This article is something new for me as I’m not technically a gaming writer. This article will be about one-third tech and two-thirds gaming. Before I start out I feel I should highlight my past experience in this area. I currently own a mid-range gaming PC, Xbox 360, and a Wii. In the past I’ve always had a gaming PC and the Nintendo console of the day (Gamecube, N64, etc.) I will be drawing on my experiences from all of these platforms to present an idealistic view of how the gaming space should be.
The first “next generation” console to launch was the Xbox 360 on November 22, 2005. The Xbox 360 hasn’t had a smooth ride when it comes to hardware reliability, specifically, the red ring of death epidemic. As of writing this in February 2011 the Xbox 360 is still using the same hardware. For those interested the hardware consists of a triple-core 3.2GHz PowerPC Xenon CPU, a 500MHz ATi Xenos graphics card with 512MB graphics memory. The only major change we’ve seen is a design change this past summer which made the unit look more modern and provided an auto-shutdown utility for the red ring of death problem.
The next, “next generation” console shipped almost a year later. This console was the PlayStation 3. The PlayStation 3 (PS3) also ships with a Blu-Ray player, there was a time when a PS3 was the cheapest Blu-Ray player on the market. The PS3 was amazing from a hardware point of view since it included a 3.2GHz Cell processor. Cell processors are also used in IBM super computers which shows the net power of the PS3. The PS3 has a 550MHz NVIDIA RSX “Reality Synthesizer” with 256MB graphics memory. As we saw with the PS2, the PS3 also received a re-design into a slimmer form factor in September 2009.
The last “next generation” console to ship was the Wii. The Wii shipped a few days after the PS3 on November 19, 2006. It’s no surprise that the Wii isn’t as strong as the Xbox 360 or PS3 in terms of raw performance. The Wii was only slightly better than the GameCube in terms of hardware specifications. The Wii features an IBM PowerPC based CPU and an ATi graphics card. The main draw of the Wii was the new form of interaction with the Wii-mote and nunchucks.
The Wii took most of the market for casual gamers with it’s interactive games while the Xbox 360 and PS3 took the remainder of the console gaming share. Xbox Live has certainly become the dominate online gaming community with the PS3 in second. The Xbox took this position for three reasons: they launched first, backwards compatibility with the original Xbox, and stronger exclusive titles. At this point buying a console should be considered carefully and if you decide to buy a console, buy it based on which games are available that you are interested in.
The alternate to a console is a gaming PC. Some people who are used to console gaming will hear the term gaming PC and blindly assume that a gaming PC must mean something like Alienware or an expensive custom build. The pure truth about this is that a gaming PC actually costs less than a Xbox 360 or PS3. While we could go ahead and use my build from last month for a gaming PC, we won’t use the exact version because of Intel’s recall. For the purpose of this article I will be using a previous generation Core i5-760 2.8GHz quad core CPU and a Gigabyte GA-H55M-UD2H motherboard. This takes the price down to $837.87. If anyone out there is interested in a build that is cheaper, please send me a message on the forums. Paul has graciously put together a build that uses AMD for those interested.
This system will play any game currently released and probably any game that is going to be released in 2011. The typical misinformed argument about PC gaming is that, PC gaming is too expensive. An Xbox 360 by itself costs $300 or $400 (American) if you are interested in having a Kinect sensor. Assume you buy three games for $60 (American) each when you buy your console, that’s an extra $180. An Xbox live subscription for a year after the first complimentary month will add another $60. If you buy the Kinect the current cost of entry is $640, $540 if you don’t buy Kinect. That’s $590 on average for hardware that is 6 years old. Our gaming PC is $837 for hardware that is less than a year old. Our gaming PC doesn’t require a subscription to play online. Our gaming PC can also be used for other things such as homework, social networking, and content creation. The extra $200-$300 you pay for the PC can be thought of as the cost of performing all other activities other than gaming. Essentially the cheap basic PC a person would buy if they bought or already owned a Xbox.
Another common complaint about PC gaming is the fact that upgrading hardware is expensive. PC upgrades are not needed that often. The only PC upgrade that could potentially be needed with this build is a memory expansion to 8GB in a couple of years or a new graphics card when your current graphics card can no longer decently run the games you wish to play. For $200 every 2 years a person can get a new graphics card that will offer a significant performance boost. It would seem most RSBandB community members are using relatively new computers which goes to show we already spend this money on our computers. This extra cost can be thought of as two years of Xbox Live + 1.5 Xbox games, or alternatively maybe taking a pass on Kinect or the next addon to the Xbox.
This situation didn’t happen by accident. This situation was created by a perfect storm between the gaming console manufacturers and the users of the consoles. The “next generation” consoles received a massive amount of research and development funding, this funding is the reason why Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are still pushing these consoles. This then creates a perfect environment for game developers because they don’t need to change their game engines, they can just use the same game engine with minor tweaks. The game developers are able to take this knowledge of the game engine to squeeze more performance out of the console to create better looking games. This has had the unfortunate side effect of holding PC gaming back since console games are where the money lies. As a piece of anecdotal evidence to support PC gaming being held back I can report that Modern Warfare 2 looks better and plays much smoother on a PC than the Xbox 360 due to the PC’s graphics card, it should be the other way around. Finally, one of the most obvious reasons we’re stuck in this situation is due to the onslaught of misinformed consumers buying this 6 year old hardware and then buying new game releases in record numbers.
We as consumers have no way of preventing the demise of PC gaming in this fashion since we are the minority and we are not profitable. A true response would need to come from a company dedicated to PC gaming. The first company that comes to mind is Valve, the creators of the popular Steam store and Steam community. Valve could form corporate relationships with companies such as Intel and NVIDIA in order to create a PC gaming platform that’s as easy to use as a console. Imagine a computer that is no more than $400 that would play games easily, fit in a confined space, and connect to a TV or computer monitor. This computer would utilize digital downloads to retrieve games from the Steam store for purchase or rent. The computer would run an enhanced steam client that hides Windows unless a user wants to see it. With this being said the computer could be used for anything we currently use a computer for ranging from Runescape to watching rented movies from iTunes. Oh and for those wondering you would be able to use your Xbox 360 controllers ;).
If you have any suggestions for future articles or want a modified build as discussed above send me a message on the forums. See you next month.