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Why the gaming world still needs consoles

Xbox One PlayStation 4 Launch Analysis

With both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 now out in the United States, there’s been some chatter about whether they’ll lead to a broader revival in the gaming market or whether they’ll be seen as the console era’s last hurrah as more casual gamers get their fix through mobile devices while the remaining hardcore gamers hunker down in their PC bunkers. As someone who has enjoyed video games ever since getting his first 8-bit Nintendo console back in 1988, I really hope that dedicated gaming consoles stay as centerpieces of the gaming world because they provide something that neither tablets nor PCs can really achieve.

On the tablet side of things, the advantage that consoles have is obvious: They flat-out produce better games. Yes, millions of people love Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga and other mobile app marvels but they’re not what I’m looking for in a game. I love games that are big, challenging and immersive with a lot of different things to do.

Grand Theft Auto V, Bioshock Infinite and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are all terrifically ambitious games that required killer hardware to work. While some tablet games such as the Infinity Blade series really do have impressive graphics for tablets, they’ll never be on the bleeding edge as the triple-A titles mentioned above will be — consoles simply offer more juice than what tablets are able to match.

Things get a little trickier when comparing consoles with PCs. By all accounts — and especially the accounts of PC gamers — gaming on your PC is a richer, better experience than gaming on consoles. Because PCs come out much more frequently than consoles, they often surpass consoles’ hardware capabilities and deliver higher frame rates and sharper graphics. Plus, PCs offer a lot more flexibility and allow for modifications that make already-great games even better. Just look at what a heavily modded version of Skyrim looks like compared with the vanilla console version and you’ll understand why this can be important.

But there’s something nice about buying a game for a console and knowing that it will, to use a favorite Steve Jobs expression, just work. Game developers have often complained about how consoles’ hardware specifications have limited them somewhat and have forced them to waste time figuring out ways to make their bold designs fit into consoles’ imposed restrictions. But from my perspective this is a good thing: After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than buying a $60 game and having it not work right out of the box because your drivers aren’t fully updated.

Oh sure, you could buy a “future proof” gaming PC but those are tremendously expensive. I would much rather lay down a mere $400 to pick up a console where I can pop in a game and know that it will run exactly as it’s supposed to right away without futzing around with driver updates or graphics cards.

So here’s hoping that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are smashing successes. Because if the gaming market fractures to the point where our only two options for games are playing Candy Crush on an iPad or Skyrim on a $1,200 gaming PC, then it will be a sad day indeed.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.