This is a bit of a misconception. Consoles definitely have their drawbacks, for certain. But they also provide some extremely important benefits in exchange for those drawbacks, which is what made them so popular to begin with. Some developers aren’t happy with those tradeoffs. Those are the ones who complain, saying that consoles are holding games back. But there are also some very real issues with developing on the PC as well - it really depends on what the goals of the developer are. So let’s talk a little about game consoles from a developer perspective, and then you can make your own decision.
(Some of) The Negatives of Console Development
- ~30% of every sale I make on the console goes to the console makers. This number can fluctuate a bit depending on the contract, but 30% is standard.
- I have to undergo an expensive (usually in the hundreds of thousands of US Dollars), lengthy (several weeks), and stringent certification process in order for my game to be approved for the console. I need to undergo a similar process to release a patch.
- The hardware of the console will likely never improve, though other technology will. If I want to take advantage of some new technology, I cannot.
- There are rules the console manufacturers set forth that I must abide by when developing my game
- My input control scheme is limited to the console’s default controller. Historically, peripheral controllers have been niche at best, with only a handful of notable exceptions (Guitar Hero’s plastic instruments and Skylanders/Disney Infinity toys).
Yeah, it seems kinda bad, doesn’t it? But we should look into the positives of console development too.
(Some of) The Positives of Console Development
- The software will improve over time, and I can be sure that all of the consoles will have the version of the software I require.
- I never have to spend development time fiddling with different hardware specs or driver types.
- I never have to worry about minimum spec machines, or making sure that someone with more horsepower will still be able to get the maximum bells and whistles.
- I never have to worry about supporting differences in input schemes. A console has a standard controller. A PC user might want to use a keyboard, a mouse, a trackball, a USB controller, a joystick, etc.
- I never have to worry about software, driver, or operating system versioning/incompatibility. New software versions aren’t just for show, they fix bugs and add features.
- I only need to deal with one company for support. With a PC, I might have to deal with Intel, AMD, Asus, nVidia, and so on and so forth… and it’s very easy for them to say “Not my problem.” With a Playstation, I only have to deal with Sony who has a vested interest in making things work for me.
- Lots of people buy them and buy games for them.
It’s easy to take a bird’s-eye view at the entire industry and say “Well, everyone should do this.” It’s a lot tougher to be an individual developer with bills to pay and development costs to recoup, especially when what’s better “for everyone” might not be as good for the individual. You do what makes the most financial sense for yourself, not for the total industry as a whole. Right now, game consoles are a generally better bet for many types of games than PC, which is why the lead on those games tend to be consoles.
The PC is a growing market, however, and it’s always difficult to predict the future accurately. If the PC can solve some of the problems I listed above, we’ll likely see an upswing in the number of AAA games being primarily developed on the PC. But the landscape is constantly changing - Steam has a huge hold on the PC market as it is and they also take a cut of ~30% for each sale, which puts them basically at parity with the consoles for most AAA games. They haven’t yet quite brought the same level of support as Microsoft and Nintendo for hardware, but it’s getting there. If the current trends continue, it’s entirely possible that mobile devices will end up supplanting us all.