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Weep for the PC Gamer

I admit it: I am a PC-Gaming snob. As far as I have been able to experience, PC games are better graphically and content-wise in every way, shape, and form than any console game I have ever played. I prefer the interface, and I prefer the depth of interaction one can have in a PC-programmed game. This is my bias, but it is based out of my own personal experience. Maybe you think console games are better than the bee's knees; the difference between you and me is probably simply a matter of difference of preference regarding the kinds of games we like to play.

Just understand that I feel a deep dark cold stone in my gut every time I walk into a computer game store and see that the PC Game Section grows ever smaller and smaller. The once maligned-XBox takes over the shelves where PC games once sat proudly, GameCube in another corner, and the PS2 (a console I do own and enjoy, incidentally) dominates.

Some people argue to me that, well, a console is much cheaper than a PC, hence its growing success. But of course, a sensible person does not buy a PC simply to play games on. It is used, I imagine, to also word process, Web surf, and do all those other cool things that PCs do. The fact of the matter is, I would like to meet the console gamer who does not also own a PC (after all, you need to surf the Web to quickly find free cheat codes). The $150-300 console is therefore actually an additional expense on top of the $1000-2000 PC he probably has actually already bought, so I really can't see the money savings here. PC and Console games cost roughly the same amount (this was not always the case, but as console games improve in technology, they are getting as expensive as the most expensive PC game).

The bizarre thing is, as console technology improves, consoles are becoming more and more like PCs–an article in the June 2005 issue of Forbes magazine tells us the new XBox 360 will not only have better graphics and an inbuilt 20G "hard drive," but also allow peripherals like digital cameras, MP3 players, and so forth. Why not just slap on a keyboard and call it a cheap Windows machine? It seems Microsoft would do better to try and market one device rather than two, or keep the XBox more super-specialized to games only.

And if consoles are aspiring to be more like PCs, wouldn't that mean that PCs really are a better thing to begin with? No?

The real difference between PC and console games of course is the difference I outlined up front: the games are just different. With console interface, it is much easier to play games with fast-action arcade type games that work best with a simpler interface and a controller. Emphasis is on speed and action-challenge. Yes, there are puzzle and stratgy-based arcade games, but selection options usually have to be limited. PC Games excel where they can take advantage of the offerings of a full operating system and complex programming; where in story-based games you can full control of a conversation; where your choices can expand beyond directional keys and 8 buttons because of the combos of commands you can create between keyboard and mouse. And let's not forget that in addition to being able to patch bugs more easily, modules and expansions can easily be added on and even created by the users, something console gamers cannot currently dream of doing.

Really, there should be two separate markets here. I mean, there's a reason I own a PS2–there are games for it I love that would be crap trying to play on a PC. But there are PC Games I love better (e.g., RPGs that give so-called console "RPGs" a big fat raspberry in terms of complexity, such as the Baldur's Gate series), but likewise these would be crap trying to get to work on a console and with the pacing one expects from a console. So if there are two markets with two different audiences (with some overlap), what the heck is the problem? Why is the PC game in decline?

In short, because game publishers and marketers are stupid. Because apparently, they think that a video game is a video game, and somewhere someone got the brilliant idea that PC games and console games should compete. That PC games and console games should even be cross compatible (I played Knights of the Old Republic on PC. Great story; the interface SUCKED... because of course it was originally designed for XBox). The result has been of course really awful games for the PC. Where are the great RPGs and strategies and simulation games that really can ONLY take advantage of the processing and programming available for the PC? Instead we get first-person-shooter crap which is really ultimately something you want to play with a controller in your hand and on your wide-screen TV. So people look at the newer stuff for the PC, and say, "Heck, I could play that on my XBox or PS2 and it would be ten times better."

What's worse is of course then people are marketing harder for typical console gamers and not the gamers who want something different. The aforementioned Forbes article tells us the XBox 360 will be marketed only to the hard core "young male" audience, and its almost-a-PC-in-scope will "not be really targeting female-friendly games." In otherwords, they will be using all this new fancy hardware to create games with big explosions and where the female's only role is to have large cleavage. Let me explain: I am NOT saying that solely what all male gamers want–but I know what "not female-friendly" means in the gaming world. Most games are by definition not quite targeting female gamers, so if they actually make a point of saying that they are not female friendly, it's really only going to be ONE kind of game. A sad waste of new technology. Technology is expanding so that they can make all kinds of games for all kinds of gamers, and they're only focusing on the core appeal? The core is already hooked! They are already looking forward to the new consoles! Look at the message boards! Look at the games on the shelves in stores! Did I say video game marketers are stupid? I am sorry. They are extremely, mindbogglingly, stupid, so stupid that if you wrapped a towel around your head, they would assume they couldn't see you since you couldn't see them.

But see, here's where PC gaming has its chance. Since all the brand new fantastic console technology is apparently only going toward making the most life-like jiggly cleavage possible, we can re-create the market for PC games for gamers (who are still mostly male) who want something slightly more appealing on slightly higher brain functions (and the jiggly cleavage can just be a bonus). They can appeal to a broad market, especially "old-skool" gamers like me who are looking for a different kind of challenge. And us "old-skoolers" after all are the ones who are old enough to have real jobs and a real paycheck to buy these things. If the consolers are focusing on attracting only one kind of gamer, PC game-makers can try to attact a broader market–not as many people from one group, but enough people from different groups to be able to still have an overall large purchasing audience.

But the PC game makers also have to be willing to acknowledge that they are 1) NOT making console games, and 2) NEED to utilise and exploit every last bit of processing and programming capability that the PC can offer (and that the console cannot).

I have hope that with some PC games on the horizon like Bioware's Dragon Age and Obsidian's Neverwinter Nights 2 that really can do only what a PC game can do, we might have a comeback. If they screw up, or the marketers make them do stupid things, then... hope may soon be lost.

And I'll be forced to shell out $200 on TOP of my couple-thousand-dollar word processing and Internet surfing machine just so I can watch the cleavage jiggle.


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All original materials © 2005 R. Pickard