If this conference has taught me anything about the state of PC gaming, it’s that those of us who prefer a computer to a console want something different from our time spent playing, but it has nothing to do with the difference between a mouse and a joystick.
Console gamers want to pick up a controller, turn on their TV, and jump right into the action. Easy to learn, hard to master games like Halo and Smash Bros are perfect for digging deep into a game, or just tossing a controller to your friend on the couch.
PC gamers are willing to stick it out through not understanding a game, or simply being bad at it, in order to chase down a feeling of achieving goals in the long term. From MOBAs to Minecraft, we’ll suffer through a dirge of confusion and menial tasks for a reward a long way off.
Their own little corner
At E3, it’s all about the consoles. The two-story Xbox and Sony booths competed for attention like warring skyscrapers, and the vast Nintendo empire stretched as far as the eye could see. With the exception of the Oculus booth, which had a huge line the entire week, the PC gaming area was a series of small booths, with keyboards and mice, a pair of headphones, and a monitor.
Shorter lines meant you could casually walk up and play popular upcoming titles like Banner Saga 2, and probably even end up gushing to one of the developers about how much you loved the first game. You could even wander into the theater for games like XCOM 2 and Civilization: Beyond Earth without having to wait in line for too long.
We carved out our own space at E3, packed with the games we like to play. MOBAs, real time strategy games, deep story-based RPGs – if it’s not immediately obvious how to win, it’s for the PC gamers. Sometimes it isn’t even about games, but about optimizing their performance and our enjoyment of them. Improved voice chat systems, adjustable click force mice, anything that helps improve your game by 10 percent is a huge boon.
It’s a division driven by taste, not by console exclusives or input methods.
Let’s be honest about console exclusives
Console exclusives are a decidedly one-way system. They’re designed exclusively to sell more consoles, more controllers, and more games. There’s nothing wrong with that. You have to find a way to draw people to your system, and it allows for a more unique experience.
At the PC Gaming conference Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, sat in front of a theater full of hardcore PC gamers owners and told them console exclusives came down to having a mouse or having a gamepad. He wasn’t being honest, and we all knew it. In fact, in September of last year, 343 Studios executive producer Dan Ayoub said it was development resources that were keeping them from releasing the Halo: Master Chief Collection for PC.
“From a technical standpoint, you look at the architecture of the Xbox One and there are some similarities to the architecture of a modern PC,” he told Kotaku. “That certainly makes that sort of cross-platform development easier. But beyond that the ease goes away. Master Chief Collection is massive. We have to coordinate four games, 100-plus maps, a lot of new cinematics, and Halo 2 Anniversary.”
Phil Spencer wasn’t being honest, and we all knew it.
And yet Windows 10 is on its way to the PC, and Xbox streaming support is headed to Windows 10. On top of that, Phil Spencer announced Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for PC, which is almost as large of a set of games as the Halo series. Halo isn’t the only game keeping Xbox alive by any means, but it is a huge draw for the system, and a big piece of their marketing strategy. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a unique draw for the system, and a game that’s inspired new concepts across a number of genres.
The truth of the matter is that if you ask any serious PC gamer, they have an Xbox 360 controller, or at least a gamepad of some sort. There are a slew of PC games that only run on a gamepad, and the cost of a controller and adapter are negligible to someone who has invested money into a PC gaming rig.
Computer gamers are in for the long haul
Xbox users don’t want to play Euro Truck Simulator, for the same reason that PC gamers don’t want to play Gears of War. No console owner wants to sit down in front of their TV after a long day of work to drive 50 or 60 miles in real time across Germany, but a PC gamer will play for hours just to see Alexanderplatz. Likewise, you don’t commonly hear PC gamers talking about the latest release of Madden.
It shows in our commitment to our system, too. A console owner buys the device, and then upgrades it with new controllers and games for the lifetime of the console – a few years, usually until the new one comes out. It’s a system that works well if you don’t want to worry about whether a game you want will run or not.
For a PC gamer, any new piece of hardware is like a console release, and we’ll spend years tuning and upgrading a computer to keep up with the latest and greatest technology. Even when we do build a new computer, the old one either becomes parts for a different project, or just a second computer for the living room.
There’s still some common ground
Think about the difference between TV bingers and movie enthusiasts. A movie watcher wants to sit down and enjoy an entire story in just a couple hours, a deep, but accessible experience that immediately rewards them. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones viewers put in the time every week for another bit of the story, a long term reward for their time.
It’s not all divisive, though, and there are lots of games that find success across a number of platforms. The Grand Theft Auto series has always been popular no matter what system it’s being played on, and PC gamers love it for the huge modding potential. Indie games from the PC like OlliOlli and Terraria that started on the computer have already found their way onto consoles and mobile devices, and people love them there too.
We’re all part of a larger community, and there’s more common ground than there is division.
There are also games that probably should make an appearance on the other side of the aisle. Destiny’s RPG and resource grinding elements would be a great fit for the PC. Likewise, Kerbal Space Program would be a fun and satisfying distraction for Playstation and Xbox owners, once it’s out of beta.
We’re all part of a larger community, and there’s more common ground than there is division. As the consoles become more like computers, and computer owners start seeking out a more casual experience like those found with the Steambox, we’ll start to find more that ties us together. For now though, just remember when your PC gamer friend passes on playing Call of Duty, imagine he’s asking you to play Dota 2.
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