. So, of that £700, probably at least £400 is either already paid for, or will benefit the owner in many ways beyond just gaming. A major difference between a normal PC and a gaming PC these days is the graphics card, especially as processors and RAM are becoming cheaper every day, and £300 can make for quite a good improvement in graphics card, RAM and processor.

Of course, upgrade costs are a factor. After a while, the console owner must purchase the latest console, and the PC gamer must upgrade PC. The costs are probably better for the PC gamer here, as buying a new graphics card will often yield sufficient improvement for the PC gamer, and will generally be cheaper, but will also likely need to be done slightly more frequently than upgrading a console.

Now the costs are pretty much equal. But wait, there’s more! When I buy new PC games, I typically acquire them for about £25. Sometime as high as £30, sometimes as low as £20. Steam often has incredible sales, Amazon normally has fantastic discounts available (especially for pre-orders), and even the standard price of PC games is pretty low. When looking to the price of console games, however, the price can easily reach £50 per game. Thus, not only is the platform roughly the same cost for PC gamers, the games are far cheaper too! Even if one didn’t have a PC to begin with, buying about 16 new games would already recoup the costs of a PC compared to a console.

Beyond that, there is greater backwards compatibility for PC games than there are for consoles, with PC gamers able to play games a few decades old thanks to the wonders of DOSBox, so over time the savings become even more significant, as old games don’t simply become unplayable on the new device.

et cetera

Then, of course, there’s the view of some others, such as Crytek’s boss, Cervat Yerli, who believes that the PC is “a generation ahead” of console formats. Whatever your reasoning, PC gaming has a lot to offer, and I hope that I have managed to convert some people out there. Ideally, some of you might even be developers, who will realise that PC gaming is far from dead.

  • Raxen

    Nice, think you covered it nicely with less bias towards PCs than I could have managed ;)

  • http://www.acerbicgamer.com David

    I’ve recently started making a transition back to PC gaming from consoles, partly for mods and partly for better graphics. I still hop back and forth between the two, but I had to laugh reading this article because I was going to use one of your arguments in an upcoming article: the fact that most people already have a PC, so that base cost can be subtracted from what a ‘gaming’ PC costs.

    I’ve been impressed with a Radeon 5770 card can do, and that’s only a $130 (U.S.) card right now.

  • sdfadf

    maybe if the computer gaming community could make it worth while for developers these problems would go away. people are voting with the dollar, more console games are sold than computer games so games are developed for consoles.

    other than that, ya i would probably be gaming on my computer rather than my ps3, but most games arent available on linux distributions so i generally dont play games on my computers.

  • Yeah

    @sdfadf: Please, please, please: Read the numbers. The PC is the best selling platform in the whole. PS3/Xbox/Wii together are selling way less than the PC.
    The only reasons why the net income is higher, is solely based upon the higher pricing. Where a new released PC-Title costs regulary between 40-50$, a new released console-title (at least XBOX and PS3) costs between 60-80$. So you could sell say 10 Copies of the same game on PC and console. On Console your revenue would be much higher, simply because you can charge a lot more for a game.
    But look at Companies like Valve – did they ever even come near to a financial fiasco? HL2 was the biggest success of all times (at the time of release), and it was merely PC-Only (The Console-Versions aren’t any good).

    So, in shortterms: Publishers tell you bullshit. Of course it is much easier to built on the same hardware over and over again, and of course it is nice that you can stick to your current technology, and of course you can reduce your costs a lot by solely developing on consoles. But that has nothing to do with the fact, that the PC is a solid platform, with solid sales and a huuuuuge fanbasis. If you make a good game, a lot of gamers will buy it. There is no question in that. The good games of this generation sold really well on the PC-Platform (just think about BFBC2, for example). Piracy is not the reason, but the publishers are bullshitting you in believing just that.

    Just to put it in perspective:
    World of Warcraft ALONE has constantly more online-players then the WHOLE XBox-Live-Network together. And you really want to say, that dedicated gamers aren’t willing to pay for good games (WoW has a subscription-fee).

  • http://www.manapool.co.uk Alratan

    @ David
    Yes, I always found cost a peculiar approach to take with PC gaming, as it’s always seemed self-evident to me that PCs were cheaper, as they were a thing that people just have lying around anyway.

    @ Yeah
    Do you have statistics for that at hand? Most of the time I come down on the side that console games probably sell more units than PC games. NPD figures, for instance, always show vastly more console game sales than PC game sales. I do think that this is to a lesser degree than it is typically made out to be, due to the lack of proper data from online distribution channels, such as Steam, and an over-reliance on physical sales, but there is still probably a difference in favour of consoles. Whether it’s reasonable to lump in ‘consoles’ versus ‘PCs’ rather than Wii vs. PS3 vs. Xbox 360 vs. PC is another matter, of course.

    Game sales also do not take into account subscription methods, of course, but I don’t find that a very useful position to take most of the time as that only argues for the success of the MMO genre in particular, to the exclusion of others.

  • Axe99

    @Yeah

    Your argument is so convoluted it doesn’t make sense – Half Life 2 was a PC-exclusive because the port wasn’t so flash?! PC gamers are generally seen as more intelligent, but your argument here stretches logic further than many tween console CoD players.

    As for the sales numbers, they are _clearly_ in favour of console. Hell, this is why ten years ago the console got PC ports, and now the PC gets console ports. There are some genres (MMO, TBS, RTS, Browser games) where this is no longer the case, but now sometimes the PC gets no games at all (I forget which one it was, but recently EA decided not to publish one of its high-profile games on PC at all).

    Fortunately, the article itself is much better written. I’m personally both (I love strategy games, and while I’ll play ‘em on console when I can – RUSE with Move is awesome – clearly there’s nothing like Hearts of Iron or Total War on console), but only because they haven’t cracked the strategy nut on console yet. If (and it’d be practical on PS3 because of Move, but I’m not sure about the 360 and I doubt the Wii could cope) I got both, then I’d head to console full-time. The two reasons for this are:
    - the control system on PC – I work in an office, and too much mouse/kb time is bad for my hands. While you can have gamepads on PC, PC games aren’t designed for them. But beyond that, I (personally, clearly this won’t go for everyone) found games in general more fun to play with a gamepad – I played 25 hours of Oblivion on PC, but stopped the day it was announced on PS3. I went on to play 100+ on PS3. The sticks made camera control and movement more comfortable. Even more so for FPS games – the idea that you click on something and the bullet just goes there makes it feel like you’re playing a really fast-paced spreadsheet, not a shooter. Sure, the mouse might be precise, but it’s too precise – it actually makes FPS on PC less realistic (as do the use of the Eagle Eye or FragFX on console).
    - dealing with drivers and the like. When I want to play a game on console, by and large it just works. Every time I fire up a new PC game, there’s usually a half-hour to hour long process (and sometimes multiple hours – but this is probably because I only game on PC intermittently) getting everything ready to work again. That, and I know that my PS3 (which hasn’t needed modifying for over three years) will continue to play cutting-edge games (in gameplay terms – clearly the graphics will have moved on) for the next 2-3 years. I’ll buy the game (DL or disk), fire it up and it’ll just work. I work now, and don’t have a heap of time (often only an hour or so in the evening), and PC games require too much maintenance time for me (either the game, or the system) relative to actual game time.

    The PC’s still a great system, and credit to those who remain PC-only (although you’re actually now starting to miss out on some of the best games being released, something I never thought would happen ten years ago), as it’s a great platform, particularly for RPGs, strategy games and flight sims :).

  • Vladimir

    For me, it comes down to comfort and general feel of doing something casual. Consoles are way more comfortable. You just hop into your most comfortable sofa and play in front of your giant TV with proper surround spanned across a big room. Also, it was much easier to convince my girlfriend to play with joypad than to use a keyboard which has the intimidating number of buttons, most of which have no use in the game. Now we’re a happy gaming couple :)

    Just picture it by comparing with other forms of entertainment, movies or books. Imagine yourself and your girl sitting in a working chair at the desk and watching movie on a tiny monitor. Then picture the two of you sitting or lying on a comfortable sofa in a living room and watching at the big screen. For me, it’s way more comfortable.

    The same is with games. I play my PC games with joypad and hooked to my TV. If they don’t support it, I map it by using third party software. I’ve tried playing Mass Effect 2 with keyboard/mouse and it was a real pain. Sitting in my sofa, holding a mouse awkwardly and this damned keyboard kept falling off my lap. It just doesn’t fit human hands and has way more buttons than humans have fingers. I felt like I’m working (at the flight control), not playing a game. So I mapped it to my joypad.

    Whereas, while holding a wireless joypad, it fits perfectly and ‘m not worried about tunnel syndrome. Sometimes I play lying down, sometimes sitting and sometimes I put my legs on a sofa backrest and my head down so I’m knda upside down :)

    I generally agree with most of your points but I think you’ve missed to mention comfort which I think is very important to common people. And I think that if people don’t solve the uncomfortableness PC input, it will forever remain elitist-nerd-lamer entertainment.

    Oh and as for FPS, I’m better with a controller and it feels more realistic. When I aim with mouse, it feels like playing point&click adventure or clicking buttons in a software. Way too precise and “easy” without any weight to it.

    Cheers

    A pc and console gamer (only without keyboard)

  • http://www.acerbicgamer.com David

    I definitely can agree with the wrist issues. I have carpal tunnel syndrome bad enough to have already had surgery on one wrist so far. For me, ergonomic issues are a mixed bag. Unlike Axe99 I found it easier to play Oblivion on the PC for one reason: Q, the default auto-move key. Not having to hold an analog stick forward the entire time you walk around in that game made a big difference for me.

    On the other hand, I’m definitely a gamepad FPS player. I’ve been trying to readjust to mouse-keyboard after years on consoles and am horribly uncompetitive with it.

  • http://www.manapool.co.uk Alratan

    @ Vladimir
    I don’t disagree, as that’s certainly a valuable element to playing on the console, but I was primarily looking at why people play on PCs, as people already seem to discuss the virtues of console gaming.

    You do raise a good point regarding the impact of ergonomics on future developments, and I think that improving the comfort of users should be a key concern for computer manufactures in the future – doubly so when you think of how many of us spend large portions of the day at work and the number of health concerns already raised regarding posture and so on. It’s also something that developers are gaining peripheral awareness of when it comes to interface customisation, such as the well-publicised case of Gareth Garratt. That’s the sort of thing which developer should really be doing as standard for user comfort, even before you consider physical ailments.

    I find the nudging of aiming on console far too imprecise, personally. That said, playing Mount & Blade: Warband may be swaying me slightly, as it seems to have nudging for melee attacks made from horseback which is very welcome.

  • MSeven

    My PC covers:

    Cable/Satellite TV (Streaming/iTunes)

    DVD/BluRay players (Netflix/iTunes)

    Video games (Steam/D2D/GoG)

    Work (Programmer)

    Hobbies (Android programming)

    Music (Grooveshark)

    And for gaming specifically, I have my PC hooked up to a TV, and a monitor. I can play my game on my TV, or my monitor depending on if I feel like sitting at my desk, or if I feel like sitting on my couch.

    I have multiple control schemes. Many games allow me to play with either my KB/M, or my 360 controller. I beat Fallout: New Vegas primarily with my 360 controller, sitting on my couch.

    I don’t need to shell out money on a console.

  • Axe99

    Aye David, that auto-move key was the one thing I missed in Oblivion. Because of the RSI side of things, I found it much easier to turn on console, but easier to travel long distances in a straight line on PC!

    I deffo think PC’s are great, and when we replace our current PC later this year, I intend to take our current rig and try and add it to the gaming den (storage and guest room with a PS3 and a TV in it ;)), and see if I can’t get back into it again, but even once I’ve got the gamepad set up and as ergonomic setup as possible, I doubt PC’ll ever be my main platform again because of the driver and compatibility issues on PC – it’ll be more for the games I can’t get on PS3.

  • http://www.mgsdude.tumblr.com MGSdude

    I personally think that console games could be better ported, why do games on the console not have compatibility with keyboards? The majority of people have a USB keyboard (if they play PC games they sould have one tbh rather than the old style keyboards, this could easily conbat the 4 button limit, or there should be a option to use the keyboard and mouse in console games, I would personally love this option for my PS3 ( I know some games have keyboard options, but it seems that’s only limited to typing your name :/)

  • James

    I agree a keyboard would be graet for the PS3. Why is it then that they are limited?

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