Enough With The Excuses

Faithful fans of the show and the site (I’m looking at you Maverick) know that from time to time I have to fight off the “PC Gaming is Dead” ignorant mentality and the problems of the platform.  They also know that from time to time someone lights my fuse on this topic, and this time, rather than try and cram my thoughts into multiple forum posts or 140 character chaingun Twitter bursts, I thought I would organize my thoughts here.  The friendly fire, this time, comes from fellow PC gamers Dan Amrich, better known as Activision’s One Of Swords, and his co-host Hugh Sterbakov.  If you aren’t familiar with Dan’s podcast, it is really well done and very informative, so I would certainly recommend checking it out, all the information is available at www.oneofswords.com.

What’s On The Table

Let’s make this clear up front, Dan and Hugh’s comments are not unique to them, they are only the most recent people to make them, so this is not me ranting on them, it’s me taking some foggy facts and trying to make sense of them.  I’d like to focus on shoddy PC ports and the excuses cited for their implementation.  The biggest of these arguments are 1) piracy and 2) poor game sales.  It is no revelation that multi-platform game sales money is to be made console side.  It’s also no revelation that PC ports rarely get the attention they deserve, and those that do get an unfair smudge by the never-satisfied PC gaming forum trolls.  For the sake of my article, I’m not going to entertain the nitpicking that gets done when PC ports don’t live up to unreachable standards.  I would like to take a good look at these two reasons and see if they really hold any water.

Piracy

Let’s get this one out of the way first, because it’s the most often quoted reason, or shall I say most often ‘misquoted’ reason.  Piracy numbers are thrown around like cheerleaders at a football game, Crysis was pirated 15 times more than it sold(roughly), and Modern Warfare 2 was pirated about 4.1 million times, paling it’s 290,000 legally purchased copies by a fair bit.  I will certainly not agree that pirating is correct by any standard, nor will I say that these are attractive numbers to anyone with a thimble full of business sense.  What makes me laugh is that as a PC gamer, I am repeatedly told that the trends are going the way they are going and I need to conform or step off the tracks.  What I would say to that is that developers need to realize that piracy is a trend and an unavoidable one, as of this time, and they need to accept that fact and move on.  I was shocked to see that the same article citing MW2 piracy also mentioned that 970,000 XBOX 360 copies were pirated, and I tip my hat.  Piracy seems to be mentioned only as a PC issue and it is rampant on other platforms as well, not that you would know that from the media.  Both Nintendo and Sony handhelds have had a really rough time with piracy, and even the iOS devices have their own options for hacking and downloading programs and games illegally.  Let’s stop acting like the PC is the only platform affected by piracy, it has a strong lead for being the most offended, but it is by no means alone.

I can’t pretend to have a solution to this, but the real elephant in the room is “Is every one of those 4.1 million pirated copies a lost game sale?”. I would imagine there is no stat tracking for finding out how many of those 4.1 million people later purchased a version of MW2, in any of it’s iterations.  Would any of those people ever have bought the game to begin with, or are they just simply taking it because it’s there?  It’s relatively easy to figure out how to pirate a PC game, so how do we know these people are viable consumers to begin with?  Remove the ease of access and they still may not buy a game.  Leave a $20 on the sidewalk, and someone’s bound to pick it up–granted, it’s a bit daunting that 4.1 million picked up the bill, but unfortunately it’s not going away.  Furthermore, the only attempts to solve this problem have created more frustration than success, but I don’t think piracy is the only factor on the table when a company decides to forego PC game development.

Poor Game Sales (SURPRISE! – Shoddy Ports Don’t Sell!)

I love this argument, because the facts are so rarely quoted correctly.  The corporations would simply tell you that their product did not sell well on the PC platform and it was pulled from the shelves.  The truth lies a little deeper than that.  Let’s look at the EA Sports franchises, since I, being a longstanding NHL game fan, really miss my PC hockey ports.  Around the time that the XBOX 360 first hit store shelves, the quality of EA Sports PC ports really started to slide.  At first, minor features were subtracted–PC players no longer were able to add their own music, update their rosters or have access to the latest features available in the console versions.  Then, EA decided to start porting over the PS2 iterations of the game to the PC.  I literally have a copy of NHL 08, for the PC, and it is a word for word port of NHL 07 and 06 for that platform.  The player animations, the color commentary, the player entrances, every little detail is copied over from the last two versions of the game, and then EA is surprised when they don’t sell well?  Might I add that very few of the console version innovations ever made it to the PC versions.  Now I ask you, isn’t this a no-brainer?  If Coke removed the carbonation from it’s soda, wouldn’t you start buying Pepsi?  Is it any wonder that PC port sales plummeted in those first years after the quality of the games declined?  If you start ripping features and content out of a game, how can you expect it to sell well?  How can you turn around and cite poor sales as a reason for not continuing the franchise, when it really stems from your poor implementation?

We haven’t seen Spiderman : Edge of Time on the PC this Fall.  Last year, Shattered Dimensions was a Wal-Mart exclusive, for the PC, released 2-3 months after the console debut.  Aside from being an excellent game, it had shoddy controls, buggy graphics and there was no media push behind the PC release.  When I found it on a store shelf and tweeted a picture of the box to Dan, Activision’s own Community Manager, he had no idea the product existed!  Now I’m not taking a shot at Dan here, I’m pointing out that Activision clearly did not stand behind the release of this game and then, when it failed to sell well, they pulled the next game in the series from the platform.  Can anyone tell me how producing a store exclusive port of a game with no advertising campaign is not setting that game up to fail?  How is an unadvertised store-exclusive port going to accurately represent how Spiderman fans supported the game on the platform?  It’s preposterous to claim that dropping a title into only one retail outlet is going to produce accurate sales data that represents the interests of gamers on that platform.  To the credit of Beenox, it was a full-featured port of the game, even containing some pre-order costumes.  Time and time again we see PC ports being complained about being buggy, crashing and lacking the same features the console versions have.  The PC was the platform that began patching games, yet now we see more console patches post-release than we do PC patches(depending on the game,of course).  Shattered Dimensions still has no patch to address it’s issues.  How can you ship a faulty product and then complain that the sales numbers are down?  It’s a trend we see in many PC ports, from all developers and publishers.  The blame is then shifted to the gamers who decide not to support a product that has been stripped of all the features they enjoy.  For this we get labeled as fickle and impossible to please.  How can you stand us?

Closing Thoughts

It really irks me to hear people say that PC gaming is expensive and dead–the same people who have $200 Turtle Beach headsets, an orchestra of plastic instruments behind their couch and are playing on their fifth 360 console(3 of which they paid for out of pocket).  By the way, that same console gamer, complaining about PC gaming prices is still waiting for his updates and patches to download on his console and paying ridiculous prices for replacement console hard drives.  PC gaming hardware prices are at an all time low, upkeep is ridiculously simple(my 3 year old budget laptop runs everything great!) and the only thing missing are some of the games!  I’d love to hear some feedback and some facts(I can’t wait to see what Dan digs up if he reads this).  I’m tired of hearing piracy and game sales as scapegoats, when companies have not given more than half-hearted attempts to please PC consumers.  The best exception to this that I can think of was the PC Gears Of War port–it performed great, had extra content and yet still never saw sequels.  Granted, I would imagine it’s delayed release and better console sales helped that decision.  Speaking of delayed releases, I’m all for it when a company needs to optimize the port.  I have no qualms waiting for Batman : Arkham City, I’m sure it will be fantastic, as was the delayed releases of Arkham Asylum, or Mass Effect and Resident Evil 5 for that matter.  I can’t find issues with the PC COD ports, but it seems this may be the last one we see on PC, unless the sales skyrocket.  The decision to not include ranked dedicated servers has offended many, and it remains to be seen how the Elite service is received.  Piracy is a nasty beast that we still can’t seem to get a leash on, but most times I hear poor games sales cited as a factor, it’s because the game was flawed to begin with.  We know good ports can be made, there are examples out there.  If a company is not committed to putting forth the time and effort, why beat around the bush?  Go all in or just opt out.  The PC is a vibrant platform full of life and innovation, there are plenty of titles, both commercial and independent to indulge in.  Just do me a favor, stop blaming us for not scarfing down the scraps you throw us on the floor, it insults our intelligence.

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