I’ve been working on a much larger post for the past few months that’s an in-depth analysis of a game I have been playing, but I had some thoughts on another subject meanwhile that I figured I’d jot down in between builds.
Recently, I have fallen off PC gaming. I started my life playing games on computers as I didn’t have access to a gaming console like my friends, and it became a core part of how I interfaced with the medium until I was almost a teenager. For me, the cost benefit analysis of PC gaming just started to make less sense as I entered a post college stage in my life where I had less time to fiddle with and tweak things on my computer. First off, I prefer my Mac as my dominant computing interface, which means I need to have a separate gaming computer if I want to play basically anything. Second, I prefer playing most single player games on my 4K OLED TV, sitting on my couch with a controller in hand. Third, I have less tolerance for things that just don’t work regarding my entertainment. When I am finished at the end of the workday, I want to click a button and have the thing I intend to enjoy start with no issues. Any friction here is intolerable for me! I have very little time between work, socializing, going to the gym, cleaning my apartment, shopping for / preparing food, and the days I am traveling to / from the office. I have many thoughts about the subject, as usual, so I figured I’d jot them down below.
Something I have internalized regarding technology is that you spend either your time or your money on things, and all products you can buy exist somewhere on that spectrum. For PC gaming, you spend a lot more money and a bit more time to ensure your games work and play properly, but the advantage is that they run “better” (nicer visuals, higher frame rates, better resolutions) with more configuration options than anywhere else. When I was younger, I had a lot of time and very little money. I asked my parents to let me build a gaming PC and hoarded up steam gift cards for sales to buy games there. That leisure time was my currency, and in exchange of fixing the multitude of issues present, I could use it to get what was a fundamentally better playing experience than what was available on a console. Obviously, that calculus has changed for me, but so has the technology surrounding it.
The image quality gap between consoles and PCs is a lot smaller than it used to be, but the financial gap remains the same. This is due to technology which allows less powerful hardware to upscale the image displayed by essentially guessing the missing pixels, which it’s able to do with incredible accuracy. This allows my PS5 to upscale Final Fantasy 16 to a near 4K image, and will likely allow the successor to the Nintendo Switch to do the same when it is docked to a TV. This makes the game render at only 30 frames per second on a good day, but most games this generation allow me to choose to prioritize frame rate instead, which was a major reason I preferred a PC most of the time. My go-to shooter of the year, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (not to be confused with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2) allows me to even play the game at 120 fps on my television! This eliminated a major reason I preferred my gaming experience on PC.
Steam has also been a factor in this decision. Steam was a revolutionary platform in gaming. It was the first one to deliver full AAA games over the internet, it allowed gaming PCs to have the ecosystem and platform benefits of their console benefits such as achievements, friends lists, and more. It completely reshaped the industry to the point where both major consoles have options without a disc drive and no longer allow physical only games to be sold. Over the past decade, though, the platform has languished in relation to its console counterparts. Steam, while being a good platform in many respects, seems to go off on tangents it never really fulfills. Steam Machines, the Steam Controller, Steam Link / Streaming, and Steam VR all languished once they were met with anything less than critical acclaim and massive financial success. Their biggest foray into expanding the ecosystem, the Steam Deck, competes with the Switch well in every regard, withholding its portability and battery life, which are the parts of the Switch I value most.
These days, Steam seems to only improve the product in direct response to complete financial pressure from their competitors, rather than pushing boundaries. They only deliver the bare minimum product to ensure that users don’t leave the platform (which, users can’t anyway, as Steam owns your games). Fun fact, I tried setting up a second account on my Windows computer for my dad the other day so he can get work done while he is visiting. When I tried to open Steam on it, it opened my steam account on his brand new Windows account without any form of authentication on my end. Seems like a pretty big account security issue if you ask me! Turns out this has been broken for over a year. Guess fixing it won’t help sell more Dota skins, ya know. In addition, Steam’s remote play equivalent pales in comparison to my PS5, and their cloud offering against Xbox is non-existent. There’s no way I can play my games on a phone without coughing up money to Nvidia in exchange for access to 15% of my library. Their sales are still fine, but Xbox and Playstation have mostly caught up there too. Every time I open these consoles I see sales for upwards of 80% off games, and it’s been cheap for me to build my library of digital (and older physical!) games up for these systems.
Cost and accessibility is another major factor. Three years ago to the month I moved to Seattle, a city I have loved since I was a teenager and a place I am proud to call my home. My parents live across the country on the east coast in various different states, and I am obligated to visit them often, so many of my vacations involve spending time with them. I enjoy playing games regardless, especially on vacation, and with my newfound satisfaction for the PS5 I realized I can just buy the digital consoles for both places for less than the price of a single new gaming PC. This alone shook me, I never thought about how cheap these consoles are with relation to a PC, but unlike PC hardware they’re sold at a loss as software / services revenue generate most of the profit. It’s hard to justify buying or building a gaming PC when you can buy a PS5 for a third of the price, and it is just going to run games better on a 4k TV unless you spend thousands of dollars. The “cheaper” calculus that drove my decision to move to PC gaming as a teenager is no longer relevant here, either.
This is not to say I don’t ever play games on a PC or use it! I love my PC, and I enjoy playing certain games there. I play multiplayer coop games with some friends from college, get really frustrated at League of Legends because I refuse to absorb how that game functions or works, languish in high silver Overwatch, and of course play Minecraft there. However, PC used to be my default in a way it no longer is. I would buy major releases on PC, I would play new games on PC first, and my console would exist only for exclusive games. Ironically, real console exclusivity seems to be a thing of the past outside of Nintendo. Xbox releases games simultaneously on PC, even on the Steam store, and PlayStation usually launches games on PC within 2 years of their release on the Console. It’s never been a better time to play PC games! However ultimately, I realized its just not for me, and that’s ok! I think the thing I am trying to get across with this post though, is I don’t think its for the overwhelming majority of people. If you want to play a PC only game like Valorant, just get a mid range Windows laptop (and never a “gaming laptop”) and just buy a console instead. I realized I don’t need a gaming PC, and I don’t think you really do either. They’re not really good deals anymore, or a “master race” (maybe think more about the connotations of that term before using it you weird ass redditors) but just another way to play. I can buy three PS5’s for the price of this years second most expensive Nvidia GPU, and its time the industry changed their calculus too.
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