PC gaming is getting more powerful, more affordable and giving consoles a run for their money. Jonathan Easton takes a look at the current state of the market and asks the channel which direction it’s going next.
It could be argued that the games industry has never before seen quite the level of disparity between consoles and PC as it does in 2016. Technology is constantly evolving, and while the latest consoles were relatively powerful when released in 2013, the gulf between consoles and PCs in 2016 is incredibly vast. This has led to the point that mid-generation hardware refreshes are required for the consoles to even attempt to keep up.
“Consoles have become their own victims,” says Cory Lees, product marketing executive at Target Components. “As games become more and more demanding of the hardware they use, and the games start to get more and more immersive, consumers are growing increasingly aware of the restrictions that games consoles have.”
Likewise, PNY’s EMEA PC components product manager, Pauline Monin, says: “In today’s rapidly evolving market, consoles quickly become outdated as new gaming technologies infiltrate into the gaming scene.”
There is a widespread belief amongst the industry that this unexpected obsolescence has driven console gamers to PC. When it comes to gaming, performance is king and PC has the edge.
Jeremy Mortenson, Crucial DRAM senior product marketing manager, is one person who believes that consoles are too narrow for the scope of modern gaming. He states: “There are few limitations when it comes to the performance of your PC gaming rig, which is so much different than consoles.
“Being able to upgrade your components is a major advantage. The PC upgrade cadence is much more frequent – you can take advantage of new hardware when it comes out or when your budget permits it.”
“There will always be a comparison between consoles and PCs. In every review the PC game is clearly superior.”
Cory Lees, Target Components
Equal to the extra technical oomph, Monin claims that PCs provide the best value while technology is evolving at such a rapid pace: “PCs can be upgraded and adapted to stay up-to-date with new technologies, games, graphics and accessories. The longevity of PCs is attracting those gamers who want to play the latest games but don’t wish to fork out for new consoles every few years.”
Performance has, ultimately, led to the perception that PC is the optimal destination for games. And this isn’t just in niche online circles but from mainstream reviewers, argues Lees: “Unless the game is a console exclusive, there will always be a comparison between consoles and PCs. In every review the PC game is clearly superior.”
It is not just the technical capabilities and affordability of high-end PC components that has led to a boom, but a whole host of other factors, chief among them being the rise of virtual reality (VR). Many people believe that VR will be one of the key forces driving gamers towards PC going forward.
Monin says that “the rapid adoption in VR will be a game changer as it becomes more affordable and bumps older and more basic gaming consoles out of the picture”.
Daniel Charbit, EMEA marketing manager at Alienware, similarly states that consoles are “still unable to deliver VR in all its glory.”
“The explosion in popularity of eSports has been fantastic for PC gaming as a whole”.
Daniel Charbit, Alienware
Lees, however, provides a hint of skepticism about the emerging technology. He comments: “VR is still in its infancy and is predominantly focused around the entertainment industry, We have experienced in the past that the entertainment industry is fad driven (see 3D TVs).” He also predicts that “the entertainment industry will move on to Augmented Reality (AR)”.
Charbit, by contrast, believes that VR “is much more than a fad”, stating that VR is “estimated to grow into an $80 billion market by 2025”.
In spite of the gusto with which many are approaching VR, it is currently an expensive niche that is out of the price-range of many gamers. This has not been helped by the UK price rise of the HTC Vive due to currency concerns. In addition, it is still impossible to actually find a high-end VR headset on the High Street.
VR as a mass consumer medium is still in its early stages and its potential success is very much open to debate. By contrast, one thing that cannot be disputed is the size to which eSports has grown in such a short period of time – and the positive effect it is having on the PC gaming space.
“The explosion in popularity of eSports and the global interest in competitive gaming has been fantastic for PC gaming as a whole”, says Alienware’s Charbit.
eSports is itself an area that is exponentially growing, with analysts expecting the industry to be worth $1 billion by 2019.
The industry’s rise in popularity can only be a positive thing for PC gaming, states Lees: “eSports is a great promotional tool for PC gaming. We are starting to see more and more major brands jumping on this and supporting these events. It will continue to grow and become more mainstream, which in turn will encourage more PC and gaming accessories sales.”
Is there an image problem with the sector?
“PC gaming needs to lose the old stigma of teenage boys in a bedroom playing games,” adds Lees.
“The press still portrays the industry as this, when it is clearly much more.”
PC gaming doesn’t just have this perception problem to deal with, but also one surrounding accessibility.
PNY’s Monin says that making consumers understand what PC gaming is all about is vital to its mainstream appeal: “Education is key to making PC gaming appealing and accessible to consumers. Console gaming is more enticing due to the simplicity and ease, while PC gaming can be a lot more complicated.
“Demystifying technical jargon and translating it into something understandable for the users is key to success.”
Accessibility and visibility are also key to PC gaming’s long-term success. This is the next frontier for PC gaming that the likes of Overclockers UK and Alienware are trying to dominate.
Overclockers’ Steve Ling says that the company’s partnership with GAME is “designed to make it easier to jump from console to PC gaming” and to help “first time buyers choose the right PC”.
Charbit shares this sentiment: “Alienware’s goal was to make PC gaming as easily available and as immersive as possible”.
PC gaming is already thoroughly established and is – to many consumers and critics alike – considered as the best way to game.
There is no doubting the technical superiority of PC gaming systems over consoles in regards to everything from graphical fidelity (4k) to performance, along with the platform’s advantages with VR.
The future looks bright, but even though it has a very vocal core fanbase, there is still work to be done in getting PC gaming fully in the public eye.