PC vs Console Gaming: A War On Multiple Fronts: 2020 Edition
In the olden days of gaming, it was all about the Console Wars. Nintendo vs Sega. Nintendo vs Sony. With the turn of more recent generations, the Console Wars have become something closer to Sony vs Microsoft, with Nintendo focusing on providing its own experiences… but now, consoles aren’t the only fighters in the area.
PC has entered the fray. PC gaming has existed for decades, of course, but with the turn of the PS360 Generation and the emergence of Steam, PC has suddenly started competing with consoles in a way that hasn’t been seen before. The console war has calmed (well, for the most part), and is more or less over.
Now… it’s PC vs Xbox One vs PS4. Today, we’re going to discuss where the contenders stand as of late 2019 and the current console generation-- PS4/Xbox One--, and we’re going to tackle the battle from every possible perspective.
Enough chatter. Let’s actually start talking about the pros and cons of both PC gaming and console gaming.
PC vs Console Gaming: Pricing
First up, let’s talk pricing. For the sake of simplicity, let’s use the hardware power and performance of the PS4 as a baseline.
A new PC with gaming performance on par with the Xbox One and PS4 is going to cost you $400. A new PC on par with the Xbox One X is going to cost you $600. The PS4 costs $300, and the One X costs $500-- so consoles win, right?
If we’re talking new, yes.
However, if we take used hardware into account… not quite. If you buy, say, a used pre-built office PC off of eBay for $100 and a console-equivalent GPU for another $100 (which you very much can do-- check out our used GPU guide), you can get console performance for a lower price. Used consoles will retail for lower too, of course, but generally, you won’t get as-good deals out of them.
We’re leaning Used PC here, with Used Console in a close second and New PC in last. Upgradeability (discussed below) means that PCs can cost a lot more, but at that point you are choosing to invest in the diminishing returns seen at the higher end of a niche market; a higher end that consoles can’t compete with, mind you.
However, the price of the system alone isn’t all there is to take into account. Let’s continue to...
Display pricing. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you’re looking for a 1080p display, and you want a monitor for your PC and a TV for your console (although, you can use monitors for your console as well).
Buying new, PC definitely wins here. You can find new, gaming-ready monitors for right around $100 on PC. New 1080p HDTVs tend to cost $200 or higher, at least.
This fight gets a bit muddier with secondhand markets, though. Used HDTVs can be found secondhand for anywhere from $50-$150, but they often tend to be on the smaller side of the TV spectrum. Used 1080p monitors, meanwhile, tend to start at around $70-$80, making the barrier of entry slightly higher on this front.
Buying new, monitors take the cake. Buying used, TVs are a little bit better, but not by much. This is complicated by the different situations you might use them for, however, seeing as many people own TVs already and that monitors are better for pure gaming.
If you want to learn more about how TV and monitors compare for gaming purposes, read our article on the subject.
You can use console controllers for their respective consoles or with PC-- no price comparison to be made for that particular scenario. An Xbox controller will cost the same whether you’re using it with an Xbox or a PC.
What we should talk about is how much it costs to have a good gaming experience on each platform.
Official controllers for the current-gen consoles cost anywhere from $50 to $70, depending on sales and the console of your choice. (One will usually be bundled with the console, however.) Third-party controllers are available for consoles, but these tend to cut on features and build quality significantly, especially on the lowest end. To be fair, though, let’s say a competent third party controller starts at $20.
A quality keyboard and mouse set from Logitech can be purchased for $15. While mechanical keyboards are nice, they don’t provide an objective improvement to gaming in the way that an official controller does versus a third party gamepad. Gaming mice can be an objective improvement, but even those can be found for as low as $30.
The winner here is pretty even, but we’ll give the edge to PC.
Speaking of fewer options, in terms of digital games… it’s not even a competition. PC wins this hands-down. Steam is downright infamous for its sales, which are frequent and offer severe discounts on even recent AAA games. Steam also has competitor storefronts, like GOG and Humble Indie Bundle, which help drive down prices across the board and encourage more sales.
This isn’t even mentioning the modding community, which is arguably worth its own point, and which is free despite adding a ton of value to many games, like Skyrim or Don’t Starve.
Consoles are restricted to their respective online marketplaces, and because of this, there’s no competition there. Many digital games will retail for the same price as physical copies of the game at launch (and may never see a real decrease in price except for sporadic sales), and sales aren’t nearly as numerous or generous on console as they are on PC.
Honestly, this shouldn’t be a competition, but we’re here. PC doesn’t charge you to play online, period. PC wins this category.
The consoles all charge for online play at this point. Using annual memberships, Nintendo charges the least (at $20 per year), while both Xbox and PlayStation charge the most (at $60 a year). Xbox and PlayStation do provide monthly games to help soften the blow as well as extra discounts on games that are on sale, but this doesn’t even make up for Steam sales savings.
PC vs Console Gaming: Exclusive Games
We aren’t going to pick a winner in this category. In terms of pure numbers, PC offers the most and has the advantage of not being as harshly segregated by generation. PS4 comes in second, with Switch in third, and Xbox One in fourth (note: you can play a lot of Xbox “exclusives” on PC, like Forza and Gears of War).
In terms of numbers.
You get the idea. There is no objective measure of game quality. For a lot of people trying to determine,”Should I get a console or PC?”, it will, somewhat reasonably come down to this. If exclusives are the deciding factor for you, you need to determine which games you want to play the most and what platform they’re on.
(The author’s personal pick for exclusive games would be the Nintendo Switch, if you’re curious.)
PC vs Console: VR Gaming
VR gaming is the newest trend on the market. And both console and PC have their own fronts in this market, sorta. Amongst consoles, only PS4 actually offers a VR headset-- PS VR-- while PC has several possible headsets you can use, although the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are the most popular and most strongly supported.
Technologically speaking, the PS VR is inferior to the PC offerings, both because of its outdated tracking technology and the PS4 itself just being less powerful. Moreover, there are fewer games for PS VR making it less appealing as a product overall.
However, PS VR is also significantly cheaper. It is recommended that you use a more powerful PC for VR (it’d be nice to have a stronger PS4 for VR too, but the PS4 Pro is as strong as it gets) and this will set you back by a decent chunk of change. Moreover, the PS VR can retail under $200 while the Vive is about $500 and the Rift is sitting at $350. Although, peripherals, like controllers, will probably cause you to spend nearly an extra $100 on any that you choose.
None of these are future proof though. PS VR the least of which since Sony will likely want to push the tech further with its next console.
At the end of the day, it’s best to try one out at a store (Best Buy, GameStop, etc). You might save on the PS VR, but its lower quality might be the difference between needing to keep a garbage can handy and having a revolutionary gaming experience.
PC vs Console Gaming: Upgradability
You probably see where this is going, but we’re going to do it anyway.
PCs and consoles (sans the Switch), can upgrade their internal hard drives. As of the most recent console generation, they can also use external hard drives. (Sans the Switch, again.)
However, consoles have a limitation here, at least in terms of internal storage: they can only take 2.5-inch drives. Not only are these usually more expensive for the same amount of storage, they’re also slower (in the case of 2.5 HDDs) or vastly more expensive per-gig (in the case of 2.5 SSDs).
In terms of upgrading your drives, PC has much more options for internal storage. In terms of everything else...
Upgrading Everything Else
Yeah. PC wins on this front, hands down. Aside from storage, you can’t upgrade anything inside your console, much less open it up without voiding your warranty. You can repair and upgrade and change your PC all you like-- you can even build one from scratch if you want!
PC vs Console Gaming: Backwards Compatibility
Let’s say you want to play older games on your modern system. Who offers the best backwards compatibility?
PC Backwards Compatibility
PC is pretty great on this front. Thanks to built-in compatibility modes, user-made fixes and outlets like GOG (which make broken old games work on modern systems), your PC library spans back farther back than the existence of Nintendo consoles. With the addition of emulation and the right hardware, you can emulate just about any old console as well, up until the PS3/Xbox 360… for now.
Nintendo Backwards Compatibility
Here’s something sad: Nintendo used to do awesome in this category.
With the Wii’s Virtual Console and the Wii U/3DS Virtual Consoles building on top of that, Nintendo had all of its greatest games playable on their modern systems.
Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch offers no backward compatibility to speak of… except for emulated NES games. They score a hard last in this category as of 2019.
PlayStation Backwards Compatibility
Similar to Nintendo, PlayStation used to do pretty well in this category. The launch PS3 could play PS2 and PS1 games, but later models of the PS3 removed PS2 compatibility to cut down on prices.
The PS4 has no direct backwards compatibility to speak of, only PS Now, a subscription service that offers access to streaming PS3 titles. PS2 games can also be purchased from the PS Store and emulated, but as of now, there are only very few PS1 titles with the same treatment.
Xbox Backwards Compatibility
Xbox is doing the best of the consoles here.
While limited, Xbox One does offer backward compatibility with a large number of original Xbox and Xbox 360 games. Some of these games even have enhanced resolution and performance on the Xbox One X!
PC vs Console Gaming: Warranty and Repairs
Life happens, and when it happens it can often result in a damaged or lost gaming setup. What recourse do you have for this?
PC Warranty and Repairs
With PC, you can open up and upgrade your system without voiding your warranty. You or independent shops also have full license to replace or upgrade any component inside your system, so long as it’s compatible. Even if an individual component can’t be repaired, that component usually can be replaced without voiding warranty.
Speaking of warranty, warranties are pretty strong on the PC platform. If you built your own PC, each of your individual parts have their own warranties and return policies, usually covering you for anywhere from 2-3 years. With prebuilt PCs, this span of time is usually lowered to 1-2 years.
Console Warranty and Repairs
All three mainstream consoles offer a 1 year warranty.
Repairs are… fuzzier. You’re definitely allowed to upgrade your internal drives (at least on PS4 and Xbox One-- on Switch, you’re limited to an SD card), and until recently all console manufacturers restricted you from making your own repairs. After a notice from the FTC, Sony and Nintendo now allow third-party repairs, but Microsoft will still void your warranty unless they’re the ones responsible.
We think it’s fair to say that PC wins here, especially self-built PCs.
PC vs Console Gaming: Control Methods
What can you use to play your games? How many options do you have?
Console Control Methods
Console control methods are limited to the current-generation controllers for those consoles and, occasionally, fleeting mouse and keyboard support. There are a few exceptions to the current-generation rule-- for instance, the GameCube controller will soon be usable on the Nintendo Switch-- but these are few and far between.
PC Control Methods
All of the above, plus the past generation controllers, and honestly just… just about anything you can think of. People on PC have figured out how to beat Dark Souls with an Xbox 360 Rock Band Guitar for god’s sake.
PC vs Console Gaming: Accessibility
Now, let’s talk accessibility. We’re going to tackle accessibility on two fronts here: software and hardware.
Software-wise, console has a definite advantage in accessibility. You don’t need to worry about driver installs or game patching or anything like that-- you plug, you play, you occasionally have to download updates. There is almost nothing between you and the game, from a software perspective, when you’re playing on console.
Hardware-wise is a different story. Most console games don’t offer the ability to rebind in-game controls (you can remap OS-wide controls in PS4 and Xbox One accessibility settings, but there is no way to apply these per-game), and neither Nintendo or Sony offer adaptive controllers for disabled gamers. Xbox does, though, with the Xbox Adaptive Controller… which can also be used on PC!
Software-wise… PC loses, hard. Even in the best case scenarios, you’re still going to eventually need to tweak and fix something. That’s the price of PC’s variety and freedom: a lot of extra tweaking.
Hardware-wise, PC wins. In addition to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, almost every PC game out there offers control rebindings, and you can really play with… well, just about anything.
PC vs Console Gaming: Final Verdict
Let’s wrap this up.
- Winner: Used PC Hardware
- Runner-Up: Used Consoles
- Winner: N/A (personal taste)
- Winner: PC (power), PSVR (price)
- Winner: PC
- Runner-Up: PlayStation and Xbox Tie
- Winner: PC
- Runner-Up: Xbox
Warranty and Repairs
- Winner: PC
- Runner-Up: Nintendo and Sony
- Winner: PC
- Runner-Up: Nintendo
- Winner: PC (hardware), consoles (software)
- Runner-Up: Xbox (hardware), PC (software)
Why PC is Better Than Console
Perhaps unsurprisingly, PC won most categories… but that doesn’t mean PC is the only option and that you’re objectively wrong if you don’t choose it.
In particular, PC wins on value. While you can get into either scene for a comparable price, the PC will likely stay viable just as long, if not longer. And you won’t pay to play online, and you won’t pay full price for most of your games, and you’ll have mods-- mods!
Oh, and PCs can be used for more than just gaming.
Why Console is Better Than PC
Much like PC, console has great games. While there are a ton of great, exclusive games on PC, there are more AAA exclusives on console.
Let’s say you love Nintendo games, and want to play the newest ones at home or on the go. A PC can’t do that, but a Nintendo Switch can. Let’s say you want to play God of War, or Spider-Man. Only PS4 can do that. Halo? Only Xbox One can do that.
If you just want a Halo machine, then why would you want even care about PC gaming?
Consoles also have a larger install base, meaning if you want to play Call of Duty with your friends, you’re going to need the platform (likely console) they’re playing on.
Moreover, consoles are just more convenient. There is no good way to quantify this, but humans are just lazy. And when you return home after a long day at work, consoles are just easier.
Ultimately, though, what matters most is what gaming experiences you value.
Speaking as a gamer-- and not the author-- I prefer the PC. All my favorite games are old games that I can emulate and breathe new life into on my system, and I find that PC provides by far the best experience with current-gen multiplatform games. I’m also planning to get a Switch very soon-- who said I (or anyone else) had to stick to just one platform?
Comment below and let us know: what do you play on? If you’re trying to find something to buy, did this article help you?