July 16th, 2009

The PC is treated as a second-rate game platform. This is evidenced most strongly both by game publishers’ treatment of the PC versions of their multi-platform games as well as how the games press covers PC games whether they be multi-platform or exclusive. For roughly the last six years the PC has been perceived as being a dying platform. While some players have definitely shifted from PC to video game consoles during this same time frame, things aren’t that bad; the PC platform’s biggest problem is still the perception that gamers, game makers, and game journalists have of it. This problem, left to fester, has begun to have distinct effects on the way PC games are treated.

Publishers, when they even make a PC version of their game, don’t treat it as well as they do the console versions. Development of the PC version of multi-platform games is often outsourced to a third party, and the quality of the product suffers as a result. But it isn’t always a problem of outsourcing; sometimes developers are simply told to focus their foremost efforts on the console versions. Marketing of the PC version also takes a hit; it is not uncommon for the PC version of a game to be released weeks to months after the console versions. Rarely will the PC version even be mentioned in magazine and comic book ads, much less television adverts; it will just be tossed out and left up to word of mouth and the virtually non-existent retail spaces to sell it to people.

Microsoft doesn’t help matters, either. You wouldn’t know it by watching their E3 press conferences, but they’re the same company that makes Windows, the largest PC game platform there is. Why don’t they let people know? Splinter Cell: Conviction made a splash this year at E3 2009, but on the big stage it was touted as an “Xbox 360 exclusive” to the press and to retailers; it was not until after the press conference that it was learned the game would be coming to PC as well.

Another effect of publishers’ mistreatment of PC games is apparent in the way the games press covers them. Like it or not, much of what the most popular sources for game news, reviews, previews and other information chooses to cover and care about is largely driven by marketing. Members of the games press have said as much; if a game doesn’t have marketing behind it, they will not bother reviewing it, if they even know about it to begin with. As a result, games press has become increasingly console-focused. Only the most high profile PC games news is reported on, and even then, there’s rarely any editorial input as there is in posts about console games. Follow-ups are scarce. The press just does not care as much. Unless it’s an outlet that precludes console game coverage, of course, but they are few, and they are small. Being virtually unheard, they are not in a position to serve as consumer advocates as bigger sites can be.

Publishers need to be taken to task by the press for things like staggering the PC versions of their games, for not optimizing properly, not marketing them properly and for not making certain features and DLC available that are present in the console versions. Some examples of games that have had these issues in recent years include:

  • Saints Row 2 – staggered release, poor optimization, no DLC.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV – staggered release, poor optimization, no DLC.
  • Ghostbusters – no multiplayer.
  • Tomb Raider: Underworld – no DLC, needed for true ending.
  • Prince of Persia – no DLC, needed for true ending.
  • Mass Effect – staggered release.
  • Dead Space – staggered release.
  • Mirror’s Edge – staggered release.
  • Assassin’s Creed – staggered release.
  • Bionic Commando – staggered release.
  • Red Faction: Guerilla – staggered release.
  • Street Fighter IV – staggered release.
  • The Last Remnant – staggered release.
  • Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. – no DLC.

Granted, in certain cases, a staggered release for PC games means a more polished game with a few extra features or some extra content; this was the case with games such as Assassin’s Creed and Mass effect, but they are the exception, not the rule. And in the case of Mass Effect, I would expect that a developer create a user interface that is appropriate for the platform the game is on, though I still appreciate it. The point is that there would be a much bigger stink made about the issues surrounding the games listed above if the affected version had been the Xbox 360’s or Playstation 3’s.

I won’t purport to have all the answers to these problems, but I have an idea. Above all else: care. If you’re a gamer, whether you play PC games or not, if you care about video games at all, care about what happens to the PC platform. Care about how the games are treated, how they’re marketed, how they’re supported and how they’re covered. If you’re a publisher, care about your game and make it right, or don’t make it at all. Your poorly optimized, poorly marketed and under-supported game reflects negatively on the platform. If you’re press, care about the state of PC games. You’re opinion leaders; if you care, gamers will care. If gamers care, that will force publishers to care, and we’ll all be better off for it.

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