Microsoft's XBox 360 is a great gaming machine. I'm not big into platform wars -- anything that works is fine by me. Over 50 million happy gamers use their XBox 360s and XBox Live, and I actually think Microsoft has done a great job with its console overall. Aside from the notorious red ring of death, those little machines work and work well, and bring gaming countless games to countless gamers yearly. When it launched, everyone was primed and ready for the next generation and Microsoft brought it to us.
The problem is, it launched pre-holiday 2005. I remember well -- I was working for GameStop at the time. (And what a mess that launch was.) That sucker is nearly six years old. And it is not anywhere near as technically capable as a PS3 or a gaming PC. It's slower, smaller, and aging.
But platform-exclusive games are rare, these days. I completely understand why: a modern AAA game can easily run between $15 million and $75 million for the studio behind it -- even up to $100 million. You're not going to recoup that investment on just one platform -- there simply aren't going to be enough gamers on it. (A 2009 study placed the average cost for a current-gen console game at $10 million.)
In short, almost every game we buy for our PCs or our PS3 is a cross-platform release (there are some exceptions). And I'm sorry, 360 gamers, but your antique is holding the rest of us back.
There are the visual differences. When you're in the middle of something like Uncharted 2, you see the full potential of the PS3's raw computing power and the capacity and definition of a blu-ray disc. The thing looks gorgeous. Crisp, sharp, detailed, and thoroughly amazing. The merest hint at what the future of HD gaming can keep looking like.
But graphics aren't everything! you cry. And you're right. They're not. If there were, I'd never use any other machine than my gaming PC (still state-of-the-art, even though it's a year old -- that curve has slowed way, WAY down in the last 3-4 years) and I'd have it hooked up to the best pair of HD monitors money could buy. But many of my favorite games aren't about the graphics, they're about the writing. Portal 2 is not state-of-the-art in visuals and Tales of Monkey Island certainly doesn't roll that way.
But right now there's a full keyboard attached to my desktop, of which the only keys I get to use are W, A, S, D, space, left-CTRL, tab, and sometimes Q and E if it's a game where strafing is a separate motion. Controls, menus, and maps are all better, more detailed, and easier in most MMOs I've tried than in any other game of the last few years, and I think it's because they're PC native. You can assume the player will use her mouse to manipulate a map in EQ2 or LOTRO. But for Mass Effect the default assumption is that the player has only a controller, and that he can just sit closer to the TV (which will be 35" or larger) in order to read the map.
Admittedly, some despair over the future of PC gaming isn't the 360's fault. It's Apple's. As non-workplace "computing" tasks get relegated to the iPad and the smartphone, a capable desktop or laptop computer is fast fading from presence in the modern home. There are 3 million people logged in at any given time to Steam, but there are over 6 million active iPhones in the US alone and over 300,000 daily new Android activations (across carriers and manufacturers).
All of this adds up to one clear fact: aside from a handful of niche titles, the era of the PC exclusive is well and truly over. And I could take that (if grumpily), if we were not stuck right where we were at the beginning of this post: the XBox 360 is holding back content and performance for my PC games.
So Microsoft -- Nintendo's announcing their new console this summer and the PS3 is a full year newer than your device and had higher specs to start. You are falling behind and taking me with you. Step it up sometime soon for us with your 8th gen release, would you?