Consoles are easy
- This page collects the Console Proletariat's talking points in favor of entrusting selection of available products to a cartel of gatekeepers.
One can play a video game on a general-purpose personal computer, or one can play a video game on a dedicated video game console. Followers of the so-called "PC master race" repeat the true claim that PCs soundly beat the major consoles on flexibility and user freedom. But as Thomas U. P. Charlton wrote centuries ago, "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." Some PC fans aren't aware why enough gamers "would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety", as Benjamin Franklin put it, that the console cartel stays in business. But through late 2013, people were still choosing consoles because they're easier, flexibility be damned. If makers of gaming PCs want to end consoles' dominance of the living room, they need to address at least some of the issues that the console proles tend to bring up.
Easy to choose
PCs offer a wider selection of both hardware and games. But more is not always better. Consider the psychological phenomenon of analysis paralysis, also called decision paralysis,, overchoice, or fear of better options (FOBO). When presented with a large selection of choices, someone with little information is likely to choose none at all in fear of having to live with the consequences of having made a suboptimal choice. Someone who feels overwhelmed by options tends to choose "none of the above". Just as this "paradox of choice" (as American psychologist Barry Schwartz called it) drives customers away from familiar things like backpacks, groceries, 401(k) retirement plans, and partners in a dating app, it applies even more to less familiar topics, such as subscription video on demand services and video game hardware and software. Rich at ReviewTechUSA has speculated that the confusing variety of models caused the Steam Machine to fail in the market. So a lot of people choose to remain rationally ignorant, letting someone they trust do the research for them. Tens of millions of people have chosen to trust the console makers to recommend hardware configurations and enjoyable games.
After Compaq reverse engineered IBM BIOS in the mid-1980s, numerous companies started manufacturing IBM-compatible PCs. Different PCs have different capabilities; some are more affordable than others, and some are better for specific tasks. But people who don't build PCs for a living often find it hard to choose a model that meets the requirements of what you want to play on it now and what you're likely to want to play on it over the next few years. Picking a console, on the other hand, is easy: buy the one for which your favorite exclusive titles are released. As long as it says "PlayStation 4" on the box, it will run on a PlayStation 4. And because all consoles of a particular platform are equal in capability, no player is at an inherent disadvantage in reaction time due to weaker hardware.
Some PC games support play with a keyboard or any USB game controller. Others (such as Limbo) support only the keyboard and Xbox 360 controllers. Still others support only the keyboard. But if you buy a console game, and it doesn't name a specific controller on the front cover, you can be sure that it will work with the controller that came with the console.
PC platforms allow developers to self-publish games. This in theory offers a much easier route to market for small developers, who can distribute copies of their work for a fee through their own website or through services such as Itch.io. This may have helped PC gaming surpass the consoles in global revenue by 2014. But small developers have tended to produce games that do not come close to competing with the production values of the major video game studios. Nintendo, for example, has in the past compared inexperienced game developers working out of a "garage" (a home office) to contestants on American Idol. (In the 2010s, Sony started to allow family businesses so long as they have at least one game industry veteran.)
The vetting process represented by an imprimatur such as the Official Nintendo Seal helps raise the median quality of games on a particular platform. On the one hand, not everybody likes "having publishers as arbiters of public taste", instead choosing to rely on reviews. But on the other hand, not everybody likes having to sort through 90% crap (source: Theodore Sturgeon) to find a few playable games. And this perception of consistent quality helps the industry avoid another depression like the North American video game market experienced in 1983–1984 when people gave up video gaming en masse after a flood of poorly balanced Atari 2600 games filled retailers' shelves. Granted, part of this was caused by a common practice of game distributors letting retailers return unsold games for a refund, which opened retailers to scams when a distributor goes bankrupt.
As one anonymous comment on Slashdot put it: "The entry [barrier on Google Play Store] is so low that complete crap is released. The consoles are upscale compared to them. Publishers filter out bad writers." Another put it this way:
- It's tiresome trawling past all the crap in their stores looking for something that's actually worthwhile. I'd rather both platforms just had 100 games, because that's plenty enough to contain the good stuff, without all the [expletive] getting the [expletive] in your way.
As with Hollywood films, the majority prefer sure bets over a chance of being frustrated by having bought something unusable:
- "The barrier to entry prevents a lot of crap, but also a lot of innovation. There's a finite resource, and no one ever got fired buying IBM." --Actually, I do RTFA
PC games tend to allow user modification far more often than console games. A mod can lead to creativity; there would be no Counter-Strike if there were no mod support in Half-Life. Such a mod can also keep sales of the base game alive for years after release. But a lot of people prefer consoles' assurance of an unmodified game and GPU driver because in online matches against strangers, a stock software environment means less time wasted voting off cheaters. And even for single-player games, self-contained AAA games are more likely to have consistent production values and to have been reviewed by critics than obscure indie games or mods for AAA PC games.
Easy to use
Not having to worry about making the wrong choice is only one of many things that make a console easier for a non-technical person to use than a gaming PC. Another is not having to worry about accidental self-harm or spend time maintaining the operating system. PCs require security software to keep dangerous software from doing too much damage when it enters the PC by exploiting a vulnerability in software like Flash Player. Consoles don't because they run only software approved by the console maker, and console makers are unlikely to approve malware. True, one can in theory do research on the trustworthiness of each program that one uses on a computer. But end users find a limited, task-focused interface valuable because about 95 percent of people cannot complete multi-step tasks on a PC.
Consoles work offline, which is important if you spend long periods of time away from Internet access or if the only available connection where you live has a harsh monthly cap on uploads and downloads, such as satellite, cellular, or the plan that a DSL ISP in Iowa began to impose in early 2014. Most major PC games include online digital restrictions management that requires the player to connect to the Internet before playing the game. Some PC games restrict the number of PCs that a particular licensed copy can be played on, ever, even if the old PCs are retired from use. Some limit the license to a particular e-mail address and do not allow it to be transferred to another person. Some require a periodic or even continuous Internet connection to keep the license activated on the machine. For example, games using Valve's Steam DRM phone home at install time, and alleged bugs may cause the Steam client to lose cached receipts after a few weeks. Both Assassin's Creed II and SimCity required a continuous connection at launch (though this was eventually turned down). Consoles don't because ownership of the authentic game disc or game card represents the grant of license to play the game.
PCs occasionally require the user "to deal with drivers and updates and Windows weirdness." This can include finding, downloading, and installing driver updates for the GPU or other components. Consoles don't for two reasons: much of the operating system is statically linked into the game, and each game for a PSP or later console includes an update partition containing the latest version of the operating system. And unlike PC driver updates, which can fix some games but often break others, system software updates for a console are more predictable because all consoles have substantially the same hardware with the same behaviors, other than differences in the size of included storage for downloaded purchases. This means no need to waste time "fooling with sliders" to optimize the speed/quality tradeoff on a particular set of hardware. And unlike updates to PC operating systems, updates to (say) Nintendo's system software don't add problems that weren't there before.
Easy to afford
Finally, consoles tend to be more affordable for many. Though the price of console games includes a surcharge charged by console makers, the hardware itself is far cheaper so long as you aren't interested in multiple consoles' exclusive games and don't live in a country that imposes prohibitive import duties on consoles (such as much of South America). A mid-range gaming PC that lasts eight years the way the Xbox 360 did might cost $1,000 or more, including case, motherboard, CPU, RAM, GPU, hard drive, optical drive, keyboard, mouse, operating system, and the labor of putting the PC together. The owner of a competent desktop PC can game with just a $200 GPU, and CPU-wise, there are reports of some mid-2010s games working at low settings on a Core 2 Duo. But if your primary computing device is a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop without an MXM slot, a compact desktop without a full-size PCI Express slot, or an desktop PC more than seven years old, you might need a new one. Likewise if you want to be able to use the PC while a game is in progress. Thus a $299 game console may be cheaper than a PC and a Windows license. A video streaming box definitely is.
Households with more than one gamer might appreciate that console games are far more likely than PC games to allow single-screen multiplayer. One copy of a $60 game costs less than three or four copies of a $30 game, one for each member of the household, and one $40 to $60 extra controller is cheaper than a $600 gaming PC and monitor. Part of this difference in multiplayer comes from the fact that consoles tend to be connected to bigger monitors. It's a lot easier to fit two to four people around a 32" television monitor than a 15" laptop monitor or a 21" desktop monitor. Historically, PCs in the living room have been only for hardcore geeks. From the mid-1980s until about 2007, TVs couldn't display the enhanced- and high-definition video outputs of a PC without an obscure scan converter, and a standard-definition video output was far from a standard feature. Even after HDTVs with VGA and HDMI inputs became popular, most desktop PCs still came in huge, noisy tower cases that don't fit well into a home entertainment center. Until the 2014 introduction of set-top gaming PCs produced during the run-up to the Steam Machine, no well-known PC maker made a good faith effort to market PCs for the living room, and the home theater PC market was largely limited to people who build their own.
Between 2009 and 2013, much of the handheld gaming market shifted from handheld consoles to mobile phones running iOS or Android. But even with the lower "snack size" pricing of games on phones' app stores, handheld consoles can still have a lower total cost of ownership than smartphones. Unlike smartphones, Wi-Fi-only handheld consoles don't require an expensive voice and data plan, especially for people who have a land line and only occasionally make cellular calls. For example, a Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita, a prepaid flip phone, and a $100 per year plan that includes few minutes can cost less than a smartphone with Virgin Mobile's cheapest plan ($420 per year) and the external Bluetooth controller that one needs in order to have good control in genres other than hunt-and-peck.
Consoles thrive because they're easy. But then Earth girls are easy too.
- Thomas U. P. Charlton. The Life of Major General James Jackson. Augusta: Randolph & Co., 1809.
- Randall Munroe. "Decision Paralysis". xkcd, 2017-02. Accessed 2017-02-20.
- Tess Barker. "Fear Of Better Options: Do We Actually Have FOBO And Not FOMO?" MTV, 2014-11-25. Accessed 2017-02-20.
- Mark Hill. "4 Reasons We Suck At Making Big Decisions". Cracked, 2015-06-24. Accessed 2015-06-26.
- Randall Munroe. "Backpack Decisions". xkcd, 2018-02-07. Accessed 2018-02-09.
- "The tyranny of choice: You choose". The Economist, 2010-12-16. Accessed 2014-01-21.
- Dawn Morrow. "5 Ways The Universe Is Secretly Sabotaging Your Love Life". Cracked, 2018-02-12. Accessed 2018-02-12.
- Sara Fischer. "Streaming's bounty of choices overwhelms consumers". Axios, 2019-07-12. Accessed 2019-07-12. Via Slashdot
- ReviewTechUSA. "It's Time To Declare Valve's Steam Machines Dead...What A Shame." 2016-06-05. Accessed 2016-06-29.
- Anthony Taormina. "PC Gaming Surpasses Console Gaming in Global Revenue". Game Rant, 2014-04-28. Accessed 2015-09-02.
- Jason Scgreier. "Nintendo Turns Up Its Nose at ‘Garage Developers’". Wired, 2011-03-18. Accessed 2014-01-18.
- Jeff Grubb. "This mom and her son made the PlayStation Experience’s coolest game". VentureBeat, 2014-12-13. Accessed 2014-12-23.
- Jakob Nielsen. "The Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think". Nielsen Normal Group, 2016-11-13. Acessed 2016-12-12.
- Tari Robertson. "Metered Internet pricing results in protest by EBTC members". Independence Bulletin Journal, 2014-01-18. Accessed 2014-01-21. Via Slashdot