Welcome back to Punished Chat, where I talk to a buddy for a while and type up our random musings on gaming topics. For this latest edition, I met with my good friend (and Bachelor enthusiast) Alexander Toy to discuss the differences between gaming on PC versus consoles, which option we each prefer, and what those differences mean for the next generation of consoles.
Sam: I decided to do this topic because we’ve got new consoles coming out. But we’re entering a stage (and possibly already entered it this past generation) where the improvements in graphical fidelity and performance are largely incremental. Maybe you’ll get some new mechanics or systems in console games in a few years that games can’t do now, but for the most part, we’re just getting slightly better versions of things we already have. It’s not like when you jumped from PlayStation 1 to PlayStation 2, where certain games just weren’t possible on the PS1 that were on the PS2.
Alex: There’s not another jump from 2D to 3D happening anytime soon. That was a massive change.
S: But we’re not even jumping from 3D to far better 3D anymore.
S: But back in the day we would have bigger changes from generation to generation. For example, you just couldn’t pull off Mass Effect during the PS2/Xbox/GameCube generation. That’s impossible.
A: You can’t do Skyrim or Bioshock on an original Xbox.
PC vs. Next-Gen Consoles: Where’s the Best Place to Play?
S: We’re getting to the point where it’s so incremental where the idea of buying an expensive gaming PC or building your own for some people is just a better option, especially for people who don’t want to keep buying consoles. But this is why I have you here: You have both a PS4 and a high-end gaming PC. I have a low-level gaming PC, but I mostly prefer playing games on consoles. Which do you prefer? If there’s a hot new game out on all platforms, where do you choose to play it?
A: Typically, I’d go for PC. Interestingly enough, that may change with the new consoles, but that’s mainly because my current PC is starting to get old. For some background: I built my computer in 2016. It cost me about $800, so more than a console would at that point. And over the last four years, I’ve replaced or upgraded several of the parts to try to keep it modern. But I think I’m reaching a point where I’m either going to have to do a major update to it—which is very expensive, and may cost me $700-$800 again—or get a new console. Let’s say I had a PS5 right now. I’d probably lean on getting new games on PS5. But for this last generation, I’d lean very heavily toward PC.
S: That makes sense. I currently have a Dell XPS gaming laptop, which is really good for games that don’t have particularly heavy requirements. I use it to play older games or indies, but I could play No Man’s Sky for a while (though with all the updates that game has received, it’s virtually unplayable on my current hardware). So, when big new games come out, I prefer to play them on a console.
I thought about this topic recently because I was listening to a podcast about how it’s much easier and more cost-effective to build a PC now than it has ever been, and in particular how they don’t really have to upgrade their PCs especially often. They went on to say how it’s not actually that hard, and that it might even be a fun project to work on, but I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to buy new things every two years.
A: That’s the big thing: The barrier to entry is much higher for PC. A console is, what, $500 when new? You pay once and you’re pretty much set for a whole generation. If you want to go full balls to the wall for a new PC? You’re spending $1,000 on this thing. If you want to be more conservative with your PC, you could easily spend sub-$1,000, but that’s still more than a console. So whatever you choose, you’re going to spend more money with PC. Also, you’re building a computer, not just a gaming console, so there are other considerations to go with that. Let’s be honest: Most people are going to use their computer to watch Netflix. You don’t need an RTX 3080 to watch Netflix.
S: I would say my relationship to PC gaming also changed rapidly when I started working from home full-time. I don’t want to be at my desk all day for everything I do. I was working from home before the pandemic, and even during that time I still preferred playing on console on my couch over anything on PC. I want there to be more clear separation between work and play.
I’ll still play some games on PC if I get them for free on the Epic Store or something (or if something I want to play is a PC exclusive), but for the most part I try to avoid playing games on PC if I can.
A: That makes sense.
Are Certain Video Game Genres Better on PC?
S: It’s also funny: When we were growing up, there was a major distinction between the kinds of games you play on PC versus console, but now those lines are blurred. MMOs and RTS games appear on consoles now, and fighting games and sports sims are all pretty much available on PC now. Are there still certain games, though, that you immediately imagine playing on PC over consoles?
A: I’d say yes, but it’s very limited. Most of my PC gaming, I do with a controller. I’ve been playing Control lately with an Xbox controller. The only games that I think I would actively not enjoy playing on consoles are games that require a mouse and keyboard. Anything that requires a lot of reading or a lot of text on screen—like Civilization—is better on PC. I would never want to play that on a console in a million years. I just bought Disco Elysium, and I would not want to play that on a console, except maybe the Switch.
I have an asterisk though—I did play Civ VI on an iPad, and that wasn’t too bad of an experience. It still has a touchscreen, which is kind of like a mouse. But overall, I’d say games that aren’t heavily action-oriented are preferable on PC. Something like The Stanley Parable, or Gone Home, or Myst, if you remember that game.
S: You’ve brought up an interesting point. Earlier, I said that PC games when we were growing up felt especially different from console games, and the games that you’d still much rather play on PC are those kinds of games. You know, games that are better with a mouse and keyboard and require a ton of reading but not a ton of button inputs.
For example, I played Pillars of Eternity for a bit a few years ago on PC, and I just can’t fathom how someone could enjoy that game on a console. I can’t imagine sitting on my couch and squinting at my TV from far away to read mountains of text that keep popping up. If I’m sitting at my desk, it’s a lot easier to play. And PoE is meant to be reminiscent of games from the 90s, ones that require you to be really close to your computer screen to get the full impact. It’s designed to give you that same kind of experience, and I don’t see why someone would want that on consoles, unless they can’t play it on PC.
A: I suppose a weird thing about me is that I don’t have a large TV in my living room that I hook my consoles up to. My TV that’s connected to my Switch and PS4 is the same size as my computer monitor. So that experience of sitting in front of a big 4K TV? I don’t have that. The visual experience is pretty much the same for me.
4K, HDR, Teraflops… Do They Really Matter?
S: That’s an interesting thing to bring up. I think the biggest sell for the new consoles is 4K, HDR, teraflops—all these letters and words that people don’t actually understand but know mean “faster and more powerful.” For the Series X in particular, a big sell is that the games you already have will be improved in a number of ways for your optimized TV experience.
But if you’re someone like you, where most of your gaming occurs on a pretty basic computer monitor anyway, not only is the difference between new-gen consoles and old-gen consoles largely indiscernible at that point, but do the improvements even excite you that much? Especially if you already have a good gaming PC? Assuming all things are equal, do you even want a PS5 or Xbox Series X if all the games you want are on PC anyway?
A: There’s a lot of levels to that. Number one, I couldn’t care less about 4K or HDR. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between 720p and 1080p. If you kick that up to 4K, it’s not going to make a difference on a 24-inch monitor. Yes, Skyrim is going to look better on my computer than on Switch. Of course it does. But I’m planning on getting a PS5 not because it has 4K, but I want to play the games. I’m looking forward to Spider-Man and Ratchet & Clank, aka games I can’t play on my PC.
S: If you could play those games on PC, would you still be as excited about the PS5?
A: Oh, not at all!
S: Right? I ask because I’m more of an Xbox guy, and every game that’s going to be on the Series X for the next couple of years will already be available on a platform I already own. Though, to be fair, my current Xbox One has overheating issues that make it randomly shut off, so I might need an upgrade anyway.
A: My PS4 keeps waking me up in the middle of the night beeping. I don’t know what those beeps mean! But that’s an interesting thing for Xbox: They are leaning so heavily on having their games available on PC or through streaming. I have an Xbox Game Pass subscription, but I don’t have an Xbox! I don’t know how long I’ll keep it, though, as going through that library of games has very little that excites me. I got it to play Crackdown 3, if I’m being honest.
S: Oof, that game was not good.
A: Oh, I know! But if Xbox exclusive games start becoming available on PC, if I have a strong gaming PC (or if I can stream it on a weaker PC), I just don’t see the point of owning an Xbox console at all.
S: Would you feel the same way about PlayStation consoles if their games were mostly on PC? It seems like they might be trending that way, with Horizon Zero Dawn and Death Stranding on PC now. Like, if the new Ratchet & Clank were on PC, would you feel the need to get a PS5?
A: No, not really.
S: That’s the real thing, though! The main draw to you for consoles is exclusive games.
A: Games I can’t already play on PC.
Are Video Game Consoles Becoming Obsolete?
S: It seems we’re trending toward a time where we might not even need consoles at a certain point. Everything seems like it’ll be on PC, or people can just stream games to their phones. Do you think consoles may become obsolete?
A: It’s going to be different, but it’ll be a long time before that happens. Game streaming is close, but it’s not ready yet. By the way, I had a Stadia subscription at some point as well to see how that was. To be honest, I actually like Stadia a lot. But game streaming still feels pretty half-baked to me, and I can’t put my finger on why.
S: It just feels weird.
A: It does! When I had a Stadia subscription, I played several hours of Elder Scrolls Online on my phone. It was neat, but would I want to play that on my phone, all the time, only? No, I wouldn’t. And Steam just rolled out Steamlink, and it’s free with the 300 Steam games I’ve bought over the last ten years. Maybe I’m just hung up on the concept of owning things, where I’m more excited to play on Steamlink, where I take games I already own and can stream them, as opposed to subscribing to Game Pass and having a whole library of games I don’t really own.
S: One of the things that entices me about buying new consoles, beyond the nonsense consumerist attraction of new shiny things, is I like the idea of clearly defined console generations. Even if we’re just seeing incremental improvements, the games culturally and artistically change over time, and the games we’ll get in a few years will feel really interesting and different from what we’re playing on the consoles we already have now.
It might not have anything to do with what the consoles are capable of, but maybe the new mainstream games will be a response to this generation, with too many bloated open worlds and battle royales. We might try something different in the next generation. Part of me looks forward to what’s possible with these new boxes. On PC, all the generations feel blurred together, and it doesn’t feel quite as exciting as we move forward.
A: That’s a great way to frame things. I think it’s hard to say what will be the defining feature of next-gen consoles. It might be in the load times, but that’s so boring!
Are SSDs a Game-Changer for Next-Gen Consoles?
S: See, I think that could be big, though. I’ve watched some footage of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which is a turn-based RPG, and your character moves in and out of turn-based combat sequences almost instantaneously, and that makes the game more attractive to me. I have such a hard time playing most turn-based RPGs because there’s just so much waiting for things. So much time spent reading text and loading up a battle and then unloading the battle. Waits are constantly happening. The lack of waits alone make the new Yakuza more appealing to me.
A: That’s fair. As someone who has been playing games on a solid-state drive for the last five years, I’m curious to see how PC gaming will adapt to the new console technology. Are the load times going to be better on PC?
S: If the load times are better for a game on console versus PC, would that affect where you buy the game?
A: It would have to be drastically better. It would have to be a big change. But again, my computer is starting to age. Once the PS5 comes out, once I have that thing, there’s going to be a honeymoon phase where every game I buy for the next three months will be on PS5. And my PC will be relegated to me playing older games on it. So there’s that.
S: It’ll be interesting. I do think it’s getting to a point where if cost didn’t matter and you just wanted the best performance possible, in the most recent generation the best option would be a high-end PC, right? Now, consoles are trying to blur that line.
A: I think it still would be PC. If I had unlimited money, I would just spruce up my PC and would be happy with that. But if I had unlimited money, I’d also buy a PS5, because why not?
S: I guess what it really comes down to is that we’re getting to a point where the difference might not be drastic enough where high-end PCs are a much better option. And if you’re like me, the console will always be more attractive for that work-life balance. But for a lot of people, that just doesn’t matter.
And that’s fine for them! But, again, if you’re like me, I don’t like spending all of my time at my desk chair. Also, let’s be honest: If a certain game is on everything, you’re probably better off getting it on Switch anyway just to play it on the go.
S: Like, I’ve been playing Hades on Switch lately, and I could have gotten it on PC, but on Switch I can play it on the toilet.
A: That game is really damn good!
S: Anything else on this topic you wanted to add?
A: PC MASTER RACE FOREVER.