PC Gamers vs Console Gamers vs Casual Gamers vs Hardcore Gamers
I’m going to blame the near-decade of working in the video games industry for my audible scoff/chuckle/snork when I got to your sentence that read:
console gamers were content enjoying experiences that were less visually dazzling
As someone who helmed community teams for big-budget games released cross-platform, I can tell you with certainty that, yes, a lot of gamers were happy with their experience performing the best possible for the hardware they chose — but certainly not all. The conspiracy theories, the threats, the vitriol, the angst, the fury that comes from console wars is astounding. Is the field of view narrower because the game was consolized? Burn the developers. Is the grass blurrier, less realistic on consoles because the graphics were scaled down? Storm the gates.
You are correct: The value proposition of a console is that it’s easy. Trust me, I’ve been building my own computers since I was a teenager, but I still don’t put them together. I’m never going to trust myself to smear silver paste on my CPU and not worry that I’ve done it wrong and the several hundred dollar hunk of tech isn’t going to overheat. (I joke that this is why I got married. Live-in IT guy. I love you, Mike.)
And yet, technology is moving on, and at a faster rate, and both PC gamers and console gamers don’t want and shouldn’t have to be left behind. Before, we had a five-to-seven year generational cycle for consoles. That appears to be speeding up. But is that really such a bad thing? Instead of launching the mid-cycle “slim” versions of consoles, as with console cycles past, we’re seeing hardware upgrades.
This is very much like this iPhone. Every other year, we see a small, yet interesting, upgrade. Most folks who adopt the fancy new phone (like the iPhone 6) don’t upgrade to the iPhone 6S: There aren’t enough bells and whistles to warrant it — yet the hardware junkies do, and everyone is happy. Sure, my photos are slightly less awesome than my best friend’s because I’m sticking with my iPhone 6 and I can’t get on the live photo band wagon, but that’s a lot like what Scorpio is doing with virtual reality.
Virtual reality isn’t an incremental upgrade, nor are the extreme bleeding edge capabilities developers are hinting at in the next could years. Hell, I can’t run VR on my computer, and I bought and built that thing in the last six months. I just got a 970 video card, and here I am, pointedly trying to ignore all the hype around the 1080 because goddamnit I just upgraded.
If I really want to take advantage of VR, though? Well, I’d need an Occulus or a Vive, a lot more space in my living room, and a 1080.
That’s the cost of technology getting better. Upgrades.
This goes beyond cutting-edge graphics. You’re right: that alone probably does not sell many games or consoles. But playing Alien: Isolation on the Occulus is an entirely different beast than playing on even the most ridiculously giant TV or computer screen in a darkened room. That’s not just about memory, or graphics, or better tech. It’s an entirely different experience.
As for the lust for power, you’re right that our hardware is sometimes making it more difficult for smaller developers, or indie developers, to keep pace with the AAA big boys. And yet, Tacoma’s trailer is being widely talked about in my circles. That’s the second game from a tiny team. Their first game didn’t even have animations because they didn’t have an employee who could make them, and their game did quite well. Same with Firewatch: this isn’t a game you’d sell because it stresses the limits of hardware tech — but I’d fight you tooth and nail if you say the graphics aren’t some of the most breathtaking among recent releases. Or you could pick Rocket League, which is the same experience across PC and console (you can even play together because the controls have parity!) — again, not hampered by these problems, or the faster console cycle.
Devs who are, and will continue to be, successful, even if they don’t have the muscle of the AAA teams, do so by working within their capabilities and making something that is fantastic and desired for reasons other than maxing out CPUs or taxing the best video card. And, on the other end of the spectrum, VR is another animal entering the ecosystem entirely, and just as some devs will be able to work with and accommodate older hardware, we should welcome the newcomers to the field that will push us to evolve in order to utilize the new and amazing offerings they bring to the table.
As a wee lass, I was a PC gamer (mostly because my mother wouldn’t let me have a console). As a teenager, I was a console gamer (mostly because I couldn’t afford a better PC). When I worked in games, I was both, because I had to be. Now? I don’t actually own a current gen console, mostly because I live a continent away from my best friends and the one thing we all have in common is that we have great PCs, so that’s the platform we choose to play games together, since gaming for me is now primarily a social outlet. That’s probably going to change, if and when I get a living room large enough to allow me to properly experience a Vive (or whatever comes after).
My point is here that this is one of the oldest fights gamers have, the Us vs Them mentality of consoles and PCs. There’s no value to it and there can only be losers. Instead of reshaping the same tired, unwinnable argument, let’s reframe the conversation and celebrate the good things that this shift brings: faster, more amazing, more accessible technology and experiences that don’t require us to spend hours researching the best bits and pieces to build our super-gaming-machine (unless that’s as fun for you as it is me. In which case, high five).