Another day, another misguided rant about the viability of the PC as a gaming platform.
In a Slashgear post that heralds Valve’s Steam Machines as being in a “quest to save PC gaming,” J.C. Torres says the following:
“Once the king of computer gaming, the PC has been steadily experiencing a decline, especially with the combine onslaught of major consoles. The new trend of mobile gaming hasn’t helped either. There just aren’t as many high quality, triple A titles for PCs as there are for PlayStations, Xboxes, and even Wiis…”
Whew. Okay. First off, PC gaming revenues surpassed consoles over a year ago while pushing more than twice as much hardware revenue than consoles, while Ubisoft’s recent PC game sales rival the PS4’s (and far outshine the Xbox One).
But there’s a more insidious point I want to focus on. While I agree with Torres’ core point that Steam Machines and the rise of Linux gaming is nothing but a good thing for PC gaming in general, this idea that PCs are too complicated to develop for and lack the strong base of exclusives that consoles supposedly enjoy has been gaining steam in various articles and social media channels in recent months. And it’s wrong.
Let’s pick apart why.
PCs and consoles share the same bones
Here’s Slashgear again:
“PCs, especially gaming rigs, more often than not vary wildly when it comes to specs and components. Gamers are free to plug in any CPU, video card, RAM, storage type, and even display resolution on the dream gaming PC. Making sure your game works on as many possible combinations of hardware is a logistic impossibility. In contrast, there’s only one standard spec for a PlayStation 4, give or take a few variants. Same with an Xbox One. It is ultimately less stressful for a game developer to target a console, leading to poorly done ports or complete absence on PCs.”
There’s no debating that potential PC configurations vastly outnumber console setups, but at a hardware level, modern-day consoles are basically just low- to mid-end PCs with specialized operating systems designed around Sony and Microsoft’s ecosystems. I’m not saying that to stoke the fanboy fires of which gaming setup is superior; it’s a simple fact. While the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 utilized far more custom hardware designs, all modern consoles rock AMD APUs with Radeon graphics and the traditional x86 processor architecture.
“In the past, consoles have had very unique architectures compared to the PC,” AMD’s David Nalasco told PCWorld around the time of the PS4’s launch. “…[Now] if you’re developing a game or a game engine and want to port it over to the PC, you don’t have to start over from scratch with your optimization. You’re starting from a base that has CPU cores that are much more similar, GPU cores that are much more similar, and other feature sets that are much more comparable.”
That’s important to this conversation. At the same time, the cost of AAA game development has skyrocketed—that’s why every major publisher rushes to pump out legions of downloadable content and in-game purchases these days.
Toss those two major factors together, and developers of AAA games are incentivized to spread their titles as widely as possible. And that’s what they’re doing! While PC gamers were all-too-often neglected in generations past, virtually every major third-party game released in recent memory also landed on PC. Here’s but a small sampling:
- Grand Theft Auto V
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Fallout 4
- Star Wars: Battlefront
- Call of Duty: Black Ops III
- Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
- Just Cause 3
- Rainbow Six: Siege
- Mad Max
Pretty much all of the big-name games announced at E3 this year are coming to PC, too. Even the so-called third-party exclusives announced at the show were hedged with terms like “console exclusive” or “launch exclusive,” as games like the PlayStation’s Grim Fandango Remastered also debuted on PC, while the Xbox One’s Rise of the Tomb Raider is coming to PCs next year (as well as the PS4, eventually). Heck, even Rock Band 4 is coming to the Oculus Rift.
Home grown exclusives
Sure, Bloodborne is a PS4 exclusive, but otherwise, the list of true current-gen console exclusives is nothing short of paltry compared to previous generations. And the vast majority of those are first-party games or series with deep ties to a particular console, like Halo 5, Uncharted 4, Last of Us, God of War, Gears of War 4, Forza Motorsport 6, Crackdown 3, et cetera. And even those walls are breaking down: Microsoft is bringing its recent Gears of War Ultimate Edition and Killer Instinct as well as the upcoming Fable Legends to PC to help push DirectX 12, which gives developers deep, console-level access to PC hardware.
(First-party Nintendo games are a beast all their own, as their exclusivity is the only compelling reason to buy a Wii; the vast majority of AAA games are never published on Nintendo consoles.)
Consoles have fewer exclusives than ever before. Meanwhile, the march of PC exclusives continues strong. Here are some recent high-profile examples, some of which are among the most widely played games in the world:
- StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void
- Civilization: Beyond Earth
- Sims 4
- League of Legends
- Dota 2
- Heroes of the Storm
- XCOM 2 (delayed until February)
- Dirt Rally
- Endless Legend
- World of WarCraft and its expansions
- Pillars of Eternity
- Europa Universalis IV
- Crusader Kings
- The Total War series
The list goes on and on, and I didn’t even include games that have been playable on PCs for years but will be ported to consoles in 2016—like Kerbal Space Program, Elite: Dangerous, Assetto Corsa, and Invisible Inc.—or the slew of beloved indie PC gems like Undertale (94 rating overall on Metacritic), The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth (90 rating), Downwell (84 rating), Prison Architect (83 rating), and countless others. These two Reddit threads highlight many, many more.
So yes, the consoles have some true gaming exclusives—mostly action or sports titles, and far fewer than before. But if anything, the PC is home to vastly more exclusives. They just tend to be a different, slower-paced, more in-depth type of game. And that’s fine! Different strokes for different folks, and all that. There are plenty of valid reasons to prefer either PCs or consoles over the other.
But game selection isn’t one of them. Aside from a very select handful of titles, virtually every third-party AAA game makes their way to PCs these days, be it from EA, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., or whoever else, and the list of first-party console exclusives are clearly balanced out by PC exclusives. The PC absolutely, positively does not have fewer exclusives than consoles anymore.
The dark days are clearly behind us. All those cross-platform games tend to be far more gorgeous on PCs, shoddy ports aside, and offer free multiplayer too. It’s time this ugly, false rumor gets laid to rest. Please?