Hello, PC gaming here: Are the consoles OK?


A few years ago we cheekily declared that the PC had won the console war, and it's also true that I've spent the past couple decades gently mocking Sony and Microsoft for their 30 fps games and their Kinectimals, but now the PlayStation and Xbox are really looking quite pale and I'm starting to feel bad. I was just razzin', but as we head into the summer showcases, confidence in the consoles feels lower than ever and I don't know if they'll ever get their old glow back.

It's not just vibes: Console sales are down. Circana analyst Mat Piscatella marked a 26% decline in spending on current-generation consoles this April compared to last April. Xbox hardware in particular is struggling to sell: Microsoft reported a 30% decline in Xbox hardware revenue between the first few months of last year and the first few months of this year.

Meanwhile, Sony's recent State of Play stream was almost as much a PC gaming show as it was a PlayStation show, featuring a PvP hero shooter that'll release on PC day one and the news that God of War Ragnarök is on the way to our platform.

Hey, we're happy. It wasn't long ago that God of War on PC sounded like a pipe dream, but Microsoft and Sony finally cut it out with the console exclusives like we always wanted. And although Sony still makes us wait for its big singleplayer games, FOMO is harder to cultivate than it once was. New phenomena like Palworld appear all the time, and with the help of a good Amazon TV show, a years-old game like Fallout 4 can suddenly become the hot thing to play. We've got more than enough to distract us from whatever's big on PlayStation right now—which incidentally is Helldivers 2, a game that at last check had made more than half of its money on PC.

There is one force of nature on the horizon that I expect to flip those console hardware revenue frowns upside down: Grand Theft Auto 6 releases next year, and will almost definitely be exclusive to consoles for a period. Daddy Rockstar'll take care of ya, don't you worry. But one GTA doesn't bust the trend: Are we really, finally approaching the end of consoles as closed hardware platforms with exclusive first-party games?

Microsoft certainly appears to be prioritizing gaming revenue over hardware revenue, despite what its recent mass developer layoffs and studio closures might seem to indicate. Xbox console sales are down, but Microsoft as a whole is fine, and its gaming revenue has swelled this year due to its Activision Blizzard acquisition. It's also going all-in on Game Pass with plans to offer the next iteration of its shiny new moneymaker, Call of Duty, on its PC and console subscription library. Sony's strategy has changed less dramatically, but PlayStation certainly doesn't feel like the remote destination it used to.

God of War Ragnarok
God of War Ragnarok

The one holdout among the console makers is Nintendo, whose PC strategy is still to threaten fan projects with lawsuits. Perhaps I do not have to hand it to Nintendo for this, but as a result of its obstinance, the Switch is the only console I'd consider buying as a PC gamer. Nintendo remains a one-of-a-kind gaming company, whereas Xbox and PlayStation feel less and less distinguishable from gaming at large—aka PC gaming. Maybe I'm finally starting to understand the PlayStation fans who are mad that the thing they like is dissolving into the great PC gaming ocean of everything. (But too bad: Kratos is now our dad, too.)

We've been joking for years that the consoles are "just PCs now," and the sentiment has only become more and more true.

The distinctions between Xbox, PlayStation, and PC haven't totally dissipated: Japan Studio's new Astro Bot looks like a PlayStation-ass PlayStation game, and Naughty Dog, Insomniac, Sucker Punch, and Sony Santa Monica are still plugging away on future PS5 games which won't come to PC at launch. But the big leap to me was Sony releasing first-party PlayStation exclusives on PC at all, and I doubt it ends there.

God of War on Xbox sounds ridiculous, but God of War on PC once sounded the same, and for its part, Microsoft is going to start releasing some of its smaller Xbox exclusives on PlayStation and Switch.

"I do have a fundamental belief that, over the next five or ten years, exclusive games—games that are exclusive to one piece of hardware—are going to be a smaller and smaller part of the games industry," said Xbox boss Phil Spencer after that announcement.

We've been joking for years that the consoles are "just PCs now," and the sentiment has only become more and more true. Microsoft has boasted that its next Xbox will be a powerhouse, so it's obviously not getting out of the game, but I can't see that machine having anything like the cultural impact of the Xbox 360. (I can picture that glowing green ring clear as day, as well as the moment it turned red.)

Maybe Valve's old living room PC project was just ahead of its time, and now that the exclusivity walls are falling, we're due for the second coming of the Steam Machines. They'd be consoles that get every Xbox game, every PlayStation game (some on a delay), and of course, every PC game. And you wouldn't need a PlayStation Plus subscription to play online. The Steam Deck's success, and resultant SteamOS compatibility push, suggests it wouldn't be the worst idea.