Steam Gaming

Reconsidering the PC as a next generation console


The recent launch of Nintendo’s Wii U reminds us we’ll soon be parting ways with our current gaming consoles, as the next generation offerings from our favorite brands will be on our doorsteps in no time. And, while new consoles are a very exciting aspect of being a gamer, the transition can leave people wishing they had just a little more time with the hardware they already have. Dropping $300-$400 or more on new hardware is a hit to the wallet, and though this current generation of consoles has lasted longer than any earlier generations, it’s not an easy price to pay when the time comes, especially if there’s no promise the next generation will last as long.

The transition over to new hardware comes with several other considerations, as well: The long wait before a worthwhile catalog of games builds up; the failure rate risks of being an early adopter; an initially fractured install base meaning less people playing
new games, and less of a chance your friends will be playing the same hot new game; the uncertainty of backwards compatibility and the lifespan of the games already in your collection; and various pieces of hardware and accessories not being supported by your new platform.

But what if I told you your living room could house a next generation console now? What if I told you it’s already been available for some time? A living room PC, centralized around your entertainment center, is an upgradeable and well-supported hub that can serve as the sole source of your games, movies, music, and any other entertainment in the main
room of your home. In recent years, PC gaming has become more user-friendly than ever, and certain strides taken by companies like Valve, and their ever-popular Steam service, have made it more plausible than ever for your PC to be the center of your
home entertainment.

Consoles have long stood as a more convenient alternative to the PC. They supply in many ways something a PC cannot: Predictability, stability, and the promise of better hardware and software support. If the game says “Xbox 360” on it, it will run on your Xbox 360, no questions asked. The PC will always have a bigger, more expensive initial barrier of entry than its console brethren, but there have been big changes that can help make your PC a very user-friendly, very casual machine.

First, there are several options available for those who like to just kick back on their couch and play games with a controller. Hundreds of gamepads are available to purchase for the PC. For those that value familiarity and compatibility, Xbox 360
controllers are PC-compatible, and several Windows games have built-in support for that specific controller, with button mappings pre-determined to match their console counterparts. Also, receivers that allow you to sync wireless Xbox 360 controllers to your PC can easily be purchased.

More important than this, though, are the games. Most, if not all, of the hot multi-platform titles are available on the PC, and they usually perform far better than the Xbox or PlayStation, provided you’ve got the right stuff under hood.

One major thing the PC has in greater supply than the consoles is the never-ending wave of independent gems; quirky, innovative, and imaginative games that would never find their way through the publishing process required on a closed platform. For those
that like organization (And what PC gamer wouldn’t want to stay organized?) is Valve’s digital distribution store, Steam. It’s the best in its class, offers painless management for all your games, the ability to access them anywhere, and a unified Steam Community to help keep gamers socially involved with their peers’ habits. Steam makes PC gaming
as intuitive and user-friendly as consoles, and it’s something I’m glad has become so popular on the platform.

Cost is usually a big barrier for those who are curious to get into the PC gaming scene and, while it’s true you have to drop a bit more cash upfront, you can really save yourself a lot on games in the end. With Steam specifically, developers have more
control over the pricing of their games, and when they can run sales and discounts. Annual sales on Steam see games, some only a year old, dropped from their original $60 price tag to as low as $3. That’s not a rare occurrence, either. That’s something
seen many times a day during Steam’s crazy sales. Those on a budget can pick up dozens of games for next to nothing; the annual “Humble Indie Bundle” allows users to pay what they want for a collection of independent games, with the proceeds going to charity.

Finally, with the recent introduction of Steam’s “Big Picture Mode” – a display mode intended to be used on televisions and manipulated by standard game controllers – it’s that much easier for the PC to be introduced, hassle-free, into your living room.

While the day of the console isn’t over, I urge console gamers to step out of their comfort zones and look into the PC platform. While you’ll have to learn a bit more about what’s under the hood – and maintaining it – then you would with a console, it’s not bad information to have or, be familiar with. Many will be surprised at just how seamless and convenient a living room PC can be when joined with a gamepad, mouse, wireless keyboard, and Steam. You might reconsider your particular platform of choice and, through a PC, find your next generation console in a future-proof, ever-expanding device.