When comparing the value of computers to consoles, I have always liked both, but overall like the PC a bit more. Computers are more versatile and have a larger game library, covering more price points, have more variety of control options than modern consoles do, and have better graphics if you have a good enough PC, too. However, there have always been very good reasons to own consoles, most notably that a lot of games only released on consoles. In the past, hundreds and hundreds of games only released on consoles. From the beginning of the console business until the last decade, most console games didn’t release on the PC. So, if you want to legally play the many fantastic console games from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, or ’00s, you need consoles.
This article has a few main parts. First is a list of the reasons there still are to buy a console, with counterpoints to each one. Second is a section on the decline of console-exclusive games.
Reasons to Buy a Console Instead of a PC
There are only a few reasons today to buy a current-generation videogame console. Some are better than others.
- If you want access to Sony or Nintendo’s first-party game libraries you need to own their console. As I said will explain below, how much this matters will vary from person to person. Games are why we buy consoles, so access to exclusives is still a good reason to get a platform. However, there are fewer exclusives now than there ever have been before.
- If you want a portable system which plays top-quality games, you want a portable console such as the Nintendo Switch. Portable PCs exist, but the Switch, 3DS, Vita, or older handheld consoles are specifically designed for it and are better for that. Portability is a good reason to have a (portable) console; cellphone or tablet gaming is fine for some kinds of games, but I’d rather play something with better controls and larger-scale design than you get there.
- If you have very limited money, consoles are cheaper than PCs. While a good PC can last quite a while if you don’t mind not always running games at very high graphical settings — I used my last computer for a full decade, with only a few upgrades during that time, and it was still running games fairly well at the end — they are pretty expensive, too much so for some. Consoles cost a lot less. I’d still say, though, that saving up for a PC would overall be a better investment today than buying a console; sure, you will spend more, but you get more. PC game prices are often lower than console prices, too. This price disparity used to be higher, but it is still true. And you don’t need to pay a yearly fee to play games online on PC, while all console manufacturers have those fees now.
- 4K. Now, a lot of televisions can display images at the high resolution usually called 4K. However, while there are 4K computer monitors, they are still not quite as prevalent as 4K TVs are, for whatever reason. I don’t own any 4K screens yet myself, but I’m sure I will. The issue is, streaming from PC to a television, to get rid of the old “comfy couch” argument in favor of consoles, works great… at 1080p resolutions, which is the Steam Link’s limit for example. See my post about the Steam Link for more on that great little device. However, while 4K streaming is possible, it isn’t as simple as just hooking up a Steam Link is. If you want easy 4K gaming, even though consoles are less powerful, depending on your setup, it may be a LOT easier to just use a console for that as opposed to getting a powerful PC then figuring out how to output 4K from that to your TV. This will be particularly true if the computer is a desktop that is not in the same room as your TV, which is the case for me. Laptops would be much easier to just move around and hook up to something, with the correct cable, but they are also more expensive and less powerful. This point is a solvable problem, but it’s not simple for the consumer, not yet at least.
So, there are good reasons to own current consoles. I own many consoles myself, now including several still-supported ones, the New 3DS, Switch, Xbox One, and, if it still counts, Vita. And I don’t regret those purchases. But my point here is that compared to the past, consoles’ advantages are dramatically reduced from where they were. PCs are still very expensive, but they last a lot longer then they used to; the days of needing a new machine every other year, as it was in the ’90s, are gone. There’s some good value for your money now. Additionally, using consoles is more complex than it used to be, and PCs are easier, so the old “comfy couch” argument — that it’s easy to just toss a game in a console and play it, while on PC you need to install the game, update it, maybe troubleshoot something, and such — doesn’t hold up as well as it used to because consoles are a lot more like PCs now, Sony and Microsoft’s especially. Playing computer games on your TV instead of computer monitor is easier than it ever has been before, as well. Streaming from your PC to your television is possible, and it’s very easy at 1080p thanks to the Steam Link. And most games are available on PC these days, too. Of these four points, portability is probably the strongest one. I am no fan of cellphones to say the least, so I would still say that portability remains a strong argument for getting a console.
Now, however, I would like to expand on the issue of console-exclusive games. I think it needs additional explanation more so than the others.
The Decline of Console-Exclusive Games
Today, while it is still true that consoles get exclusive games, it is less true than it ever has been before. Now, this ties in to a long post I did some years ago about the downfall of ’90s computer gaming; I never posted it here but essentially, in the ’00s most PC game developers started moving over to consoles for several reasons, including seeking larger audiences at a time when revenues weren’t enough just on the PC for the growing size of game budgets. As before this most top Western developers had worked on computer games, this had a huge impact on the industry. I said in that post that the effect of that was a major blow to computer gaming, particularly in the short term as developer talent fled the platform and games got simpler to attract console audiences, but that’s not the point here. At first, many of the games those studios made only released on consoles, like the console games before them had. Some also had PC ports, but many did not, either because Microsoft wanted to sell Xboxes or because PC sales weren’t as good.
However, that has changed in more recent years. The PC marketplace is healthier than it was when I wrote that article eight or so years ago. Kickstarter has its flaws, but it has made classic-styled PC games possible in a way that would never have happened otherwise. PC game sales are good, too, and while Valve’s Steam is dominant there are other places to buy digital PC games. Developers have finally noticed the sales they were missing out on by not releasing PC versions of their games! Today, more games than ever are getting PC ports. PCs have always gotten the occasional port of top console games, but today almost everything except for first-party Sony and Nintendo games release on the PC. Microsoft now releases all of their first-party games on both Xbox and PC, giving up on their old efforts to sell Xboxes by not releasing games on the PC even though they also own that platform. I am happy that they did this, but it has reduced the value of the Xbox. Yes, I bought one anyway and don’t regret it, but I don’t use it as much as I did my 360. Even most Japanese third-party games are being released on the PC these days, something which has never been true before! The top PC digital marketplace, Steam, has its issues, but for now at least most games release there and publishers all know that they need to make PC versions of almost all of their games. As far as the games go, these are the best times to be a PC gamer in the last fifteen years, or more.
So, the number one reason to buy consoles, the exclusive games, is much less of a reason than it ever has been before. Now, if you care about Sony and Nintendo’s first-party libraries, there is still a good argument to buy their console for those games. I love Nintendo’s games, so Nintendo consoles are a great value for me because they make some of the best games ever. Sony consoles are much less valuable, though, since I don’t care about most of Sony’s games. I don’t have a PS4 and don’t regret it. The PS4’s list of exclusive games is dramatically more a list of games published by Sony than any previous Sony console, after all, and as I said I just don’t usually care much about Sony’s games. For people who do like Sony games, though, having a PS4 makes sense for that.
So, I bought an Xbox One last year, and as I said I don’t regret it. When paired with Xbox Live Gold and, if you add Microsoft’s second, newer subscription, Xbox Games Pass, the Xbox One gives you access to a large library of games for an affordable price. It’s got ease of use too. But every time I walk into a game store and look at its software library, I see a lot of games which are better on PC, and almost nothing I can only play on console. Microsoft has kind of given up on that, in favor of having everything being on both, betting that the ease-of-use and subscription-service reasons will draw people in anyway. It’s enough to maybe justify getting one, but only if you already have a large back library of Games with Gold titles you want to keep playing, probably; otherwise, just sticking to the PC is probably the better bet. Things are similar with Sony, except with a much larger first-party exclusive library. Again though as they have lost almost all of their third party exclusives, the PlayStation’s value lies very heavily on your thoughts on Sony’s first-party software. As I mostly don’t care for it I have rarely wanted a PS4 very much at all.
Nintendo, however… with the Switch and 3DS, Nintendo still has a great value proposition on multiple fronts, including both their portability and their large libraries of exclusive games you cannot play on PC. PC plus Nintendo covers almost everything, these days, and that is most of what I play, when I’m not playing classic consoles games of course. Nintendo has few third-party exclusives too, but they haven’t had many in a long time so that is not much of a change.
Overall, I can understand why people buy consoles. I have them, and so do millions of others. And there are reasons to get them. But on the whole, today, the PC is the best value it’s ever been from both a game library and lastability standpoint, and that looks unlikely to change anytime in the near future. And with the Steam Link I can play console-styled PC games on my television, too, taking away that advantage of consoles as well! Both consoles and computers have their place and I still like both a lot, but the PC’s advantage is undeniable.