PCs are Great, PCs are Terrible: My Love/Hate Relationship With PC Gaming

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A few months ago, I wrote a post titled "PC Gaming IS NOT for everyone!" where I described my issues with PC gaming. Without getting into each point I noted previously, here's the abbreviated version: PC gaming is expensive, frustrating, and inconvenient. Within the last month, I've decided to give PC gaming another shot. I upgraded my graphics card, dusted off the mouse and keyboard, and bought a few new games.

The first thing that strikes you coming from consoles is the visuals. They really are unquestionably better. I picked up the Humble Origin Bundle last week and was dumbstruck with how great Crysis 2 looks. The particle effects, motion blur, and HDR lighting make for a fantastic looking game. There were other games that did not seem to have that dramatic an improvement on PC relative to consoles. I had played Dead Space 3 on 360 a few months back, and honestly, the game looks great on both platforms. Similarly, Battlefield 3 looked great, but was not terribly different from it's console brethren. Maybe each eeked out a few extra frames per second, and Battlefield definitely has larger environments, but they each run perfectly fine on consoles, so the differences were not as dramatic as expected.

Speaking of frames per second, here's where the streamlining to a single piece of hardware is valuable. While the average FPS on many games was consistently high, there were definitely more hiccups on my PC than I found on my Xbox (running at 1080p on a GTX 460 - this should not be an issue for this card). Given the overall framerate, I'm willing to put up with a bit of this, but I was surprised it happened at all.

This was not the end of my technical hurdles. I also had audio issues with Crysis 2, where about every minute or so, all audio would cut out. To "fix" it, I had to alt-Tab to the desktop, then alt-Tab back in. Needless to say, this sucks, and I'm still looking for a fix. My friend and I also ran into an issue with Battlelog where it would not allow us to play co-op together because apparently, we were already playing co-op together. After some Googling, it seems this is a common bug, and it resolves itself after a few hours (which meant not playing co-op last night). I also ran into an issue where I would initially have to reset my resolution upon entering BF3 because the mouse pointer seemed to be off (I would have to point down and to the right of the boxes I was hoping to click). Once I reset the resolution, it seemed to correct it, but I have to do it each time I enter the game.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. There are some really great parts of gaming on a PC. I mentioned picking up the Humble Origin Bundle last week. Basically, I got eight games for around $5. I could literally spend the next six months playing these games, and have little need to buy much else. Oddly, though, I've found that I'm actually spending more on games since "switching" to PC. The allure of the $5-10 game is enticing, and has resulted in my buying more games than I can actually play. With my Xbox, I would pick up a used copy of a game for $15-20 and sell it back in a month or two for a few bucks less. There was much less desire to pick up games if you didn't plan to play them immediately because the depreciation was much more linear.

I'll also say that, while I complained about updates in my previous post, they aren't as big of an issue now. My new graphics card has GeForce Experience support, and that has made driver updates much less painful. In addition, using my PC on a semi-regular basis and auto-loading Steam at startup helps keep everything up-to-date.

I do suspect that power consumption will begin to be an issue. At the very least, I just downloaded 100 gigs of games in the past week, requiring my PC to be on for about two days (something that is not much of an issue for disc-based games). In addition, my graphics card alone uses 150W when idle and about 250W when under load. Comparing this to the 160W used to power my entire 360, and you can guess that this will probably result in some higher electric bills.

To roll this all up into a couple of words, PCs are great, and PCs are terrible. I actually stand by most of the points I made last time around. Compared to consoles, they are more expensive, frustrating, and inconvenient. There are, however, some experiences that you just cannot get on consoles. I discovered FTL and Kerbal Space Program, two games that I've been loving and that would be difficult or impossible to play with a controller in hand. I'll probably continue doing what I have been doing. If a game is on console and PC, I'll pick it up on console. If it's PC-only, or has a hook that makes the PC version worth the headaches, I'll buy it there. PC gaming is great, if I could only get the PC frustrations out of it.

Author's note: To get ahead of this now, I should say that I studied Computer Science for three years in college (ended up with a BA in Mathematics and a CS minor), have written an operating system, and have built at least seven PCs in the last ten years (four of them mine). So no, I'm not lazy, stupid, or otherwise incapable of fixing my PC.