Are Consoles Holding PC Gaming Back?

Posted: April 18, 2011 in PC
Tags: , , ,
BACH: You tearing PC gaming apart, Consoles!

When asked this question, Patrick Bach of DICE (developers of the Battlefield series, including the upcoming Battlefield 3) said, “Yes, absolutely.” He argues that most games are designed for consoles and then ported to the PC, usually with only minor graphical improvements. He said that console gaming inevitably went to the lowest common denominator, and that it is hurting PC gaming as an industry.

Do I agree with him? Not really.

Now, it’s not necessarily that I disagree entirely with the sentiment. Consoles have been behind PCs in most major developments over the years – disc-based media, hard drives, online play, what have you. Until the early 2000s, PC and console gaming were largely independent of each other (not that lots of people, myself included, didn’t play both). However, now they’ve reached a near equilibrium, with most developers choosing to develop initially for the XBox 360 and then port their efforts over to the PC and PS3 from there.

Composer Johann Sebastian Bach, probably not related to Patrick.

Now I won’t argue that many companies jumping on the console bandwagon has had some ill effects – I can’t help but think of the near extinction of flight sims (at least there’s a new IL-2 coming out!), and the PC certainly gets shafted when it comes to some releases – but to be honest, it’s been a learning experience for many companies, and in some cases the exchange between the two formerly seperate worlds has been a good thing, and gamers across the board have benefited.

“Consolization”, as it stands, has the fringe benefit of not having to update your PC as often. It can be expensive to keep your PC updated with fresh RAM and video cards every year, and closer alignment with console standards means that your current PC setup will last quite a bit longer than it used to.

But I can’t see consoles being at fault for Bach’s assertion that only console gaming, and not the glorious nation of PC gaming, are to fault for the lowest common denominator approach. Frankly, look at who he’s working for and what he’s making. He’s working for Electronic Arts and making an online first-person shooter set in a modern combat setting. In addition, it’s not like this is the first massively online shooter to exist or even that DICE has made. It’s the twelfth game in the Battlefield series. A series that, while fun, is a franchise for precisely one reason: it’s popular, and EA likes the money it provides.

And who are the “lowest common denominator” gamers we presume he’s talking about? Um…would those be the people who like to get online and lock proverbial horns in games like Call of Duty and…Battlefield? Consoles certainly have their share of sophisticated and innovative games (just as the PC does), yet the most popular games are naturally going to be the ones that appeal to the average gamer. In any case, Bach probably isn’t the best person to be making the claim that consoles are ruining the PC. Now if Sid Meier said it, maybe there would be a bit more reason to listen.

But DICE makes shooters. Good shooters? Sure. I logged many an hour in Battlefield 2142. When Battlefield 1942 came out, they could claim a definite feat of innovation with 64-player online play, complete with numerous vehicles. Is this rampant consolization hurting them? If by hurting them you mean paying them, then yes. Bach has made it clear that the PC version of Battlefield 3 will be the lead version and will support almost three times as many players per game as the console versions. And that’s fine. These days it’s kind of refreshing to see the PC version leading the way (and it’s equally refreshing for EA to ease up on the developers’ leash a bit).

Guess Bach is not familiar with the jazz that awaits grafting a 360 onto a PC…

As someone who comes from the “gameplay over graphics” philosophy, I guess I don’t see a reason to be down on consoles. If all you care about is graphics, you can certainly get the best ones on the PC. But I’m honestly a lot more interested in how the game plays over how it looks. After all, is being able to render one more shade of brown and gray really going to make your shooter better? Remember, few games have seen success like World of Warcraft – and its dated graphics – has over the past decade.

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