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So E3 is in the news right now on all the major gaming sites. This is the time when publishers and developers show off their upcoming games, the "Big Three" show off upcoming consoles, and SquareEnix talks about 17 new Final Fantasy spin-offs .
With that, it really reminds me of why I hate PC gaming so much. Maybe "hate" is too strong of a word. After all, I cut my teeth on "PC" gaming. I say PC in quotes because I was born in 1980, and was playing video games on computers before they were called PCs. My first system was a Coleco Adam. My second system was a Commodore 64. The first video game I can remember playing was Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom some time around 1984.
And that brings me to my first complaint.
There are no standards in PC gaming
When the home computer was first realized as a concept, you didn't get to build one yourself. Hell, you barely got to do any comparison shopping. You got an IBM, an Apple or a cheap wannabe.
And you know what? Buying software was simple. If you owned a C64 you looked for one sign hanging over the shelf that said "Commodore". You had two choices of hardware, the C64 or the C128, but almost all software was made to work on the C64. The 128 just ran that software in "C64 Mode", which in todays terms is known as "Emulation" and "Backwards Compatibility". Really it just meant that people still owned the older hardware, and were still buying software for it, so developers made damn sure that their products would work on it.
And every C64 was exactly the same. Sure, you could "upgrade" by purchasing the tape deck, or the printer, but the specs were the same. They all had 64kb of RAM. They all had the same "video card". They all had the same "processor". If you bought a game for your C64 you knew it would work right out of the box.
Today? Well, not only do you need to make sure you've got the right OS, but do you have enough RAM? What about Video RAM? Nvidia or ATI? How fast is your processor? 32-bit or 64-bit system? You got enough space on your hard drive? How fast is your CD drive? Oh, wait, is the game on a DVD? You wanna play on-line with your friends? That cool. Are they on Xfire? GameSpy? Steam? Oh, it's a Blizzard game, so BattleNet.
My PS3? Any PS3 game will run on my PS3. They're designed that way. The only thing I need to check is if I got enough hard drive space, but we'll get to that complaint in a minute. First...
Post-Launch Support (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the patch)
Developers now get a free pass when it comes to broken games. Too many games today are "Retail Betas". By that I mean in lieu of proper beta testing prior to launch, developers will push a game out the door, wait until all the people who bought it complain about a bug, glitch or broken function and then patch it.
This really should be an unacceptable practice among any consumer. "Oh, my phone doesn't accept incoming calls, guess I'll wait for the patch", "Oh, the brakes on my car don't work in the rain, I guess I'll wait for the patch". No. Things are supposed to work before you sell them, not after.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking, "you can't catch every bug in beta, so some patching must exist". You're right, and I agree. What I'm complaining about is obvious stuff that has no right existing in a final build.
Go look at any review of Brink right now. Chief complaint? The net code is just flat out broken. Sure, they promised to patch it, but there is no reason on Earth that a game which is so focused on multiplayer should ship with broken multiplayer.
Yes, older games have bugs, glitches and broken features, and there was never a chance of patching them without a full re-release. There was a simple solution back then; make sure your games work or you're going to lose customers because you sold them a shitty game.
Digital Rights Management
To keep this short, DRM means treating paying customers like pirates. Except the pirates patch the game to ignore DRM, meaning you get a better experience as a thief than you do as an honest customer.
Just look at Ubisoft. Don't have an active internet connection? Sucks to be you. Go play your Gameboy or something.
Their influence on consoles
"Oh, but Brink is a console game. Obviously your complaints against the PC are just as valid against the console you hold so dear!"
You're right, and that pisses me off.
Consoles have taken a number of cues from PCs in the last two generations, namely hard drives and Internet connections. That just leads right back to all the complaints I made, "does my system have the capacity to run this game" and "did the developer do their job during beta testing".
Why? Because it makes money. Metric shit tons of money.
The sooner you can get a game out the door, the sooner you're earning money and the sooner you free up your team to start making the next game.
Not only that, but many games now are being developed for both PCs and consoles, and the console versions are considered "ports". They make the game for the PC first, then try to make it work according to the hardware on consoles rather than do any development with the console hardware in mind. This leads to bugs when the code just doesn't work right.
The ideal situation would be to develop each according to their platform, taking advantage of the specific hardware in each system. That costs money. Instead we get half-assed products and the promises of patches "as soon as we can".
Even worse is Digital Rights Management. During the "Leap Year Bug", several of my games no longer worked. The PSN offers demos of many games. In the case of titles that are only available via the PSN, you basically download the full game but get "locked out" until you purchase the game and download the patch to unlock it.
During that time, all of my purchased games would act as though they were only the demo. They couldn't properly connect to the PSN in order to verify that my game was valid, even though I bought them and had the patch on my hard drive.
The killer was Sacred 2, a Diablo-Clone that I have refused to play since. It was a physical disk that I paid full retail for. I couldn't play it. Not just multiplayer, I couldn't play single player offline because it was looking for a connection to the PSN. No network, no game.
I believe that PC gaming needs to get its act together. In many ways it's the "big brother" to console gaming, not just in the fact that consoles seek to emulate functions of the PC but that the PC is just plain older than consoles.
Consumers need to start voting with their money. When developers look at how many people downloaded a workaround to their DRM, they don't know the difference between a pirate and a legitimate customer. They assume they're all pirates and that's all the proof they need to push for more intrusive DRM.
As far as buggy games go, there are several online communities that develop patches for the developer. Why should they even bother fixing their own game when the consumers will take care of it for free? It's win-win for them.
Even if it's an A-List game, we shouldn't accept it at all.
- ↑ Unless it's the Tokyo Game Show. Or Penny Arcade Expo. Or Penny Arcade East. Or Game Developer's Conference.
- ↑ Note that I am a fan of JPRGs, Final Fantasy included. We hurt the ones we love, no?
- ↑ Please note that this is the most beautiful thing ever, and that's not counting the fact that it ships with Ubuntu Linux
- ↑ Sadly, I am an only child. Thus, I did not have a big brother to watch me.