PC vs. Console for Online Gaming

Hardware for Online Gaming

PC gaming
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It wasn't that long ago that the PC was the only choice you had if you wanted to play games online. The first console that included a modem for online play was the Sega Dreamcast, which launched in Japan in 1998. The Dreamcast wasn't a big success, however, and went out of production in 2001. It wasn't until the second half of 2002 that PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube introduced online capabilities.

Naturally, the latest generation of consoles all have features that use the Internet to enhance gameplay.

Today, online console games are quite common, with Microsoft's Xbox Live service leading the way. Sony also has big plans for online content for the PlayStation 3, and consoles are now starting to get game downloads and other applications formerly only available on the PC, such as Web browsers. A few titles can now be played across platforms, such as Final Fantasy XI, in which PS2, Xbox 360, and PC users explore the same online world.

That said, PCs still offer the largest selection of online games, and some of the most popular online games, such as World of Warcraft, are exclusive to the PC. Of course, there are many things to consider before deciding on a gaming platform. Foremost among these is deciding which games you want to play, how much money you want to spend, and whether or not you need a PC for other purposes.

Ideally I suppose we would all have both a console and a PC, but if that's not an option, here is quick comparison of the two.

Console Advantages

The most obvious advantage consoles have over PCs is cost. The majority of consoles sell for well under $500, often with a couple games in the bundle. A PC adequate for running the latest games can easily cost twice that much.

The second most obvious advantage is simplicity. Let's face it, PC gaming can be a technical nightmare compared to console gaming. People can actually take a console home and be playing a game within minutes. No operating systems to configure or drivers to update, and better still, no purchasing a game only to find out that it isn't compatible with your PC for some obscure reason.

Multiplayer gaming is also made easy with companies like Microsoft offering online services for their product. The Xbox, which came equipped with a network card, raised the bar for consoles in this regard, making it a simple matter to hook it up to a DSL or Cable Internet connection and get into a multiplayer game on Xbox Live, complete with voice chat.

Another appealing thing about consoles is that many people prefer to play games sitting on the couch, or they want to play with friends in the same room. While these things are possible on a PC, consoles are extremely well-suited for this right out of the box.

Console games are more readily rented than PC games, and more easily returned to the retailer if you're not satisfied with them. Generally speaking, it is difficult to return PC games because they are easy to copy.

Console games tend to have a relatively low learning curve. You might need fast thumbs, but you certainly won't need to spend hours in a "tutorial" trying to learn how to operate basic game functions.

Console Disadvantages

Although sealing everything into one unit does keep it simple, when some of the components inside the box become dated there's no way to solve the problem without replacing the entire console. In most cases, upgrades that could prolong the life of the system are not an option.

Consoles perform only one task really well, where PCs can be used for an extremely wide range of things.

Some console manufacterers are trying to make them a little more flexible, but it will clearly be a long time before they support the staggering variety of applications that can be found for PCs.

There is a distinct lack of inter-connectivity between the different console brands. Many games are available for one type of console but not others, and when it comes to online play, each is typically restricted to its own network. This means that people with Xboxes can usually only play against other people with Xboxes, so, for example, there is no way for console gamers to jump into a fray on one of the countless PC Counter-Strike servers available. The PS2 has made some progress in this area, forging the way for cross-platform gaming between PS2 and PC users, but only a few titles support this right now.

While the PS2 network adapter supports both 56K modem and broadband connections to the Internet, broadband is required for Xbox online play. As well, Microsoft charges a yearly fee for use of the Xbox Live service.

PC Advantages
One of the biggest advantages the PC has over consoles right now is that there are a lot more games available for the PC than there are for consoles, particularly when it comes to multiplayer online games. Not only are the vast majority of MMOGs designed for the PC, but PC gamers also have the option to play MUDs, email games, browser games, and a wide variety of titles that are distributed digitally or available as free downloads.

As mentioned above, another clear advantage PCs have over consoles is that you can use them for a lot more than playing games. Furthermore, if you like to modify games or edit maps for them, a PC is essential, and you have to take a break from gaming sometime to read gaming sites.

PCs are always on the cutting edge of gaming technology. The current generation of consoles with high-definition capabilities did briefly narrow the gap, but well-equipped PCs continue to offer superior graphics. Computer monitors can be found with considerably higher resolutions than HDTVs, and the latest multi-core processors and dual GPU solutions make it possible to build a remarkably powerful game system. Even if a console offers incredible technology upon its release, there is no way for it to compete with the rapid hardware advancements that have become a way of life in the computer industry.

When it comes online gaming, PCs give people a variety of ways to connect to the Internet, and to each other, which aren't restricted to proprietary services or software.

Different brands of computer and event different operating systems generally communicate very well with one another. This is quite different from services like Xbox Live, for example, which is the only option available to Xbox users that want to play online, and is closed to everyone that doesn't have an Xbox.

Finally, as your PC ages, there is a reasonable chance of extending its gaming life with a component upgrade, although it can get a bit messy.

PC Disadvantages
While PCs have come down considerably in price over the years, they are still quite expensive compared to consoles. There ways to economize on a PC, such as building it yourself, but it's not easy to get the cost of a PC down to a price comparable to even the most expensive console.

Computers are also getting a little more user friendly, but eventually every PC gamer will encounter some technical complication that interferes with their gaming, be it a device driver that needs updating or components that are simply incompatible. PCs are also much more vulnerable to viruses and other security breaches.

The truth is, installing a game on your computer is always a bit of a gamble. You never really know if it's going to work until you're actually playing the game, and even then, in the back of your mind, you're expecting it to crash at any moment.

Unlike most console games, PC games have the potential to get ridiculously complicated. This can give a game depth, but it can also result in tedious arrays of keyboard commands and lengthy tutorials which one must endure to learn how to play.

PC games are often not well-suited for playing on the couch, especially given that the mouse and keyboard are the preferred PC game controllers. Unlike console games, you also won't find many PC games that support two players on one machine at the same time.

Final Thoughts
The latest round of consoles has a lot to offer online gamers, and if you're into sports and racing titles, consoles are a good way to go. If you like massively multiplayer games and online shooters, there are a great deal more to choose from on the PC. Online play options for consoles are getting better all the time, but proprietary networks and fees for services like Xbox Live make them a bit less attractive.

For the most part, PCs are still the dominant platform for online gaming, and that appears likely to continue for a while yet.