Quickly losing faith in PC games’ ability to deliver

I’ve been a staunch supporter of all things PC for my entire life.  People can ask me what kind of ‘gamer’ I am and I’ll respond “PC”.  However, the direction that PC game releases are headed lately has me beginning to seriously question this platform’s current and future sustainability.

Recent examples of PC game launch failures (note: the games might not be bad but their PC launch/identity is/was horrific):

  • Dead Island – Multiplayer was up for a day but went down and has remained down for nearly two days without so much as an ETA.
  • Brink – Full of issues, lacked polish, lacked functionality
  • Call of Duty Black Ops – Performance issues were and remain horrendous compared to other platforms.  Latency and server performance also in question.  Obvious console port.
  • Modern Warfare 2 – Obvious console port lacking PC functionality.

That list excludes MMO’s and is by no means complete.  Go a little further back and there are even more examples.  I’m starting to feel embarrassed on behalf of the PC games market/field.  Is it a hardware issue? Are there reasons why the games are not functioning as intended — a skill gap in programmers or a lack of testing?  What is the cause of this unacceptable trend?  I feel entitled to answers since I’m both a supporter and a customer.

If the PC games market is destined to become the gutter of console ports or corner cutting then I want off this sinking ship right away.  I don’t want my PC to become a box that plays MMO’s and Blizzard titles, but I fear it’s quickly coming to that. .  I’m holding out for Skyrim to *possibly* be great on the PC but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t seriously considering buying it for the 360.  Maybe BF3 will rejuvenate my outlook on the situation.

The PC is a powerful platform.  The functionality trumps the consoles.  PC gaming was once a proud and truly remarkable platform with game releases that were unique/exclusive, innovative, and deserving of customer loyalty.  We need to see more big name releases with true backing, polish, exclusivity, and something deserving of our support.

Bottom line — developers — stop releasing crap for PC.    It’s just not fair.


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flosch - September 8, 2011

I think a huge problem with games that are “PC ports” is that they take an original interface that somehow shoehorned control onto a very lacking input device, the gamepad, and then take that and shoehorn it again onto an uninspired mishmash of 10 keys somewhere on your keyboard, instead of using the power of a real input device.

UI is important, and it’s not about shiny buttons. it’s about getting stuff done. I don’t want to spend navigating submenus to open bags or look at maps of different areas.

Zulu - September 8, 2011

Wow! I am completely amazed at the developer bashing that contiues everytime a game release goes sour. I’ve been in the IT business world for 30 years and I can guarentee you that upper/middle management are the ones responsible for 99% of what is going on. They have to meet their release deadlines or “No Bonus for you buddy”. They know perfectly well the code is bugged when they give approval for release to production. If IT/Project managers bonuses were tied to quality of code and not “just make the deadline” you would see a vast improvement in the quality of the released product. As it is (and probably will continue to be so) QC is secondary to “get the product out the door” (Get that money NOW!) and if there are bugs,(which they already know exist) they blame the developers and testers and have them work 24/7 to patch things up while management goes on corporate “team building” vacation. I’ve seen this happen a million times.

It is the IT Corporate Nature of the Beast.

biophazer242 - September 8, 2011

I read several articles the past few weeks in regards to that insanely priced Razor laptop that discussed this issue a lot. It speculated that perhaps the lack of a unified standard in pc gaming is what is the main issue for the pc. A 360 or PS3 is developed and game developers find a way to get every bit of power out of the system with their games which is why the same 360 system can play Oblivion and Skyrim, but my pc that was pushed to the max with Oblivion would most likely not be able to play Skyrim.

As PC gamers we sometimes take shots at console gamers but we are the ones that over the life of a system spend way more money on our gaming than a console gamer. They drop a one time investment on a PS3 and never has to upgrade the ram or the video card or the fan … etc etc.

It was an interesting discussion in regards to is pc gaming dead. Perhaps what we do need is a little bit of uniformity in our format to make things a bit smoother. I still prefer my PC, and will get Skyrim on pc for all the user mods that are created, but I still have my PS3 and use it just as much for titles such as the LEGO series or titles that I do not see user created content being available for.

Dirtyboy - September 8, 2011

The main problem is money. A game developer is going to put their resources towards the platform that will earn them the most. Platform loyalty means nothing if there aren’t the sales to back it up. Look at Black Ops and MW2 which both sold over 10 million total copies (Black Ops 20 mil) and at best 1 million each on PC. If you’re a multi-platform studio it just doesn’t make sense to spend a lot on the PC. Add in the headaches of trying to debug for the nearly infinite number of possible hardware combinations, DRM nightmares, and trying to get any retail store shelf space.

That being said, love it or hate it, Steam has helped the PC make a strong comeback. Now with several digital game stores doing well, many developers/publishers in the last few weeks have said they are focusing more on the PC. One thing they are starting to “get” is the fact there are way more PCs/Macs out there than all the consoles combined, which means larger potential audience and sales.

The downside to this is that in order to reach these customers we are going to see more “console” style games that appeal to the mass market. Developers can’t afford to cater solely to the hardcore crowd if they want paychecks. BF3 is reported to have 1.25 million pre-orders, which you have to assume at least half of that is console. I would be surprised if BF3 sells 2 million on PC, and realistically expect it to sell in the 1 million range. BF2 sold 2 million copies in its first year, and that was considered a huge seller for the PC. And that was several months before the Xbox 360 launched.

I could ramble on forever, but the point is the PC can be and is a viable platform for developers. They are slowly learning how to do things right. Look at current games like Deus Ex, Space Marine, Bastion, Rock of Ages. A wide range of genres that have console stylings but look great and play well on PC.

TLDR version: Developers like consoles, PC sells less but is still good

SynCaine - September 8, 2011

You are too AAA focused in the wrong genres.

Stuff like Minecraft, Terraria, LoL, most MMOs, mod-friendly games like Mount and Blade; those are the titles that make PC gaming worthwhile. FPS are clearly an Xbox live thing now, but that’s really the only genre that has jumped off the PC. Adventure/action/sports titles have always been console.

Max - September 8, 2011

The problem? -those are console ports. Done poorly. irony all is all games are developed on PC! but they have to work around console limitations and being multiplatform (xbox360 and PS3 are 2 very different beasts). consoles are primary market for AAA titles, no publisher pays attention to PC. Oblivion and Fallout3 all were horrible ports with bad UI and unacceptable bugs .

I myself stopped supporting console ports long time ago. Not a dime of my money goes to console port (if I really want title I will pirate it ).games are buy are games of steam made for pcs as primary platform. Those been mostly indie titles .MMOS and strategies.

I dont want any “aaa” shallow junk from EA or other large publishers. They can all stop releasing PCs, all for the better

Mutonizer - September 8, 2011

2 or 3 things are I believe responsible for this:

1) PC ports.
Games are rarely developped for PC nowdays and it’s clear that there is very little done in terms of effort for PC versions. This can be seen in how keyboard shortcuts are handled, graphic settings, low resolution pre-rendered scenes, texture quality (way WAY below what PCs can handle nowdays), etc.

2) Control.
This is a major part of why the big game companies are running away from PC: they can control nearly 100% of console gaming. They know what you’ll do, when you’ll do it, how you’ll do it. They control 100% of what is possible and what is not. As a console gamer, you are a slave to what you buy, period. You do what you’re told, when you’re told and that’s it. As a PC gamer, I say “fuck it” to that mentality and that’s why I’m never going to buy any console.
On PC, they lack that control because we (players) can do whatever we want most of the time. A good example is The Sims, which is a NIGHTMARE for EA. How many times have they tried to counter the “nude patches”? How many times have they failed? I counted 5 in Sims 3 alone. Why does it matter? As a PC gamer, I have no idea. But clearly, this pushed them all toward consoles. Another example? Remember “hot coffee” for GTA? Another complete nightmare for a game company. No idea why it matters to be honest, but I’m 100% sure that they freaked out completely and that’s why you’re not even seeing any PC versions nowdays.

3) Player content = less profit.
That’s the new trend it seems and that’s why you’ll see more and more DLC and less and less possibilities to mod a game. Have you checked what people have done for Oblivion? For Fallout? For NWN? It’s INSANE and it’s all on PC. For the game industry, that’s no good, because that’s no profit!
There can not be any relevant player content on console, and people gaming on these don’t even ask for it (slaves, remember?), so it’s great! Now, you can see the mastodontes of the gaming industry glowing about the cash they’re gonna make via DLC. Want 2 more maps, sure, 15$, want new hats and pants? sure, 15$. That’s NUTS but people PAY for that crap while PC gamers can just rely on a huge fanbase and grab tens of thousands of free content!! Have you checked Sims Ressources website or tesnexus? It’s completely insane if you compare all that to a frikkin 15$ DLC!!

I’ve never been a fan of consoles, even portables ones (and it’s even more laughable now with phones and the like) and as years went by, I’ve developped an actual disgust for console gamers because of their complete submission to all that. There is nothing that makes console “better” in any way and yet people just keep on going, like sheeps in a slaugtherhouse. I find it completely irresponsible for parents to buy their kids a console as well, simple bad parenting.

I hate things that make people dumb, and I hate even more people actually wanting to be dumb…nothing personal.

As for confidence in PC, I haven’t bought a single triple AAA PC game for more than a year and a half now. I try most of them and end up deleting them 10 mins in (that includes Deus Ex, which is laughable compared to what can be done in this day and age). I’m however supporting multiple indie games which I think are great in concept and great for the mind (Dwarf fortress for example).

You want to stop companies from doing shitty dumb games? Simple, trash you console now and don’t buy any triple AAA games unless you’ve actually tried them (not talking PR demos) and they can deliver. Support indie game and boycott over the top licensing (like EA with NFL and the like). In a year or so, with tens of millions in loses, problem solved and we get a clean slate.

Of course that’ll never happen 🙂

Keen - September 8, 2011

@SynCaine: I have Minecraft, Terraria, and Mount and Blade and love them. Not ALL PC titles are crap. Like I alluded to, Blizzard titles are usually all high quality. They’re few and far between compared to the console releases which are consistently of higher quality.

Games like Terraria and Minecraft went for retro with modern polish and hit a niche. Mount and Blade is unique, but if it were ever done again by someone else that decided to polish it up and throw money at it then it would feel archaic.

Bottom line, the PC has the RTS, MMO, and “indie niche” genres. Consoles are creeping up on even those. Innovation is getting stale on the PC games yet console development is right on the cusp of the next big thing.

@Max: How do you know what will be a console port other than the ones that come out and admit to it? I suppose you could wait a while after launch. I like playing new games within the first week of them coming out. Maybe that’s my fault. Dead Island, according to the developers, is not a console port; it was developed alongside the console version.

Brise Bonbons - September 8, 2011

I echo what SynCaine said – the real gems on PC are the indie titles, not the hugely conservative AAA titles that are almost universally console ports.

Now, granted, it’s hard to point to a game like Minecraft as an example of a finished, stable game. But it hasn’t even been released yet…

And also granted, for every Frozen Synapse or Dungeons of Dreadmor, there are a few half-completed games like Achron and Cargo!. But there are also games like Mount and Blade or Red Orchestra, which are as much platforms for the players to build on as they are completed games.

Lastly, there are the games that you know will be rough for a while, but will get tons of support from the developers and community…

I dunno, I’m extremely happy with where the PC is at right now. While it might suffer in the budget and fancy bells&whistles category, it wins hands down when it comes to providing games made by intelligent, passionate creators who really work their assess off for the fans and players.

All that said, I totally understand the frustration at the condition of the big name games. Developers are so obsessed with trying to make every titles a huge break-out console blockbuster… They’re just shooting themselves in the foot by being unrealistic and undisciplined in the process.

biophazer242 - September 8, 2011

I guess I should say I owned Dead Space on PS3 but bought it via a steam sale and was so happy with it on my pc (using my controller though, mouse was horrible) that I only bought it as a steam product on my pc.

I would be curious to see how many titles on Steam are pc exclusive and how many are multiplatform. If those numbers are available on Steam I have not seen it yet, but have not spent much time looking honestly.

flosch - September 8, 2011

“Developed alongside” has a high risk of not being much better, though. Concessions will be made, and they’ll probably be the things you’ll hate about the game.

Keen - September 8, 2011

I don’t want my PC to be a box that plays low-budget indie titles just as much or more than I want it to be a box that plays MMO’s.

There’s no reason it can’t be a platform for launches that are higher budget and polished up like Skyward Sword, Saints Row, Gears of War, Rage, Skyrim, etc.

The way most people are wording it makes it sound like a second class citizen and that for some reason it’s acceptable.

Morinar - September 8, 2011

I agree with everything you say Keen. As a former game dev (I’m a programmer) I’d just like to say that making games for the PC is HARD. It really is. It takes far more work than it does to make a console title and the profits are much smaller. That being the case, I LOVE gaming on the PC and nearly always prefer it. I really do wish people would at the very least do what Eidos Montreal did with Deus Ex: HR and farm out the PC version to another studio (like Nixxes).

Protip for your Dead Island problem:

Check out Hamachi – https://secure.logmein.com/products/hamachi/download.aspx (unmanaged version works fine). It’s super easy to install, start, and connect to a network together. Basically, it just sets up a private VPN between you and your friends and you are “faking” a LAN. Then, just change your network settings in Dead Island to be LAN only. I did this with my friend and it solved ALL of my Dead Island problems. Even makes the freezes go away as those are related to it trying to “phone home” and failing. One of the great benefits of PC gaming is being able to work around issues when they do pop up.

Rinvan - September 8, 2011

My PC has been used only for WAR/LOTRO/WOW/Guild Wars since 2008. I do miss the days of the PC & MAC only game store(Egghead). I will be playing Skyrim on the 360 but only because I don’t think my laptop can handle the game.

Jadawin - September 8, 2011

I’m holding out for Skyrim to *possibly* be great on the PC but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t seriously considering buying it for the 360.

Wow. Enjoy having no mods. No way would I play an Elder Scrolls game anywhere but PC personally, but hey, you gotta do your thing.

Carson - September 8, 2011

Based on my experience, probably the biggest factor is that you can’t get a console release on the shelves without Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft testing it and signing it off. Their standards vary – Nintendo were infamously tough in my day, and Microsoft kinda loose – and I suspect that none of them are as tough as they once were. But at least there are SOME standards.

PC.. you can release anything you like, doesn’t matter how many problems it has, if you think you can persuade people to buy it, good luck to you.

Intruder313 - September 8, 2011

I own a high-end PC, a PS3 and an XBox 360 and sometimes I wonder why I ever bought the consoles.

Actually here’s the reasons: I bought the XBox almost solely to play Street Fighter 4 and have hardly bought a game on it since (I think I have 5 in total).
My PS3 is a Blu-Ray player with a even fewer games (2-3).
Apart from Street Fighter I reckon Arkham Asylum is the only game I own that fit best on a console with a console controller.

I buy tons of PC games and simply avoid the ones that I know are bad ports for games with crap launches / tech. issues I delay my purchase until resolutions are reached.

It baffles me that FPS games are the preserve of the Console these days since I’ve just had to give up on 2 console shooters due to lack of mouse with which to actually aim!

They can take my mouse and keyboards from my cold, dead hands.

Right, back to waiting for Space Marine to be “release”, it’s 2am here and I’m still not allowed to play the damn game grrrrr.

coppertopper - September 8, 2011

I can name some great titles that were crap at launch, but have put 100’s of hrs into since. Its the mod and indi community as a whole that makes PC gaming great. Plus you can write off PC components as a business expense – try doing that with your console = )

Gnome - September 8, 2011

It is sad to make excuses for the industry for its failures. Even well meaning companies F-up, but its the nature these days of corporate greed that is to blame. But this makes lots of room for independants and small up and coming dev houses to make a huge splash (and tons of cash – hello Minecraft). So maybe you wait a couple weeks for new releases, but meanwhile there is no better time to be a PC gamer.

Devin - September 8, 2011

Only good Exclusive that has come out recently I can think of is the Witcher 2 but thats just cause the development for the 360 is on hold for a bit lol.

Jason - September 8, 2011

Honestly, I think your issue is more one of perception and expectation than anything; as Syncaine pointed out, and even you admit, there are definitely still high budget titles built strictly for PC consumption. But if what’s being developed for PC isn’t what you want to buy(SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY! :)), then I think it can be very easy to become disillusioned and gain the view that developers and publishers view PC gamers as second class citizens or lesser forms of revenue, however you want to phrase it.

For me, however, the reality is that PC gaming is still very much alive, largely because I’m fine with what’s coming down the pipe, as well as what I’ve already got that’s been stacked on the pile for ages. Yes, publishers are largely pushing their development houses to abuse consoles for massive revenue, but I personally find that with very few exceptions(Gears of War 3 and Arkham City currently) there’s not a whole lot on the console that I want or have any real interest in, whereas with the PC I have plenty to look forward to.

Ultimately, I don’t think that much is going to change with regards to the market; pick up and go console gaming is here to stay, and the ease of devloping for a single platform is easier than for a PC, although even that is lightyears better than it was when I started PC gaming 20 years ago; things like OpenGL and DirectX have largely nullified the issue of multiple hardware configurations so long as you’re running reasonably mainstream hardware, and with the current state of the PC market, that’s a pretty large target to hit for developers.

C3PO - September 9, 2011

I cant really see the same picture as you. FPS is allways better on PC. Gears of War and Allan wake are the only good shooters i’ve played on xbox. Battlefield 2, L4D 1 and 2 etc much btter on pc

LT - September 9, 2011

As a game developer this is what happened with the last AAA project I was working on. Throughout the development we were told to concentrate our efforts on the console features and quality. It was always made sure that the PC version is working because it’s the platform we’re developing _on_ primarily. However, Microsoft and Sony have their certification processes that take a bit of time, so the console versions were finished first. The remaining 4 weeks until the release were used to polish the PC version.

So yes, the focus of multi platform development is definitely on consoles. But reading all the comments talking about pirating the games or trying without buying coming from PC users (I suspect) makes this shift of focus understandable.

Dink - September 9, 2011

The title of this article should be “Quickly losing faith in PC game developers ability to deliver”. The current title is convoluted and presents the worng argument.

PC games deliver, PC’s as a platform deliver. It’s only the money hungry developers that fail.

Keen - September 9, 2011

@Dink: True. I often personify games as the entity to which I am speaking. I’ll say “WoW needs to do this” when I really mean Blizzard.

bartillo - September 9, 2011

The only way to play Skyrim is pc.. and thats because of one word: Mods.

bartillo - September 9, 2011

Also the Pc version of Deus Ex that just released is awesome.. so the Pc is not dead.

sorry for double comment.

Brise Bonbons - September 9, 2011

“But reading all the comments talking about pirating the games or trying without buying coming from PC users (I suspect) makes this shift of focus understandable.”

I don’t have any numbers to reference, of course, but I imagine that a similar percentage of console players “try before they buy” via renting, borrowing, or buying used, don’t they? I mean, wouldn’t they? Is it because consoles are typically owned by the more casual consumer, that those consumers are more likely to make purchases based on whims, advertising, and societal or sales clerk pressure?

I’m not trying to attack you personally here, LT, I think what you’re saying makes total sense. But it made me wonder if there’s actually that much more “test driving” of games on PC than on console. Hell, maybe on console people are more willing to take a risk because they can trade the game back for credit?

It’s an interesting dynamic to try and understand, certainly.

xJane - September 9, 2011

The starkest change came with Dragon Age II, which I enjoyed, but was clearly designed with a gamepad in mind. Meanwhile, my co-worker got frustrated with Dragon Age Origins on his console and abandoned it quickly. He was able to play DA2 to completion though.

I don’t believe there was a decline in the quality of the game, but I was sorely disappointed in the design decisions to make the sequel more accessible for console players.

I echo the earlier response that the PC will continue to be my platform of choice because of the mod community, but it is saddening that games are no longer made with keyboard and mouse in mind.

Keen - September 9, 2011

This can really be viewed from two angles.

1) Games are being designed primarily for consoles and getting inferior PC ports.
2) PC games in general are declining in production value and quality compared to console game releases.

Again, there are exceptions. I’m hoping that Battlefield 3 PC shines as the obvious leading platform. Skyrim, due to mod support and previous Elder Scrolls track records, will likely step out of the stigma as well.

Shutter - September 11, 2011

The basic underlying fact for all of this is: Profit margins on console games sold at retail are higher than on PC games sold at retail.

So we had a whole period of 6-7 years where it simply wasn’t worth building a game for the PC unless it was a genre that didn’t work on consoles, e.g. MMOs, RTS, Strategy (which is why things like WoW, Starcraft, Civilization are usually of high PC quality) or you could do a quick port from the console version.

Steam and other digital distribution changed the terrain on that (hence the explosion of the indie PC market), but it hasn’t finished percolating up through the AAA space yet (though it’s starting, see: Deus Ex, most of the Assassin’s Creed series, BFBC2, etc.).

It’ll take 2-3 years, but the significant profit margin advantage to digitally distributed PC games will start to pull publishers back into putting more effort into PC versions.

Vadren - September 12, 2011

Skyrim on console? Woah woah woah. Don’t do anything hasty. Put the gun down and we can talk this through.

J Moy - October 4, 2011

The only way to stop them is to stop buying the crap games! Seriously, people get too caught up in marketing hype, buy the game, realise it’s crap, and then wait for the next title to waste money on…

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