In the gaming face-off between PCs and consoles, the hype seems to be very much around the latter. However, a reality check reveals that the former continues to lead in developing countries.
Both camps have their supporters. The console crowd points out that most consoles now support high definition displays, have online gaming facilities, excellent gameplay options and, best of all, save the user from the hassle of having to upgrade their systems (generally in terms of RAM and graphics cards) almost every time a major new title is released. The PC adherents, on their part, claim that their devices are better at handling online gaming, and what's more, are capable of doing much more than just playing games. While the need to upgrade regularly can be a bit of a hassle, they say that this proves that PC game developers are actually willing to venture beyond the limits of existing hardware - something that console game developers cannot really do, as they have to ensure that all their games play on the same console.
As a clincher, PC gaming supporters point out that PC games end up costing significantly less than their console counterparts; a new PC game generally costs in the vicinity of Rs 1,500 while a new console title can cost almost twice as much. Also, in the long run, PC game prices decline to the point of Rs 199 (some even go sub-Rs 100), while the lowest price one can get for a console game is generally around Rs 450 (for the PlayStation 2, at the moment). Also, PCs have a much bigger gaming library (albeit one with OS-compatibility issues) than consoles do, giving users far more options.
While there is no clear winner globally, it would be safe to say that the PC very much calls the shots in India. Part of the reason is that a person can use a PC for so many other purposes, whereas consoles, notwithstanding all the processing power they pack in, are not really capable of handling tasks such as word processing and even extensive Web browsing. There is also the fact that a PC is a complete package in itself, whereas a console needs to be plugged into a display, which needs to be purchased separately. Yes, most consoles can be connected to television sets too, but then Indian homes generally have a single TV that is watched by the entire family. As Sony and Microsoft (and recently, Nintendo) are finding out, most people are unlikely to surrender their TV viewing rights to let someone play a game.
In fact, the best way to find out about the popularity of a platform is to simply stroll down the grey market and view the number of titles available for each; a tour of Nehru Place in Delhi will tell you that the PC is miles ahead of consoles when it comes to gaming in India.
The future: PC and mobile territory?
Ironically, the biggest challenge to the PC as a gaming platform, in India, is being posed not by consoles but by mobile phones. Interestingly, mobile phones tend to combine the best of PC and console gaming. They are versatile instruments, are used by almost everybody and best of all, most Java games (which are the most popular games on cell phones) can run on just about any mid-segment - and even some lower segment cell phones. To top all this, cell phone games all cost below three figures, making them so much more accessible. Yes, the graphics and sound might not match that of the PC and consoles, but users don't seem to mind that as their handsets give them an option to play a game at a relatively low cost, just about anywhere. Also, Nokia's N-gage gaming platform, and Apple's iPhone have opened the doors to much more graphic-rich games on handsets, although this remains a rather niche segment restricted to high-end phones.
As of now, the PC and console remain the best gaming options for hardcore and serious gamers. Consoles may be the rage in developed countries, but the PC continues to rule the roost in the developing world. Game developers would do well to stick to innovating on the PC, if their target audience is in this region. Their product will reach a larger segment. Mind you, that might just change in a year or so, as both Sony and Microsoft have slashed their console prices significantly; you can now get a Sony PlayStation 2 for less than Rs 7,000 and a Microsoft Xbox 360 for less than Rs. 15,000. But for now, gaming is very much PC territory in India.