Despite the towering resources and versatility offered by the PC platform, the industry has constantly pushed it to the backseat and treated the community as second class citizens. Although the PC is still home to the biggest titles of this generation, Consoles have taken over as lead platforms for the developer, often leading to PC ports being churned out as afterthoughts. Without further delay, here are the trends that have emerged over the years in most multiplatform PC releases.
Delay it Months after the Console release
Now this needs no introduction. PC iterations of games are often delayed by an agonizing period over their console brethren, a trend which seems to get more and more common with the passage of time. The reason is overly evident. Publishers find this as the most effective way to tackle piracy, and help escalate sales on consoles in the process. With all the dominant problems (which we’ll further discuss below) that plague PC ports of today, there’s little incentive for even the most diehard and stubborn pc gamers to sit it out. Had there been a promise of exclusive content and features made by the developers, the wait will be far less daunting but we all know the present state of the industry.
When the PC version finally hits stores, the game finds itself overshadowed by other releases. Regardless, gamers will still question if the superior visuals and better controls are worth the price tag of $50 or $60, when the same game can be picked up for consoles from the bargain bin.
Little to no improvement in graphics over consoles and Poor Optimization
The Xbox 360 and PS3 were no doubt technical power houses when they first released. But a brand new generation of Graphic Cards grace the masses every two years and raise the bar significantly higher with every release. When faced with the decision of which side of the river to set up camp, developers almost always go with the side which offers a greater promise of loot. Sacrifices in visuals are made in order to make the game run at a stable frame rate on consoles, and quite sadly, are omitted out from the PC version as well. Aside from the bonus of running the game at a larger resolution and a few bells here and there, there’s little to distinguish multiplatform releases these days. The Call of Duty games, Dead Island, Deus Ex Human Revolution, are some examples of such ports.
Even franchises which grew the roots on the PC have disregarded its fan base. Crysis was the poster boy for graphic progression with its vast open areas and unmatched visual fidelity. But its sequel, Crysis 2 is nothing to write home about. Its textures were literally one fourth of the resolution of its original and even at the highest settings; it couldn’t scratch the surface of the original. The DirectX 11 and official texture pack did manage to set it apart from the crowd, but that was months after its release. id Software is synonymous with tech breakthroughs. Doom 3 delivered a graphical leap which you’ll rarely see unaccompanied by the dawn of a new generation of consoles. And yet, Rage PC remains visually indistinguishable from the 360 iteration, despite the consoles being in the sixth year of its life span and lagging several generations behind the PC.
Even if the game fails to deliver the visual panache expected from a PC release, all can be forgiven if the game scales well over a wide range of setups without any issues. We’ve seen ports which are visual clones from their console versions (assuming their running at the same resolution), yet they struggle to run at a smooth rate on hardware which far exceed that of the consoles. Textures streaming issues, tedious loading times, unaltered field of view, unbearable number of crashes, you get the point. Ati Graphic Card owners find themselves the worst victims of such scenarios with an unplayable build at launch. It takes nearly a week or two for driver updates and patches to iron out all the issues and that’s if we’re lucky. Some developers time and again abandon the game and it’s left to the mod community to take up the fallen flag and deliver what the developers should have in the first place.
No Graphic Customization options
It’s no secret that these days, most games are built from the ground up with home consoles in mind. However, it’s a duty of the developer to include some graphic customizability options so that the game can scale well on different rigs. Yet, we find an abundance of non AAA releases today with only an option for Low/Medium/High detail and VSync. If the inclusion of advanced features such as AA and AF support which were pretty much a given back in the day is asking for too much, then just give us the ability to set individual details such as Textures, Shadows, Effects, Lightning etc and we’ll be satisfied.
No Remappable Controls
Remappable Controls on Consoles has little to offer as they are only so many options and the default scheme is nearly impeccable. But on the PC where RPGs and RTSs reign supreme it’s an entirely different matter. With limitless possibilities, each gamer’s preferred control scheme is bound to be different. Only a few recent releases have committed this sacrilege and let’s just hope that it isn’t insidious. The default key bindings of Dungeon Siege III strayed so far from its predecessor’s roots that it wasn’t even considered a sequel. As you can see from this reddit post, there was an outrage as the game was nearly unplayable without an Xbox 360 controller. That is just lazy programming from the side of the developer.
There’s no denying that piracy is the main reason why developers and publishers shy away from the PC. Various DRM methods have been adopted but few have delivered. The very mention of the word Ubisoft will make PC gamers cringe. Their aggressive take on DRM requires users to constantly stay connected to the net and even a small loss in sync can cause the game to exit, taking with it all your progress form the last save. Such DRM policies further encourages gamers to look toward pirated copies to overcome all the hassles associated with it, and only harms those who legitimately purchase the game. When the western world outbursts against such measures, then words can’t even begin to describe the despair in countries in Asia, where an Unlimted usage connection is only affordable by the upper class and the connection is as reliable as something churned out of a Chinese workshop. At least the publisher has learned from its mistakes and watering down the restrictions in their latest releases. Few developers realize that piracy is unavoidable and DRM in any form can be breached, and despite the massive number of illegal copies, a vast amount of the community is ready to support their work if they deliver in terms of quality. The Witcher 2 is a prime example of overwhelming response with sales figures breaking the 1 million mark, a rare feat for a PC exclusive.
One of the most effective and welcome forms of DRM is Steamworks, as it not only grants owners an option to play offline, but also a copy of the game tied to their accounts permanently, even if purchased at retail. The features offered by Steam are unmatched in the industry and I often find that incorporating it actually results a boost in sales.
Locked 30 FPS
With the exception of Call of Duty and a couple of fighters and sports titles, pretty much all the games in a console’s library run at a locked 30 fps. In a day of true 120 Hz (120 fps) capable monitors and Stereoscopic 3D at 60 fps , a locked 30 fps game just feels out of place on the PC, regardless of whether the game was optimized for 30 fps. This seems to be the case with most games released a couple of months after their console counter parts. The act can be traced all the way back to ports of the original Xbox, such as Jade Empire, to even the latest releases such as LA Noire. Sure, the cap can be removed by a simple ini file edit, or in the worst cases, a mod, when the developers fail to add such an essential feature for the community, not to mention an obviously easy task, you know that they care little about the community.
Overpriced DLC or no DLC at all
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that DLC manages to make every “Top X Worst Trends” list. While the scene isn’t as lucrative on PC as it is on consoles with some developers rolling out additional content in the form of patches, it still has its share of flaws. In earlier days, when the game was delayed for the platform, it was released as a Special/Complete edition, bringing with it a handful of exclusive in game content, or in the very least, all DLC packs released for the Consoles up to that point. That no longer seems to be the case. Take Fable III for example, a game which despite being released six months on the PC after it hit the 360, was sold with a price tag of $50 with DLC (even the pathetic outfits)which was already out for consoles sold separately. On the very same day Fable III arrived on the PC, CD Projekt RED blessed the PC world with The Witcher 2, a vastly superior RPG which clearly demonstrated what a skilled developer can accomplish with the resources provided by the platform. .That, and also, even the standard $50 retail version shipped with more physical content extras than a $150 console Collector’s edition, and the promise of all future DLC being completely free. And these publishers blame piracy for poor sales figures on the PC.
In other cases, publishers won’t even release DLC for the platform, putting forward piracy as an excuse. The PC community can live without an overpriced multiplayer map or weapon skin, but publishers often release DLC which extend the main campaign and deny a vital component to the core experience to a significant portion of the gamers. Note, The Prince of Persia reboot released in 2008 ended in a cliff-hanger ending whose loose ends were tied only in a DLC Epilogue that unfortunately, never made it to the PC. Resorting to You Tube videos to not experience, but watch the climax of a game is just unacceptable.
Although both quality and quantity of PC ports diminishing over the years, shining examples such as Battlefield 3 and Batman Arkham City (Post Patch) prove that developers can deliver an experience, miles ahead of the consoles if they take the platform seriously, and gives us hope for the future. Couple in Eyefinity and True Stereoscopic 3D support for almost all games, and you’ve got something that only a PC can deliver. With no sight of a new console for at least another year, and with the next generations of GPU’s based on the 28nm Fabrication process just on the horizon, the gap is only going to widen. Let us know your thoughts on the matter below.