The past year has been a weird one for PC gamers. In many ways, it’s been a weird year for gaming in general, with countless PR and QA gaffes attached to major releases. None of these gaffes, however, are more confounding than certain studios’ slipshod approach to PC ports.
Let’s be clear: PC ports are, in general, becoming more polished and complete products. Controller support has become almost universally integrated. Online distribution services like Steam are booming. Even games such as the well-loved yet obscure Valkyria Chronicles are seeing new life, ported to the PC years after console-exclusive release.
In the midst of this PC boom, however, we have a number of developers accused of prioritizing console releases at the expense of their PC equivalents. There was a great furore, for instance, over Watch Dogs’ marked visual downgrade between reveal and release, especially when code was discovered in the PC version that enabled enhanced visuals. Dark Souls 2 also axed visual features before release. The Evil Within’s initial release had forced letterboxing and a cap of 30 frames per second.
Why all this nonsense in a time where the PC market is more viable than ever? The sentiment behind the outrage directed towards these cases is simply this: people believe that the PC versions are being held back to boost console game sales. By dulling the advantage of a good PC over the new generation of console hardware, the PC looks like a less attractive alternative, in essence.
This approach to sales seems counterintuitive, but the official responses don’t necessarily hold water either. The official Ubisoft response to the Watch Dogs furore was predictable yet questionable: They referred to the graphical effects as “old, unused render settings” that “subjectively [enhance] the game’s visual fidelity in certain situations but also can have various negative impacts” – essentially, performance issues and instability. Tango Gameworks, developers of The Evil Within, had a more vague approach at release, discouraging players from even using console commands to remove the limit and suggesting “everyone play the game as it was designed and intended for the best experience”. This was somewhat undermined when a patch was later released, allowing PC gamers to enable these options within the game’s settings.
It’s a conflict where neither side presents a convincing argument or explanation. The only conclusive aspect is the weirdness of it all. Chalk it down to the underwhelming, underpowered nature of the new generation of consoles that this kind of debate is even possible. Then sigh a little bit. That’s what I’ll be doing.