In 2005, the newly released Xbox 360 marked a reasonable progression in gaming power over its predecessor and gave the impression of newness that gamers could look forward to. In the same likeness, the Xbox One pushed things forward into the general entertainment niche, which padded the overall weaknesses the console faced in relation to the home-built PC.
The same logic and progression can be applied to Sony’s PlayStation, from 2 all the way to 4. And now we’re at a place where the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5, the two latest models from these companies, are remarkably weak from a technical perspective compared to their PC peers, but also leave a strong sense of regret on a large chunk of their consumer base after purchase.
Let’s go over the biggest weaknesses of the modern console and why I think that, despite being a huge market currently, the writing is on the wall for the convenient gaming square.
Simply put, the hardware sucks, is overpriced to use, and isn’t nearly as versatile for the average user as a simple PC running on Windows.
The Xbox Series X is currently running on Zen2 AMD microarchitecture. Naturally, Microsoft couldn’t include the Zen3 upgrades that were to be released five days prior to the Series X. But you, the PC user, could have.
This should go without saying, but if you plan on playing video games then you should be aware that stronger hardware will result in a better gaming experience. And up to this point, Microsoft and Sony have been able to circumnavigate this weak hardware problem by forcing developers to curtail their products for the consoles.
This solution, while profitable, is unsustainable: First, because the consumer base is no longer unaware of how weak their hardware is compared to the price they’re paying for it. When someone drops 500 dollars on a console, 60-240 dollars on new controllers, 70 dollars for each game they want to play, and then another 80 dollars annually to play said games over the internet they already pay for, they are more likely going to feel a searing sense of regret over where their money has gone than they used to.
The idea that a PC might cost more than a console, too, isn’t a good excuse for this kind of purchase when you look at how those expenditures are adding up. Take, for instance, a home-built PC that features a 3060Ti GPU and a 5700X CPU. These two purchases add up to $430, roughly speaking. Throw in all the other necessities for a home-built and you’re likely going to be sitting around 800 dollars, if you’re cheap. That’s 800 dollars in total vs. the minimum 630 dollars for the PS5, not including the online subscription.
That 800 dollars gives a marginal increase in GPU performance over the Series X, but gives a huge performance increase in the 5700X CPU, which functions one full generation ahead of the custom-made CPU featured in the Series X. Then, it must be said, that the PC offers users a ton of extra longevity in its lifespan over the Series X. If your memory goes bust on your PC, you can just buy another SSD and stick it in an M.2 slot. Or buy a cheap SATA drive.
But what happens if your Series X dies out? Are you going to rely on external memory for all of your gaming needs? Most likely not, and that means you’ll need to send it in for repairs, which means extra time and money out of your pocket. All the while the PC community would have their hardware replaced in no time at all and with ease. (And did I mention that they wouldn’t be paying for the right to play their games online all the while? Well they wouldn’t be.)
This principle goes for any other part of the PC that might need to be replaced: you can do it yourself with nothing but fifteen minutes and a YouTube video. Not so with an Xbox.
The second reason this is unsustainable is down to developer resources. Because developers are tasked with spending more resources to make their product accessible via console, they have less resources to actually develop a universal standard for their games.
I’m sure we all still remember the release of CyberPunk. And I’m not trying to argue that 2077 would have been a better game outright had CDPR been allowed to focus on the PC release, but it’s impossible to say that by delegating resources to create different ports for CyberPunk, CDPR somehow had a better product overall on release day.
As games become more and more expensive relative to their single purchase (and DLC additions or battle-pass-esque micros), developers are going to be looking to cut corners to save on cash. Right now, that corner tends to be gameplay-related, and that probably won’t change. BUT, imagine a world where the brunt of that cost saved is simply refusing to spend more time porting their game to a console that doesn’t make up a huge market share of the customer base?
That isn’t the world we’re living in right now, but from my perspective, all we’re missing is one good-at-advertising prebuilt PC company to come through with a “basic PC package” campaign to steal up the plug-n-play crowd and BAM, you suddenly have the console experience on a cheaper and more versatile machine (that doesn’t cost anything extra for internet use.)