|Serious work, serious fashion sense.|
1. Building a PC is still a pain in the ass…
More more precisely, it's a pain in the back. Spending an afternoon hunched over and staring at tiny pins doesn't get any easier as the years go on. Furthermore, delicate parts, vague instructions, and cramped spaces means there is a high potential for disaster when trying to piece everything together. And even when you've assembled everything, there's no guarantee that it will work.
I learned this first hand when I first booted up and was greeted by the sickening absence of a POST beep. I began the painstaking process of trying to isolate the problem; checking all the connections, unplugging components and then trying to boot again, cursing and pleading with whatever deities rule over consumer electronics. Finally, I solved the problem when I plugged the USB keyboard I was using into a different port on the back panel. Why this worked remains a mystery. Maybe it was just a coincidence. I was just happy to get to the tedious process of installing the OS and updating all the various motherboard and video card drivers.
2. …but it's less of a pain in the ass than it has been historically.
Modular power supplies, SATA cables with 90 degree connectors, and cases with built in cable management systems make piecing everything together relatively straightforward. Furthermore, the advent of YouTube and other video sites are great resources for advice and guidance. A simple Google search of a particular part or process usually yields a detailed tutorial of how to properly install, configure, and troubleshoot anything.
3. Most people don't really need to build a high-end, customized PC…
This is more of an observation I kept making throughout the process, but it was hammered home by what I did when I finally got everything up and running. Sure, I messed around with some games, but most of them were things I could have easily played on a computer half as powerful (and half as expensive). As someone who will occasionally want to boot up Crysis just for funsies, I'm an outlier. Even so, thanks (I believe) in large part to the economy and the protracted console cycle, we're living in an age of moderate system requirements. The AAA space still wants to make sure everything runs on a wide variety of hardware and the independent space tends to favor interesting dynamics over photorealistic visuals.
4. …which is why the "Steam Box" is so interesting.
The strongest aspect of the PC platform is its variety, both in terms of distribution and content. Steam has shown us a way to handle DRM and to conduct online commerce. In terms of games, we get everything from Far Cry 3 to Kentucky Route Zero. When it comes to actually buying games, promotional sales, flexible pricing, and gift-giving offer the versatility that should naturally come with digital distribution.
Consoles still have an edge in terms of usability and standardization (although this is becoming less of the case in this brave new world of multiple SKUs and constant software updates). For people that just want to play games and not worry about the litany of hardware and software tasks related to building and maintaining a PC, trading versatility for convenience seems like a good deal. If Valve, or other third party manufacturers, are able to meld the console's ease of use with the PC's diverse content and economic set up, the next five years will be very interesting.
5. Finally, despite all the hassle, it's fun to see this...
6. …turn into this: