Activision’s PC console replacement.

There’s some hullabaloo at the moment about “Activision wants to replace consoles with PCs“.

Some folks seem to be treating this like the second coming. It’s somewhat more mundane. Activision CEO Robert Kotick is simply envious of the revenue cut that he loses to Microsoft and Sony.

For some reason, much of the interest in this right now hovers around a particular blog posting…

“Some games play better on consoles”

I think that’s poorly stated. Some games are better suited to the game-focused environment of a console: Pop a disk in, power on, play.

Given that console hardware is not that different from PC hardware, how is it that PC variants always load so much more slowly? Better compute power, more RAM, better/faster disk and loading from disk rather than CD and still the PC chugs away “loading”. (Consider KOTOR: it played so much more smoothly on the console despite the fact you had it installed on hard disk).

I suspect that part of the reason is that the Windows PC is no-longer really Microsoft’s preferred platform for gaming, as demonstrated by the beating OpenGL performance took with Vista/Win7.

Making a PC platform attractive to gamers is not a hardware issue; infact I suspect the absence of consumer hardware issues on consoles is a large part of the appeal. Appreciation for the ability to replace your 2-year old graphics card with one of a selection of $500 modern replacements is abruptly reversed when you find you chose poorly.

The big difference between console and PC gamers is the willingness to devote time to studying and researching the nuances of hardware advances. Hell, PC gamers are already beginning to tire of Intel/AMD nVidia/ATI shenanigans.

There are *some* hardware aspects: a gaming-PC has to have wireless controller support and a slew of USB ports easily accessible for plugging in multiple controllers.

The real issue is the software. You need something the machine will boot into that is along the lines of the XBox or PS3 interfaces, even the ability to power on the machine with a game in the DVD drive and have that game up and running in moments without fuss.

For success, in the West at least, you need to deliver a platform to “3 guys with beer and pizza”, operating under the assumption that much of the beer is already inside the 3 guys prior to operation of the device.

These guys want to be playing Tony Hawkes in moments, without trying to operate a mouse; they aren’t interested in a virus scan, or having Adobe+Java+Windows run their auto-updates. All the things that make starting up a PC time consuming and non-trivial.

Personally, I think what they might want to think about is a modular PC. A main unit that houses the graphics card, memory, cpu, and maybe a largeish SSD, which is small and light weight, and can be used to play TV games on. Like a laptop, it comes with a docking station that houses the hard disk, and/or extra stuff you might want for power-PC gaming on your monitor somewhere else in the house.

Undocked, it boots the SSD and a very streamlined operating system absent frivolities like web browser, windows update, etc, etc. This should be a gaming environment.

Dock and you get a choice between booting in full PC mode or the gaming mode.

Reality check time, however. Activision isn’t talking about pioneering anything here. They already make PC games. Kotick simply thinks that if he throws some support in the direction of existing PC vendors he can improve his bottom line.

So I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll see anything resembling a gamer-friendly PC fall out of this any time soon.


“These guys want to be playing Tony Hawkes in moments, without trying to operate a
mouse; they aren’t interested in a virus scan, or having Adobe+Java+Windows run their auto-updates. All the things that make starting up a PC time consuming and non-trivial.”

I’ve thought about this before myself, and I think this is a summary of the largest marks consoles have in their favor.

Theoretically, I wonder what it would take to create a Linux distro with a very restricted package set and lightweight WM on it targeted for gamers. I mean, something that boots in seconds, with a PS3-like navigation. With Steam and the Source engine possibly coming to Linux in the near(ish) future, I think there is a lot of potential for something like this.

Would have to come together quickly and under Microsoft’s radar; I suspect the reason nobody has put money into it yet is because as soon as someone does, MS will port the Xbox fork of Windows back to the PC.

That’s a good point. However, as a counterpoint, one of the advantages of a console is the fact that users don’t have to worry about viruses and other crap. Perhaps a marketable argument could be made about the increased (although not perfect) security that would come with an open-source Linux-based solution.

However, I suspect that of all the developers out there, only Valve is in a position to make a serious stab at this, since they seem to be porting their main engine to Linux anyways. For anyone else, the costs of porting (which they are already hesitant to take on) combined with the of developing and marketing a Linux-based pseudo-console-type distribution for PCs which may or may not ever take off is a risky game.

the hardware, OS, and slick front end is the easy part.

IMO the key to this would be a well polished set of development tools allowing any developer to easily port or newly create games that run on the system but more importantly a high quality ‘middleware’ content delivery backend allowing these developers to direct sell securely, think ‘itunes for games’. in the case of steam or just have pass through authentication for the existing distro channel.

in a perfect gaming world i think it would be awesome, i doubt anything will come of it. you would need the EAs and activisions to be on board from the get go. That only covers north america though. the hard sell would be the konamis, capcoms, and squares of the world.

I had to resist my instinctive developer urge to say “needs great tools”. It ought to be true, but I don’t think it is. If the platform is clearly going to sell, developers will make their own. The iPhone has lousy development tools, just like the Mac. The 360 doesn’t exactly rock a developer’s world.

Square is a great contrast to Kotick. Square are all about the artistry of what they do, for which a known-quantity console environment is a well-honed stage. Kotick is just about having to share as little of the takings as possible.

i think that is a fair thing for him to be concerned with. he does head a publicly traded corporation after all :).

from my perspective, i’m old enough to remember when knowing how to configure hardware was an art form (isa sound cards ftw). that said, i just want things to work now. if i could buy a reasonably priced ‘machine’ that has the capability to play MMOs with a reasonable life cycle (3-5 years) i’m thinking sign me up.

oh also, i think the whole “some games just play better on a console” thing is bullshit. plug in a PS3 style gamepad into a PC and you can play sports, fighting, side scrollers the same way. plug that PC into your HD television and if the game supports 4 controllers there is no reason a ‘PC’ can’t do the exact same things consoles can.

“fair thing for him to be concerned with”

absolutely, but a lot of people seem to be seeing the gamers-champion in him rather than the corporate champion (I’m not judging him for having corporate interests, just highlighting the fact that those are his motives, not gaming artistry or freedom or something.

Like I said – I think the “games just play better” is poorly stated. Some games are just better played in a consolesque environment with the shorter loading times, simpler interface etc. Likewise, some games play better with the extra bells and whistles you only tend to get on a PC.

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