Friday, March 8, 2013

Next Gen and the Future of PC gaming

After a loooooooooooong hiatus, I am back!!!!. Married life has drastically reduced my gaming time and extra responsibilities have taken much of my used to be free times. However I managed to squeeze some extra time to continue with my blog and touch upon next gen and its impact on PC gaming. I am also planning to touch upon the subject of how this would affect people in developing countries as I usually do.

First of all, the big PS4 announcement looks very promising and I really liked what I saw. The graphical bump, although not as huge as in previous Playstation iterations, still is very noticeable although it would never surpass the PC. At least for the first few years, it would stay on comparable terms with mid-high range PCs, although its still too early to say for sure without seeing any finished products. The best thing about it was the work done by the low power processor (presumably an ARM variant). Ability to capture videos, download and upload game clips and downloading games and updates in background are some really useful features. Also the fact that the system can download stuff using the low power core when the main system is shutdown is also a neat feature.

Specially the video capture part is a plus for the consoles(at least for PS4) in general compared to the PC because, in PC, you always try to squeeze every extra FPS when playing multiplayer. But with a dedicated chip on the PS4 you know you are getting the best Framerate even with video capture. When you have dedicated hardware for extra stuff without draining the main processing power reserved for gaming you know that using those features would not degrade your gaming experience. At least for me, this has put me off using extra features when playing PC games. (Mainly MP stuff). I hardly use the recording feature on Blackops because I want the best frame rate. Now you can you those with peace in mind knowing that you do it without any compromises.

Putting the PS4 specific details aside it seems that the core gamer centric next-gens are based on current PC architectures. If the rumors are to be believed, the next iteration of the XBOX is also having similar specs (with DDR3 RAM) to the PS4. So its safe to assume that the PS, XBOX and PC would all have similar architectures, reducing the complexity and cost of game development for multiple platforms. During the PS4 reveal, Sony was specific about the ease in which games can be adopted to the PS4 from PC environments.

So What Does this Mean for the PC?

My guess is that it would enable developers to easily make games for the PC and at last we could stop rage quitting PC games due to horrible console ports. Also since next gen supports DX11, future games would most probably only support DX11. (Hello Crysis 3!!!) Also it would be hard to justify console exclusive titles since with next gen the cost of porting to the PC may not be costly as current gen. The only argument against it would be the Piracy on PC. Also Ubisoft confirmed that Watchdogs would be using the PC as the lead platform since porting costs to PS4 is considerably less, than the previous generation. If the rumors are to be believed, then it would be the same with the next XBOX. On the other hand we might see a lot of PC exclusives including MMOs making the jump to consoles. Blizzard already set the pace with Diablo 3 and I would not be surprised to see other PC exclusives making the jump to consoles.

Above all at least Sony seems to emphasize the point of seamless, easy to pick gaming in its new console. This has been one of the biggest the arguments against PC gaming. PC gaming lacks the simplicity of the consoles. The PS4's ability to suspend and resume play might be a huge relief for people who are unable to dedicate enough play time till you hit the next checkpoint. Sony talked about 5 pillars that they say defines their next gen experience. At least on paper it looks like the PC has some catching upto do when it comes to the overall experience that includes things such as installations, system maintenance, performance and above all ease of use. For a hardcore PC gamer like me, the PS's new feature set which includes social integration as well as background processing appeals a lot. No doubt that Valve and other PC gaming stalwarts would close the gap in the coming months and years but right now, it looks like the overall experience of gaming is tipping towards the consoles. Having said that, I still believe that if you don't mind the PCs compromises, it still offers the best immersive experience in gaming and our beloved RTS games would still struggle on consoles.

Next Gen and Developing Countries

I tried to think aloud how next gen changes would affect gamers like me who are in the developing world. The cost of a console would always a be a thorny issue in this part of the world. When you buy a computer for gaming it also fulfills your other needs. If you are a student, you can use it for assignments and browse internet and is much more customizable. However, when you have a console its mostly for gaming and home entertainment where you could watch a movie on it. But browsing the internet in a console is not an option for a regular surfer. This lack of flexibility means ideally you should have both a PC and a console or at least a console and a tablet/laptop. Lot of people can't afford that in the developing world. 

On the hand, if you consider the gaming experience of next gen consoles I see a few promising aspects. First of all is the ability to play games while a part of it is downloading (at least in the PS4). This is really useful if you have a slow internet connection. There was a time where I was using a 1M connection and it took about 24 hours to download a 10gb or so game, and it is still the case for lot of people in this part of the world. So if you can play the game before downloading everything, I think its a great, useful feature.

Another encouraging thing is that Sony almost confirmed the support for used games which is a big win for the consumer. I believe Microsoft would also do the same simply because they don't want to be the bad guy and moreover there is actually no reason to stir up a hornet's nest of criticism when the ever increasing digital delivery systems dominate content distribution in the near future. With increased digital distribution, second hand game sales would diminish automatically.

Another aspect is the price of next gen games. There are rumors that the next-gen prices would increase to 70USD which would be a major turn off people in developing countries. The only salvation would be the used games that I discussed earlier. Since this information is not confirmed its better not to speculate on this too much.

I think its time to wind up by comeback post :). I hope to find some time to write more often. Please share your thoughts regarding next gen in the comments section below.