Six reasons the PC is winning E3

PC Gamer


The Oculus Rift

The Rift has inspired a renaissance in virtual reality and related tech, and it's the single most exciting thing happening in gaming hardware at the moment. It's the perfect combination - new technologies that directly and tangibly give players access to new experiences. Microsoft and Sony are touting camera-based systems with questionable utility and even questionable legality in certain territories. There's none of that uncertainty with the Rift - it's cool, it's evolving fast, and its purpose is obvious.

It plugs into everything that's already great about the PC: the grassroots enthusiasm of modding teams, the long history of great first person games, and a focus on games as a hobby rather than as a nebulous lifestyle entertainment entity. It might take a while for flailing around with a VR headset on to be socially acceptable, but it's great to have something to be excited about.

The future doesn't look like a bunch of smiling people yelling 'MacDonalds' at their televisions: it looks like someone with a huge pair of goggles on running in a motion-sensitive bowl while pretending to fight a dragon. That's much, much cooler. Obviously.

It's got the best graphics

If you saw the two Battlefield 4 conference demos, you may have noticed the telling little backspace key prompt in the top right corner. They were running on PC. Of course they were.

You don't have to imagine what the next generation will look like. You can see it right now. You can play it right now. Find a gaming PC made in the last couple of years, get Crysis 2, then install the MaLDoHD Texture Pack .

Actually, no. The next-gen consoles almost certainly won't look that good.

For years, the restrictions of the current consoles have become increasingly stifling for developers, and they've been using the PC to stretch their legs. Metro: Last Light, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Battlefield 3, Skyrim. All games that, with their graphics settings turned up, outperform anything the consoles can handle. And that's not including the added spit and polish that mods can provide.

The next generation isn't about forging ahead. It's about catching up. At times, literally. PlanetSide 2 is making it's way to the PlayStation 4. For that system, the mix of sci-fi visual flair and epic scale is the next generation. For PC owners, it's just a game that they can play. Right now .

There's a reason the Xbone and PS4 are shifting to a more PC-based architecture. It's because PC-based architecture is really good. A PC doesn't just guarantee you graphics that will match what the next-gen can handle – it's already delivering them. And where those consoles are stuck with the same level of technical performance for the rest of their lifespan, the PC has room to grow.

No ten-year cycle

As soon as the consoles are announced, there's a countdown over their head. In ten years, the PS4 and Xbox One will be obsolete. That's not a worst-case scenario: it's a proudly stated feature. It's also a misleading one. In six or seven years the system makers step up to the E3 stage and announce the next next-gen. Then, as will soon happen to PS3 and Xbox 360, the 'support' becomes nothing more than hobbled ports; both systems limping to the finish line before being put out of their misery.

That can't happen on PC. Our technological advances are on an individual, component-based level. It's not a locked-in list of technical specs; it's a system that can expand and evolve naturally over time. With every upgrade, your rig feels brand new - ready to tackle the latest games for years to come. Even a change of OS is a minor procedure along the way.

Not that any upgrade is mandatory – you're free to build to the level you want. If you don't like the look of Windows 8, you don't have to use it. If you don't want to be bombarded with particle effects, that new graphics card can wait until the prices have dropped. At every hardware level, there are games tailored for you.

And think of this: World of Warcraft was released in 2004. Our platform has games that are being supported longer than most consoles.

Be as social as you like - or don't

Every novel social feature that has been demonstrated at the major console conferences is already possible on PC: no matter how enthusiastically a grey-blazered exec might try to convince you otherwise. Between streaming services like Twitch, YouTube, and the widespread availability of freeware editing software it's already possible to share as much or as little of your gaming time as you wish.

'As much or as little' is the crucial phrase, here. Sharing features are a double-edged sword on console: they might be fun to dabble with, but they also plug you directly into the profitable info-gathering exercise that every platform holder has a stake in pursuing. Not only is the promise of quick streaming and sharing a case of new money for old rope, it's giving you old rope to hang yourself with. This metaphor has become desperately confused.

How you socialise online is a sensitive subject, and the degree of control the PC offers is worth the inconvenience that comes with spreading yourself between multiple programs and services. Signing on to Microsoft or Sony's all-in-one platform might be simple, but it's an abdication of your right to game and chat on your own terms.

All the games that matter - new and old

The new consoles may not have backwards compatibility, but it's okay, because Sony and Microsoft will almost certainly re-release their past catalogue for you to buy again. How wonderfully generous of them.

The alternative is to not treat classic games as a step “backwards”. How about instead we see games as a continuous timeline that has evolved over the years. And how about we let people buy games from any point along that timeline. And keep them. And be able to play them. No, unfortunately such an idea is just too outlandish to... Oh, wait, it's what the PC does.

That game disc you've got in a dusty box in your attic? It'll still work. It might need a bit of care: some DOSBox emulation, or a community patch, or a weird and fragile balance of Windows compatibility settings. But the point is it's a PC game. Even if it was made for a PC in 2003, it'll play on a PC in 2013.

Revisiting our history is even easier in the digital age. If you don't want to spend time patching and tweaking, you can visit GOG - a service created to provide working digital downloads of classic games – or Steam, where you can build a library that spans decades.

Prefer something new? Don't worry, we've got that covered too. Behind the conference double-talk of what an exclusive means, it's clear that the PC has become too big to ignore. Even the games that weren't announced - Destiny and Ubisoft's The Division - are most likely just waiting for that timed exclusivity period to run out.

It's cheap

It might be possible to put together a passable PC for the price of an Xbox One, but the PS4's lower point of entry does mean that consoles will remain the cheapest way to play big-budget games. However, the fact remains that the price of games is only likely to go up - and console gaming is expensive enough as it is.

That's the core of the current kerfuffle over the status of selling and buying pre-owned games: for many people, trade-ins are the only way to keep the price of their hobby manageable. The PC has never had much of a preowned scene, so we found a different solution: Steam sales, Humble Bundles, and so on. Very few games retail at top dollar for very long, and the free-to-play scene - which is only now getting its start on console - is now big and mature enough to be a viable way to spend the majority of your time.

Buying a PC that's powerful enough to see out the next generation of consoles might cost a bit more, but you'll make that money back in games while reaping all of the benefits of owning the system you put together. E3 might be won or lost by whichever console developer can offer players the least awful deal, but the PC proposes something else: why not have a good deal, instead? Picking the lesser of two evils doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you have the choice to pick something that is largely not evil.

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