As console restrictions grow, the PC remains the last bastion of consumer-friendly gaming

Console Lock

By on June 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty damn sick of being told that convenience and freedom are no longer allowed to exist together in this industry.

The ridiculous non-events that constituted the launches of the PS4 and the Xbox One have been fantastic, and free, marketing tools — for HP, Dell, Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and the rest of the industry that feeds personal computers. For the last few weeks especially, more and more people have been increasingly upset with the options that are on offer; The Wii U is a complete and total flop with a non-existent library of titles, an appalling online system and a lack of developer support. The PS4 is a bit of an enigma wrapped in a mystery, with a bunch of games and half the hardware on display, while the more unappealing decisions around DRM yet to be decided or announced. But Microsoft took the trump card last week with one of the worst console launches in history.

There’s a term in politics known as “taking out the trash”. Governments will choose a day where the public generally isn’t listening, such as Christmas Eve or Easter, to quietly announce bad news or unveil a budget deficit.  The idea is loosely based around deflection — those who do see the trick probably won’t make enough noise to alert the masses. Developers of consoles used to do the same thing, leaving their big launches to show off glossy games, hardware and fun, dribbling the bad elements in stacks of boring press releases over the next few weeks. People might notice the crap being shoveled under their noses, but they’re still high enough on the positive parts to ignore the bad bits.

What the Xbox team did wrong was attempt to focus eyes on something they thought, somehow, would blow everyone away: television. But they also forgot to talk about games. So once the shiny black box veneer wore off, there was nothing positive left to focus on — only what was missing, or what had been removed. Such as the right to control almost anything to do with the machine. You couldn’t trade games with your friends anymore, without a penalty. You couldn’t import cheaper titles from other regions. The much-vaunted TV features wouldn’t be made available for months. You still have to pay for multiplayer. There’s still ads on the dashboard. It has to be online, (nearly) all of the time. Nothing you’d purchased could be transferred. What was the point?

Let’s not pretend that the PS4 gets off scot-free here either. There are still rumours floating around involving a stack of similar functionality restrictions, especially around DRM, regions and used game restrictions. However, it’s less likely these will be announced at E3, as Sony would have probably learned by now how important it is to control and hide that message. So gamers are left between a s**t sandwich and a wet one. Sure, the wet one is edible, but do you really want it? Is it worth paying hundreds of dollars, accepting a loss of freedom over what media you choose and how you purchase it, especially as the market hardens due to software refusing to depreciate in value thanks to the death of used game trading.

It sounds like a bit of a cliche, but this is the argument that PC gamers have been making for years. Not only do you have enormous choice over what machine you have (pre or post built), what OS you run (Windows, Linux or OSX) and how things work (8, 16 or 32gb of RAM?), but you aren’t dictated how your titles are used. Sure, there’s DRM around, but it isn’t anywhere near as restrictive and in a lot of cases optional — DRM-free gaming is making a huge comeback, especially in the indie scene. You can choose from hundreds of marketplaces in order to purchase software, support independent developers directly and participate in the development process yourself. The cost of upgrading machines has dropped astronomically, making it extraordinarily affordable to match, or exceed, the graphical prowess of consoles after a few years. Innovations in Mini-ITX machines has halved size requirements without removing performance, and UI improvements have made TV functionality much simpler and innovative. You don’t have to pay for the privilege to play your game online.

PCs aren’t perfect, and in a lot of ways consoles still make the process easier, but every single year there are new barriers added. It used to be the pitfalls of installing and managing software that gave consoles the advantage, but playing a game on Steam, Origin, GOG or Desura is rarely more than a few clicks away. Nowadays, purchasing console software on slow, convoluted and messy marketplaces, putting up with dreadfully slow updates and dealing with ridiculous wallets and points have destroyed the advantage of traditional console play. Not only that, but there are fewer online avenues to purchase console content digitally, and in some cases only one — which hardens competition and kills price comparisons. When was the last time Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft sold hundreds of 1st and 3rd party titles for 50-75% off? Both consoles also plan to make game installs mandatory.

Picture via Art of Jin.

It’s no longer about providing the best gaming experience anymore. It’s about locking in the player, stripping their rights as consumers and forcing them to sit and play within a cage. By caving into publishers and retailers, and making short-term, seemingly profitable deals with sports, music and movie companies, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are attempting to cement their futures in “entertainment” rather than gaming. But people don’t want vertical providers for their content. When they buy an Xbox, they want to play the gaming experience crafted by that hardware developer. Not the exclusive NFL highlights or the ability to search Bing while watching Star Trek 2 in HD.

Many other commentators have noted that in order to redeem themselves even slightly, Microsoft need to announce the most incredible games ever at E3 — but it may well be that the horse has already bolted. The Xbox team knew, well and truly, what they wanted to push on that reveal, and none of it was what the marketplace actually wanted. This has happened before: Sega thought people wanted boatloads of addons, peripherals and gadgets over great software. It ended up almost killing them. Nintendo made an enormous loss thanks to their changing focus towards hardware. In fact, if there ever was a platform designed for “core” gamers who just want great experiences at a reasonable price, it was the PC. It always has been, and at least for the near future, probably always will be.

I’m pretty sure there’s a pair of marketing VPs sitting somewhere at Alienware and Razer, smiling to themselves right now.

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41 comments (Leave your own)

While I agree with some of the article, some of the other points baffle me somewhat.

- Locking down of games so they can’t be lent to friends or sold second-hand is standard practice on the PC, unique cd keys have been the standard form of game install on PC for years.
- Pay-to-play games such as MMOs started life on PC. Albeit, there are titles you have to pay to play online on Xbox that you don’t on PC.
- Online DRM started on PC and is becoming more and more common, e.g. most Ubisoft titles, D3, Simcity.

It seems to me that people accept these restrictions as the way of life on PC, but for consoles they are new, so people are rebelling.

Whoops, I mean yay PC gaming master race!

 

Let me elaborate on restriction free PC gaming.

I have been without internet for 2 months. I have only three games on Steam that work in offline mode. The rest are stuck half patching from when i tethered my phone to my PC for the net. You cannot cancel the patching process.

I cannot even open Origin.

Phaw to your article.

 

sathias:
While I agree with some of the article, some of the other points baffle me somewhat.

- Locking down of games so they can’t be lent to friends or sold second-hand is standard practice on the PC, unique cd keys have been the standard form of game install on PC for years.
- Pay-to-play games such as MMOs started life on PC. Albeit, there are titles you have to pay to play online on Xbox that you don’t on PC.
- Online DRM started on PC and is becoming more and more common, e.g. most Ubisoft titles, D3, Simcity.

It seems to me that people accept these restrictions as the way of life on PC, but for consoles they are new, so people are rebelling.

Whoops, I mean yay PC gaming master race!

First point. This article wasn’t about what the PC has that consoles don’t. It was about what consoles used to have that PCs never had, their advantages which are now gone. One such advantage was the ability to easily share your games.

Your second point about MMOs isn’t what he was talking about either. It was about buying a single player game, like call of duty for example, for a high price. And then having to pay more to play online.

DRM is just bad everywhere :/

You missed the whole point of this article. This isn’t saying PC is better, it is saying consoles are getting worse and losing it’s convenience over PCs. Which they are. This article is 100% correct. However I think Sony will do the right thing, surely they see the opportunity Microsoft has given them here.

 

I would say Steam has Issues with only 1 log in at a time allowed. If I am going to have a steambox on the tv and have steam on my computer I want both of them to be able to run at the same time without booting me off either system.

Something similar to how I have android on my phone and tablet with the same account but it doesn’t force me to use 1 device or the other at a time.

 

It’s only a matter of time until Steam grips its suckers too tightly and then they too will revolt.

 

robbo89,

Precisely. One of the strong points of consoles was you had a system you could just stick a disk in and play. You didn’t have to install it, create an account with Publisher X and then configure the game to taste, it was whack in game, pick up controller, start playing. With the next gen apparently removing that, it’s lost something.

It’s not so much that PCs are winning now it’s about how consoles are sinking to the same level. Hell, consoles still miss out on some of the benefits of the PC, such as the ability to make minor upgrades to make it go faster, the PC as a creative outlet, even now with HDMI and wireless input devices means you can whack your PC into your TV and play it from the comfort of your lounge. Consoles don’t have much left to boast about…

 

You people realise that there’s more to PC gaming that just steam and origin right? I swear most of you think PC’s are locked to Steam. There are a plethora of options available to PC gamers, how many options do your closed consoles have?

 

either way microsoft wins ;) until people start using something other than windows…

 

I think, overall, PCs are a hard sell. The negatives are obvious: a (comparitively) large buy in price (you’re looking at 1000-1500 to set up with a decent rig and basic accessories), multiple accounts and logins you need to remember, workarounds that you need to figure out just to boot games, and so on. But once you get past that, the PC is just such a great machine to have.

Lately I’ve been buying Humble Bundles and getting a whole heap of cheap stuff on Green Man Gaming that would cost 5x as much in EB Games. And with the huge backlog of games I have on Steam, I’m never going to be pressed for fresh content. Plus I have the PC hooked up to a dual monitor setup as well as my 40″ Bravia in my bedroom, and my girlfriend enjoys watching me lay back and play (especially The Walking Dead).

So really, I feel it’s the best of both worlds, and my 18-24 month-old hardware is still sufficient for my needs. And DRM isn’t going anywhere, sadly… although the indie scene and places like GOG are making welcome steps towards a friendlier, more trusting option. Oh, and my PC is also the workhorse for my media-streaming needs. So it really does everything I want to, which is why I’m happy to wait out the PS4 and Xbox One to see what they have to offer over 1 or 2 years.

 

PC’s aren’t really expensive. If all you’re doing is gaming you can still build fairly cheap machines that will take care of your needs. Most people however will use their pc for a lot more than just gaming, making the higher prices more reasonable.

DRM isn’t going anywhere because people still buy stuff with it ;) Not that is has to be a bad thing. Steam isn’t a terrible form of DRM, but if they operated like GOG that would clearly be better (Have cloud services optional for those that want them).

 

I have bought so much stuff from GOG because they’re DRM free and I want to support that. Oh and the lineup of stuff is really good, that helps too. Usually if it’s a choice between the GOG version and the Steam version the GOG version wins.

 
llllTrooperllll

I think this is a bit premature. Let’s give things time to develop.

 

vcatkiller:
I have bought so much stuff from GOG because they’re DRM free and I want to support that.Oh and the lineup of stuff is really good, that helps too.Usually if it’s a choice between the GOG version and the Steam version the GOG version wins.

Same for me generally.

 

akira675:
Let me elaborate on restriction free PC gaming.

I have been without internet for 2 months. I have only three games on Steam that work in offline mode. The rest are stuck half patching from when i tethered my phone to my PC for the net. You cannot cancel the patching process.

I cannot even open Origin.

Phaw to your article.

The fact they would include a joke picture in what appears to be a serious article is quite amusing.

Considering you know, Ben coined the term ‘PC Gaming Master Race’ (master race being the picture’s title) as a joke laughing at the people who took it seriously enough to actually believe in the elitism.

By the way, you also have price gouging on PC. New Haswell CPUs come out, and Ivy Bridge prices dropped. For a few days. Then they went back up $35 again.

Woops! Guess upgrades aren’t all the rage anymore?

At any rate, my cousin liked the idea of having one console to manage everything, until I told him foxtel wouldn’t work through it. I’m in the process of convincing him to get a gaming PC (as he currently has a 5 year old gaming laptop that runs most stuff on the minimum) as monitors are lightweight enough to sit on his little table stand nowadays at 5-6 pounds when his laptop is about 7-8.

 

darthrobbo,

Indeedy, I’ve never actually understood the whole “PC is more expensive than Console” argument when comparing the two platforms. I mean sure if you’re talking initial setup fee then *maybe* (Although next-gen consoles here with the greedy Australian tax are up at the $900-$1k range now anyway) but when it comes to recurring costs – games – there’s simply no contest.

Console games are ludicrously priced in Aus and even imports (which require 2-3 weeks waiting) don’t fare any better – The cheapest I can find ‘The Last of Us’ for is still a whopping $60 or so at Ozgameshop. Compare this to the frequent and usual $25-~$35 for a similar New release/Pre-order AAA that I pick up on the PC from various key/deal sites and the ‘cost’ argument becomes quite null and void.

I still remember the young 20 or so year old PS3 enthusiast here at work legitimately thinking that I was joking around and taking the piss when I mentioned that the newest, big thing, AAA release that he got for $90 or so from EB at launch cost me $28 for the PC version online ;)

 

robbo89: However I think Sony will do the right thing, surely they see the opportunity Microsoft has given them here.

I think it will actually go the other way; Now that MS have caved in to publisher demands like a spineless whelp, Sony will be under increased pressure to do the same or have risk more titles becoming Xbox-exclusive.

 

kinkykel:
You people realise that there’s more to PC gaming that just steam and origin right? I swear most of you think PC’s are locked to Steam. There are a plethora of options available to PC gamers, how many options do your closed consoles have?

Exactly – the fundamental difference is that you can CHOOSE not to use Steam and still play games on PC. Hell, you can choose not to use Windows, too.

You buy an Xbone or a ps4 and MS or Sony can dictate what you can and can’t do, which we all know (thanks to the PS3 Linux saga) can change at any moment at the discretion of the company that is kindly lending you the use of their console.

There is a big trend back to DRM-free on PC lately, too, I’ve noticed – thanks to Kickstarter, GOG etc many games are being sold DRM free AND on Steam, which is an awesome combo and shows total respect for consumer choice. I am trying really hard to make sure I reward that attitude rather than rewarding those companies who don’t respect my choices.

Sony has a golden opportunity to kick MS in the nards here – they could decide to finally, actually be the ‘cool’ company and confirm that the PS4 will have no region locks, that games will work on a per-disc basis, that its media centre features will be open and work with any complying IP TV service, etc. I’m not holding my breath based on their past form, though – I still remember when they tried to lock down the Minidisc platform with DRM, ffs!

 

The other big advantage consoles used to have was simplicity.

PCs are getting pretty simple – the way Windows/DirectX works these days, they are pretty simple to put together and run almost anything on. It’s easy to forget that it used to be the case that many games simply wouldn’t work on some hardware combinations for one reason or another.

Plus most places now sell pretty standard/simple ‘games’ PCs for not much $$.

Consoles, meanwhile, are getting more fiddly – you already have to log in to a PS3 account, deal with crappy software updates, etc.

Given what the new consoles will cost, it’ll be pretty even in terms of simplicity and cost IMHO.

 

caitsith01,

Well the still so much problems for windows itself, and Mac and Linux barely have any games. Windows is fundamentally not very stable. The driver crashing, is a common issue, don’t say it’s not since they is so much countless problems for windows. Consoles still have the advantage in simplicity. Remember windows still have those anti virus and firewall running in background. Remember those U-play,steam, ea origin, GFWL logins. Remember those Steam errors and forced super large patches. Remember those games that don’t respond for no reason at all and then resumes back or it crashes. Remember those games that can’t be played with out an update. Remember most games have DRM and aren’t DRM free like D3 and Simcity, mainly indie games are DRM free. My experience with PC gaming with windows and apps alone, but the positive are already said out. being upgradeable, Mods, Cheaper games etc. Experienced PC gamers are mostly very arrogant/ignorant somewhat and fanboyism is still a major problem, so bias and ignores the fact there problems are solved only through their experiences with them/or with research.

 

This Xbox is great news for PC gaming. With Microsoft pushing TV on the Xbox, parents will see the Xbox as easy to use media player. Before their perception would have been that the Xbox was for the kids to play games. Now it will be, kids want to play a game on the Xbox, but parents say, no way we are watching TV/ Sports/Blu-ray on Xbox. Kids forced back to playing games on the PC ;)

 
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