In what ways are console gaming holding PC gaming back?

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Bill Loguidice's picture

I recently tweeted - to some degree in frustration after reading the same tired complaint yet again - "For all those who insist console gaming is holding PC gaming back, I'd like to know what that might be other than slightly nicer graphics." In other words, we continue to hear talk that this almost six year old console generation is responsible for holding back what the state-of-the-art in PC gaming can be. But really, keeping in mind that both the Xbox 360 and PS3 are capable of 1080p and full surround sound, and have default controllers with lots of buttons, how exactly are consoles holding PC game designs back? Sure, PC's have more memory, storage and polygon-potential, as well as more buttons thanks to its default keyboard, but really, what game designs would be getting exactly if consoles didn't exist? Flashier versions of current games don't count.

What games would PC developers be giving us if they weren't "held back" by consoles? How much more power is really needed given the designs currently being unleashed? I can't think of one game released where I thought, "boy, more processing power/memory/storage would really make this game so much better". If a dev said, "I have this really radical idea, but I can't do it because consoles are holding me back," THEN I'd listen and maybe even agree. Wanting more polygons is not a design issue.

On Facebook - where my tweets also automatically go - we're having an interesting discussion about some of the possibilities, but I don't buy what's being said. For instance, even though Civilization V was designed expressly for the PC, a commenter thought that its interface design was held back because of the influence of consoles in the thought process of the designers. In other words, Civilization IV, which was apparently designed at a time when console ports (or console originals) were a less pervasive presence, was not influenced by the thought that interfaces should be simplified and/or get out of the way as much as possible, and as a result featured a more sophisticated and better interface than Civilization V. To me, any perception that Civilization V's interface was somehow dumbed down is incorrect. Instead, if there's any issue with the interface, it's just bad design, period, and has nothing to do with whether consoles exist in the world or not. I also don't think any of the Civilization games are a good example for anything, simply because Civilization 1 was perfected right out of the box. Sure, the rules became more refined and sophisticated, as did the artificial intelligence and options, but all the essentials were in place way back in 1991 (and that engine could arguably accommodate most of the new rules and additions), so technological limitations have little to do with anything in the case of the Civilization series.

So, what are your thoughts on this multi-layered, hot button issue?


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Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
PCs are holding themselves back!

This is an interesting subject. It's an obvious question, but one I really haven't considered before. Now that I think about it, I don't think its consoles holding PCs back, its PCs that are holding PCs back.

This type of thing is nothing new to me, or to most old-timers here. Remember playing some Apple II port on your Atari 8-bit or Commodore? Often times it was a straight port that didn't take advantage of the features of your system! Believe it or not, many Atari 8-bit computer versions of the 2600 console games looked exactly like 2600 games!!!! (Asteroids comes to mind.) How pathetic is that!?!? Heck, the Atari 8-bit got TRIPLE-WHAMMIED with hand-me-down ports from the Apple II, C64, AND the Atari 2600!!!

clok1966 wrote:

second, some games have been "dumbed down" to work with controlers. The keyboard while not the best contorler ever, has almost unlimted ways it can be setup and if you are a PC user at all the key layout never changes...

Most of the console ports to the PC that I've played have added controller and keyboard configuration options, so this was never an issue for me. I have the keyboard and mouse, plus the flight controller, steering wheel, and Xbox joystick, so I feel I'm covered, controller-wise. Setup and configuration can be a pain, though, but I imagine there has to be similar issues with consoles.

clok1966 wrote:

Devopers are working with consoles first so they are working with hardware that is 5 to almost 7 years behind current PC hardware, so games are not pushed to max anymore. Most of the GREAT looking games come out at the end of a consoles life when the hardware is figured out complety, but by that time its OLD... plain and simple. Consoles have a advantage on a unified platform so when the are released with 1-2 year old tech they can stand toe to toe with current PC's, but in the tech world time moves fast. I wont get intot he whole graphics isnt everythign argument (as I agree, gameplay is more imporatant) but a fact is a fact.. they are long outdated compared to PCs in a few short years.

From my point of view, the fact that PC tech evolves so fast is a minus, not a plus! Heck, a two-year-old PC is no longer state-of-the-art, and can't handle some of the newer games at max settings! It's this "upgrade cycle" that makes people just say "screw it, I'll get a console."

First of all, the money is in the console market. I imagine that PC games must be a nightmare for game companies from a customer support standpoint. "My game won't install! The game doesn't recognize my controller/graphics card/processor/flux capacitor!"

Well, I really don't mean to turn this into a console-vs-PC argument, but PC's are a very fragmented market, hardware-spec wise. Consoles are not. PC game developers have to develop for a variety of specs (processor speeds/cores, Directx 9/10/11 or whatever, sound cards, etc.), so in order to push the state of the art, they have to leave a lot of PC users behind or force them to spend big bucks to upgrade. Programmers can't even learn to push the current hardware to the max before the next generation arrives!

clok1966 wrote:

Console games are normally dumbed down period. Most (not all) that I have played on both systems the PC version is genreally much harder.

I think it's always been this way. But I don't see this as a factor in the "consoles holding back PC gaming" argument.

Probably my main gripe about console ports is the "save point" feature. I like to save the game at any point, and most PC games I've played allow this, even in the middle of furious action! But console ports seem to make you play from a "save point," meaning you have to play the game all the way back at your last save point if you die. Considering the prevalence of hard drives and memory cards on the consoles nowadays, I can't see a reason for "save points" on a console, much less on the PC, unless its necessary for the game design.

Seriously, though, PC users have little to complain about nowadays. There are more quality games out there to be played than anyone could realistically play in a lifetime. The real frustrations of PC gaming have little to do with consoles, and more to do with the PC itself (driver issues, copy protection, etc.). On top of that, PC's have MMO's out the yin/yang, and apparently consoles haven't caught up in this regard.

Considering how many people are playing videogames now, consoles may have done more to SAVE PC gaming more than hinder PC gaming! Can you imagine a company like "Rockstar Games" spending a bazillion dollars developing the latest GTA game for just the PC market? No way, not with all the piracy issues and configuration hurdles. But, since the console market is so huge, we get the side benefit of the "hand-me-down." Hey, now I'm playing GTA on my PC!!! Looking at it that way, consoles have HELPED the PC game arena!

Tuco40's picture
Joined: 09/30/2010
I don't have a dog in this

I don't have a dog in this fight; I've always been able to jump from PC to console and vice versa without any major complaints either way.

The argument that consoles are keeping gaming back holds no water these days. Truth is, any hardcore video game fan simply MUST own a console if they want to keep up with the best games out there.

Yeah, you can point out examples like DEUS EX II as proof positive that consoles DO hold gaming back (and you'd be right), but that was 7 years ago and things have changed drastically.

In our current state, the only thing a PC-only world would give us is higher resolutions, a crapload of mods, and (like CLOK1966 pointed out) better, more precise controls.

Ben Leggett
Ben Leggett's picture
Joined: 09/23/2010
I honestly don't care much

I honestly don't care much about whether this game is DX9 or that game is DX11, it's just an API for goodness sake, by itself it means nothing. Graphical fidelity is one of the least important differences between what the PC can offer and what the consoles can offer.

Several things that tend to annoy me about games designed around current consoles versus PC:

UIs that are almost invariably built around scrolling lists or radial menus. Works for some things, not very well for others, but you're really kind of stuck with that paradigm regardless. Also subsystems and abilities (that must be designed and implemented) that exist solely to work around innate input inaccuracy (auto-aim, lock-on, etc).

Fragmented and small-scale environments. Usually due to lack of memory. From Thief 3 to Crysis 2 this has been a design limitation forced by hardware. Notable exceptions to this would be GTA-esque titles, which really was one of the few (and so far last) active examples of technical-innovation-as-a-new-style-of-game to ever originate on the consoles.

Storage limits. This has been a huge limiting factor until very recently, hopefully the addition of dedicated general storage on consoles will start to break this longstanding trend.

Walled-and-locked-garden-with-an-armed-guard policies. Finally console makers are starting to ease up on this a bit with XBLA and other things, but these attempts are very flawed, and still tend to drastically limit the ability of developers to push technological limits, or even hurt small devs outright. See the trials the Super Meat Boy guys had to go through to get distribution on consoles, or even get exposure when they finally did get on XBLA.

Don't think consoles are holding PC gaming back, I think in general they tend to hold back technical boundary-pushing, and that's something that has always tended to thrive on "wild west" platforms like PCs and wither away on more restrictive and limited platforms like current consoles. There's always been this kind of 'innovative malaise' around consoles for the reasons I've stated, as if it's not worth pushing the boundaries of *gaming* on consoles, just the boundaries of "our stuff in relation to theirs". *Not* graphical boundary pushing, but the kind of boundary pushing that gave us games like Elite and Starflight. The kind of boundary pushing that says "wouldn't it be cool if a game could do/have/allow this?" And then does it.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Nice Discussion

Wow, some really great discussion here.

My take on this is that "the console" is not responsible for anything that's happened to "the PC" and could never be. That's because the console is just a thing, in fact a machine that has more in common with the PC than differences. From what I've been told, it's relatively trivial now to use a mouse and keyboard with a modern console if you so choose, though of course not all game interfaces will work with it.

And that's what brings me to my bone: what we're really talking about here is two different infrastructures or publishing platforms for games. The console has always been an "every man's device," something you use on your existing TV, something Mom can buy and pop in for her 7-year old without knowing a damned thing about it. They make their money by licensing fees--a considerable cut of every game that gets made and sold for their systems. That gives them a really good reason to try to market the console and get it into as many homes as possible, since every owner will probably buy at least some new games for the system (I'd like to see some data on this).

Now THAT motivation conflicts with lots of "generations." Each new generation for these guys is a big risk. They generally try to hedge their bets with backward compatibility, though as I've said many times, BC really does hold everyone back literally. The big 3 also benefit from exclusives, which is why they love the weird control schemes and all. If you invest the money to make a game for Kinect, for instance, Microsoft really benefits (esp. if it's a great game). They usually do a good enough job marketing the new controllers to establish a market for it, then it's a gold rush. The same is true for the DS and 3DS. I've often thought that eventually they'll happily give you a console and recoup through games purchases, but that still hasn't come true.

PCs are home to a lot more innovation because anybody can make and publish games for them without worrying about licensing fees and walls. Unless, of course, you're talking about big commercial development. Then you have to license a lot of the content and engines, etc. You also have to deal with the fact that most PC gamers use mouse and keyboard. It's probably limiting for some, at least, but I can't recall ever seeing a modern PC game that required a gamepad or joystick.

The PC is open architecture, so we have competition among the various manufacturers to make the best components. They then have a reason to keep producing better and cheaper stuff, since there's no reason to keep the platform stable for long periods of time. People complain about drivers, but that's just a technical problem that will probably be eliminated (and should be already) by some kind of auto-updating service. Windows already does a decent job of keeping itself updated; I wish it would also go ahead and update all my drivers and other software for me (out of the box, mind you). That's no doubt coming.

I played Crysis 2 and the thought that it was a dumbed down console port didn't really occur to me. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't carry more weapons, but that's a design decision. The graphics were good enough for me in any case; I'm like Bill, to the point where wondering if they had somehow been "twice as good," what difference would it have made? At some point, it's like a chess maker producing exquisite chess sets. Sure, the pieces look AWESOME, but's still chess, just like these games are still Wolfenstein 3D.

I also wouldn't have been happier if the levels had been huge and I could've gone anywhere. I'd just have ended up not knowing where to go or wasting time backtracking and such. I've been playing a bit of GTA San Andreas lately, and I find I'm just not impressed with the world part of it. So what if there's a thousand streets or whatever. All it amounts to is just idle driving time, running over pedestrians, etc. I know we all have a soft spot for Elite, but let's face it--I wouldn't play a game like that today. Now, when I hear "there's no way to win," or "sandbox style game," "YOU make the story," etc., I just yawn. I don't necessarily want a connect-the-dots design, but I do like clear goals and ways to achieve them. Arguably, for Elite that consisted of getting the best equipment possible and the Elite ranking. As far as I'm concerned, once you do that, you've "beaten" it. And eight star systems would have worked just as well as the millions of generated ones for that (two easy, two medium, two hard, two elite systems).

I hate gamepads. They just don't work for me on a cognitive level. Why press that square button there for a grenade? That's just so arbitrary. And like clok said, they seem to vary from game to game. I can't ever remember what to press, and just end up dying or pressing the wrong button again and again. Most PC games let you set the keyboard how you want, so I just set G for Grenade, since that makes sense to me.

But to my original point, the console vs. PC thing is not really about technology. It's really about competing economic strategies. Sadly, it looks like as Apple vs. Android and the Big 3 have shown us, the walled garden is more appealing to most people than the wild west. Essentially, they want to pay somebody to do all of the things for them that you're left doing on your own with PC or Android. All those options and possibilities that excite us just turn off the average Joe. "I, duhhhh, just want something that, duhhh, works when I mash the button." Here's your console, Mr. Ogre. Nerds like us are up to the challenge and enjoy (on some dark level) even when stuff fails and we have to find brilliant workarounds. Unfortunately, smart people will ALWAYS be in the extreme minority. Unless you'd prefer an 80s era computer market where only 5% of people had computers in their homes and the computer/console technological disparity was painful, this is just something we're going to have to live with.

Let's just hope that eventually we start getting more games designed for smart/cultured people, like we get in movies with independent films.

Joined: 01/21/2009
I think it would be easier to

I think it would be easier to say MONEY is holding PC gaming back. But consoles are a ENABLER of that, they are where the money is aand why I still say they are harming PC gaming.

We talk about graphics.. and Crysis was mentioned, its kinda known as the Crown jewel of what can be done, unlimted view, if you can see it and its physicly possible to get there , you can go. The artifical boundries are basicly there not to stop you from exploring, but to keep you on your path, its not based on limitations of the engine. Its impressive looking with all details turned on. Matt mentioned so what if it was 2X better looking. this I agree with, right now its pretty impressive, looking 2X better wont make it a better game, but then again it wont hurt it either. it been said many times Graphics dont make a game.. but they sure dont hurt it either.

And this is where I really think consoles are limiting PC's. When Farcry/Crysis was made it was basicly AHEAD of its time. It couldnt be played on alot of machines (almost none of the current ones when it was released) at full detail. the developers knew this and even mentioned it. So why would anybody make a game that couldnt be played on the current generation of machines in its full glory? Simple, when developing it there is a a lead time.. you develop (most games are roughly a year) on a year old equipment, byt hte time its released hardware (PC!!! wise) will be faster. You factor that in, and you build for the future. By the time the game is released it will probelby play on the best equipment out there. (No console developer will ever do that. IT HAS to work on the console... look at the FPS wars on every game site on the current cross platform games... THEY SCREAM about 5-6 fps different in certian areas of game, but thye foreget to mention its 100% playable even at those lesser frames.. Running bad on a speciifc console in todays world can means some bad sales.. so games arent ment to push the edge on consoles, they are ment to play well) Again, why? your game will probelby play crappy on alot of equipment and it will hurt sales. Woldnt it be better to cover the mojority of users and sell more?
NO!!!! if we thought that way we would all be driving VW bugs, there would never be electirc cars (face it they blow right now, limited range, a 5 year (battery) lifespan with a $5-10,000 bill comming to replace them. The Oil it takes to manufature the batteries and the tech for those cars is far more then a conventional GAS car would use in its life. They cost alot more compared to gas counterparts (even with the goverment takeing $5-6000 off for buying one).. If you do some real research they are not saving any OIL AT ALL.. but if we dont do the research, we dont drive this type of stuff it will NEVER improve, get better and make a difference in the long run.

So how does that all tie in... If games are not pushed not only gameplay wise (consoles and casual have made great strides in this area) but graphics, AI etc... stuff that requires HIGH end hardware then they wont improve.

And that is why I think consoles are hurting gameing (pc) the PC was alwasy home to cutting edge. Companies like Epic, Id, Cryteam, Bullfrog/Lionhead, Bioware, etc.. now (and you cant fualt them, looking at say Crysis 2 sales, the 360 easily sells considerbly (tripple if not more)more than the PC) they are all looking at consoles as MAIN development platforms. They all have to make it work on a console first, the PC second. And as I mentioned before, consoles are simply Old hardware compared to PC's Like that or not its true. And if you make a running shoe for a guy who walks, its different than one for a guy who runs, its simpler, cheaper and not ment to endure the punishment a runner gives it.

everybody is pushing the boundries on consoles now, so things are still improveing.. but the tech is old..

but is it bad? Im not sure.. bad for us dedicated PC gamers, maybe.. Crysis 2 will be Cryteams last PC (mian platform) based title. Id has moved to consoles, epic has moved to consoles, Lionhead has been there for a bit. I still think we will see some amazing things, but its not going to be in PC gaming anymore, and that make sme a bit sad.

I look at the big inovations in gaming in the last few years. And yes the BIG! ones are hardware related,.... and (drumroll please) CONSOLE too! Controlers! the Wii has kickstarted a controler development cycle. And I think thats great,its even trickled (slighlty) to PC's and most of them can be hacked to PC use. But back in the day... 2d to 3D, 3d shaded to 3D textured, 100 enemies on screen to 10000's,Huge improvments to interfaces (here is another spot consoles are hurting PC's, those wonderfull interface changes that where long time comming are all reverting back to crude and simple so they work with a CONSOLE!), etc.. all came in PC games.. Now I look at those guys who created all this stuff, they are all working at making an engine that looked good on a PC 5+ years ago, look good on a current gen console instead of making the next super engine on a PC. how can anybody say that isnt hurting PC's?

But as I said before, we all rode horse once, did the Car hurt the Horse.. yes... but was it a bad thing? Hurting PC gaming, yes. is it a bad thing? maybe not. We move ahead, tech that was king is regulated to 2nd class and a new king takes the throne, its progress with a little regression in my eyes.

Not_a_Gamer (not verified)
Graphics have nothing to do with

To be fair maybe this should be rephrased as mainstream holding (PC) gaming back. Anyways, today's multiplatform AAA titles are primarily designed for the consoles and for whatever reason PC versions have these things that PC players complain about:

- no modding support
- no dedicated servers
- bad/lacking hardware support
- lack of options/settings for the game and multiplayer
- bad interface design with menus and gameplay

If the game requires user to be online while playing the single player campaign or such, that is complained about (and other weird, "draconian" DRM schemes). And if the game is buggy, too short etc. common complaints.

Sure if the textures are bad (and they usually are) graphics may be an issue. So mainly these issues come from the fact that the game is designed for two sets of hardware and they don't want to invest in the PC side. And it's easier to ask money for DLC when gamers can't create their own maps and such.

In the hardware/settings side I have such issues as no way to change field of view, no support for multiple monitors, no support for mouse buttons beyond three, aim assist and mouse smoothing/acceleration locked on and other things that might make you physically ache.

The real dumbing down/holding back issue comes from the fact that the games are designed to be played with pads. So navigating menus require, depending on the port and the type of game, a lot of work. Ever wondered why in Bioshock you just eat/drink the thing on the ground instead of picking it up? Yeah, they didn't want to implement an inventory. So in some cases this can influence the actual game, like in Alpha Protocol (a game I liked) I pretty much avoided working with the inventory and never used gadgets/grenades.

Action games suffer too, being stripped ability to go prone, crouch, lean... and the frustration that I'm not able to map a key to a certain function but have to select something else first applies in action games too.

And yeah... plenty of other stuff too, but it can be argued that game design is guided more by the need to cash in on the mainstream (console) gamers and bad ROI with PC specific stuff.

Overall there are still more games than I have time to play on the PC. Also I don't mind people enjoying themselves while playing games on consoles, even though I don't enjoy it. But believe me, the issues of why most PC gamers don't enjoy console ports, are valid.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Consoles Pushing PC Gaming
Not_a_Gamer wrote:

And yeah... plenty of other stuff too, but it can be argued that game design is guided more by the need to cash in on the mainstream (console) gamers and bad ROI with PC specific stuff. Overall there are still more games than I have time to play on the PC. Also I don't mind people enjoying themselves while playing games on consoles, even though I don't enjoy it. But believe me, the issues of why most PC gamers don't enjoy console ports, are valid.

Those are some excellent points, Not a Gamer. Your comment about ROI got me thinking that maybe instead of holding PC gaming back, consoles have actually pushed it forward.

How's that possible? Well, they've definitely created an exponentially larger market for videogames than the computer games market ever was, so that's pumped a lot of money into an industry that was before mostly hobbyists. I'd be very curious to know the top ten games with the biggest development budgets. It wouldn't surprise me if all of those were console games.

That said, there's little reason why PC gamers shouldn't benefit. The issue seems mostly to lie in lackluster ports. What we really need are better teams to port to PC. In the past, ports were often variants with their own unique features and styles, sometimes amounting to a different game (you definitely see that still today with ports for mobiles).

The most expensive part of making modern games, if I'm not mistaken, is the assets and licensing, not so much the code. Once you have all that in place, I don't see why a developer wouldn't be interested in allowing a third-party to make a really nice port of their game for PCs. I'd like to see more third-parties specialized in this, and also who would be up for taking risks to make the interface fit the platform better.

Joined: 01/02/2009
Depends what you want to play...

For instance, console games (no matter what) are great when you have fixed responses for everything - you can pick A, B, C or D through buttons, controller arrows or what-have-you - but A, B, C and D are STATIC. (Here I'm referencing Dragon Age, having played both console and PC.) However, I despise entering names and text using a controller. It's slow, it's easy to make mistakes and it just bogs the entire process down. Having said that, my PS3 goes very nicely on my 48" LCD TV, and the PC doesn't really work too well that way.

I'm sure I'm the minority, but I miss sports games, though - specifically sports management games on the PC. There are fewer and fewer games that focus more on the management (what I call the 'thinking' part of these games) than they do on fancy graphics and smooth action.

Old school "text" games - Hockey League Simulator, Computer Baseball, etc - those were always my favorite, because they focused more on the stuff I liked, and didn't waste programming time, resources and memory on el-snazzo graphics.

Console games are lots of (admittedly really really good) graphical flash and gameplay, if you only want to use your thumbs.

Anonymous (not verified)
I was a PC gammer then went

I was a PC gammer then went to Console and now I'm back to PC. PC is brilliant with textures and detail. Console look so crappy to me now to where the graphics effect wheather I will even play on a console.

Your 1080p argument is stale. It's only 1280 by 1080p on console vs PC 1920 x 1080p and higher and yes there is a remarkable differnce. Graphics don't always make the game but if a game looks like crap because the developers hold back to run on consoles I won't play it. I remember back in the day when Duke Nukum 3d came out then the N64 and playstation came out THEN the console could play catch up to play a PC game. PC game could look almost as real as life itself if consoles weren't such garbage. Gameplay and detail make the game not gameplay alone. Battlefield 3 on PC looks amazing. Water look like water. Bricks on the wall look like bricks. You can almost feel the gun in your hand. Then I played it on a console for all of 10 minutes. I almost wanted to vomit. Characters were blurry. Objects in the distance looked like your peering through the bottom of a glass bottle.

Metro 2033 on PC I what games should look like now and surpass. The console version looks like I'm playing on my old Nintendo 8bit systems compared to PC. Imagine how good game could look is game developers could fully use directx 11 and not be stuck on the old directx 9 of smooth plastic and cartoon looking textures. Console look like crap and keep a lot of people from even playing games these days. A lot of people I know can build a great gaming computer that can crush a console for LESS than the cost of a console these days. I have done it myself a few times for some friends. Heck even the intergrated graphics for the Intel 2100, 2500, and 2600k can run console graphics. It's digusting. You and your narrow views are disgusting. PC's can doe 5 times what a console can do, PERIOD!

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