Ben: A keyboard and mouse arenít the right interface for X-Men Legends, exactly because itís basically an Xbox game. True, a PC gamer could buy a gamepad, scoot back 5 feet, and experience X-Men Legends as intended. But how many do? A PC gamer could also spend $20 more and buy a Gamecubeóthat doesnít make Resident Evil 4 a stellar contribution to PC gaming.
Ben: All of Microsoft's Xbox money may have helped PC gaming hardware, but what about its software?
I think most PC gamers have had the experience of playing a new game and immediately realizing it has been "Xboxed"ódesigned for the Xbox and only half-heartedly ported to the PC. Often a game designed for an Xbox with 64MB of memory, a controller, and 640x480 resolution won't play well on a PC with 1GB of memory, a keyboard and mouse, and 1280x960 resolution. Game developers save money by treating the PC like the Xbox's little brother. Sure they save money, but the results just don't look right.
Alan: Is keyboard and mouse the right user interface for every game? One of those "Xboxed" games might have been X-Men Legends II. It earned a solid 88% and that's because it's bringing a console action-RPG to the PC market. The graphics are definitely improved over the Xbox and so what if you need to get a USB gamepad to really enjoy the game? No one tries to use mouse + keyboard for a driving game when a force feedback steering wheel is an option.
Games like X-Men Legends II may never have reached the PC market if not for the Xbox. Action RPGs just don't sell that well on the PC, but they do great on consoles. The shared development environment helps minimize the risks developers face when making games. Other cross platform games like EA Sports games, Need for Speed, or even Call of Duty 2 benefit from the ability to share resources, even if it's just shared artwork.
The Xbox/PC cross platform games may not be must-have killer apps, but they represent solid games. With the Xbox, gamers have had more options and more choices.
Without the Xbox, would there have been no PC X-Men game at all, or would there have been one that played better? In general, it seems reasonable to suppose either could have happened. Without the Xbox, some of the Xbox+PC games may never have been developed, but the others would play better on a PC. This change alone may benefit the PC gamer, who typically may only want to play a few of the best games. Then there are the resources spent developing Xbox-only games, which donít help PC gamers at all. Halo is a notorious example of a game the Xbox deprived the PC of.
Halo is the example that always gets mentioned because it's the one that stings the most. It's truly an superb game. To put things in perspective, Halo 2 completely outsold Half-Life 2. After two months of release, Half-Life 2 sold 1.7 million copies. Halo 2 sold 5 million copies in just 3 weeks Ė and gamers actually had to pay to play online. Still, do we blame the Macintosh for stealing away our Marathon? Should PC gamers blame Sony for stealing Gran Turismo 4? What about Metal Gear Solid 2? Well actually, we can thank the Xbox since the PC port of MGS2 is based off the Xbox port.
The loss of Halo 2 for the PC reflects the difference between the PC and console markets. Halo 2 helps Microsoft sell more Xbox systems and Xbox 360s. Halo 2 PC wouldn't have done that for them. There's no similar incentive on the PC with the exception of NVIDIA's The Way it's Meant to Be Played and ATI's support of developers like Valve Software. Until board manufacturers and PC builders start investing in software developers, we're going to lose more and more manufacturers to the consoles with time. Even if Microsoft didn't buy Bungie, it would only have been a matter of time before Sony or Nintendo chose to buy them out. Yeah, we lost Bungie to the console world -- but at least the Xbox did something good for PC gaming as a side effect.
Ben: In a sense PC manufacturers invest in game developers by not charging them licensing fees. A PC developer wonít get a big check upfront, but they also wonít have to give a lot of their game sales back to Microsoft.
Let's look at one of my favorite genres, the RPG. With a keyboard and high resolutions, PCs deal with text much more easily than consoles do, and PC gamers accept seeing text on their screen. Compare these dialog screenshots from FS reviews of Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate 2, or even Icewind Dale to dialog in new Xbox/PC RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic or Fable. It seems developers are pressured to cut text out of their games to appeal to the console market. Is it possible the Xbox has made the text-heavy RPG a thing of the past?
I don't know if you can blame the Xbox for that. In general, PC games have always had an additional level of sophistication in comparison to consoles. Perhaps it was because PC gamers needed to understand how to troubleshoot hardware/software problems, or that "back in the day" PCs were only purchased by those who also used the system for productivity and educational purposes. The key to the MPC revolution (Multimedia PC) was probably the fact that you could get an entire encyclopedia on one CD. Back in the day, I paid $800 for a Toshiba 2x SCSI CD-ROM and the Pro Audio Spectrum 16 to go with it. Hopefully the new Sam and Max game coming out in 2006 will rekindle that entire market.