So, Talkin’ ‘Bout Ports…

Concrete Block. What?

Ports, Ports, Ports… oh how we seem to hate them nowadays…


 

Warner Bros. Interactive have hardly been making friends with the PC Gaming crowd.

We learned today that the upcoming content patch for Mortal Kombat X – which already has some of the most egregiously awful business principles attached to it – will not be making it to the troubled PC version of the game. Once again, a WB Interactive video game is being left to rot, whilst at the same time being left available for the gullible or foolish to be tempted when invariably it lands on a Steam sale. So no Baraka-Xenomorph. No Bo-Rai Cho. No Leatherface. No Triborg. And no enhanced netcode, or gameplay tweaks. Want that? Well, you’ll just HAVE to buy the console version, won’t you?

Thing is, for all the hate WB Interactive are getting, they’re not alone in what they’re doing. PC Ports of console games are notorious; they’re either terribly made, or they arrive so late to the platform that it somehow seems token, just “that’ll do”. From the terrible Watch_Dogs launch to Grand Theft Auto V arriving two years after the console releases (and GTA4 was hardly a good PC port itself), from the early Final Fantasy ports of 7 and 8 to Capcom’s ports of Devil May Cry, the PC Crowd has been shafted more times by console ports than on any other front, and it’s been happening for almost two decades now. It’s not nice to say it, but we’ll say it anyway – publishers and developers have made it clear, on a consistent basis, that the console gaming market is more important to them than the PC Market.

Which is of course odd. Because as the ESA Report 2015 showed us, the PC Gaming market is now greater in size than the console market. Steam’s continued growth has been one of the most eye-opening success stories of the last decade, so much so that when people complain about Half Life 3 (yes, I want it too), I remind them that Valve has largely stopped being a developer and is more of a digital retailer these days. There’s little doubt that from a financial perspective, they’ve likely made more as a digital retailer than they likely ever did as a games developer.

Some developers and publishers will suggest piracy is the main issue for the PC. And whilst it’s true piracy still exists, it’s also far more difficult today than it has ever been. New security measures have kept titles from being jailbroken for months past release, and regular sales and discounts have made it more financially viable than ever before to just buy the game and stop faffing about with endless torrent files and patches – which, as I argued once before, dramatically inflate the figures for piracy; one sale is one sale. You download two or three parts of a pirated game? Two to three counts of piracy, and that’s before you consider patches may require you to re-download an entire game again. One person can contribute to as many as 30 counts of piracy for a single game. Where’s the common sense and logic? Oh right. This is the games industry…

Some have also suggested that sales have had an impact; less money potential to be earned when people tend to wait for a Steam Sale before splurging their cash. Whilst I can understand that, consumers don’t HAVE to buy your game. If it takes a 40% off marker to get them to buy it, then can’t you just accept that as a sale? It’s not like consoles right now are any better – Sony and Microsoft have been giving games away via their subscription models, often brand-new indie titles. And whilst there’s no question that the developers are compensated for it, giving a game away dramatically inflates the download count. I’ve tagged free games I’ve never even downloaded on PS4; and I have only ever bought one indie game on the PS4. Which is Hand of Fate. This is hardly an inspirational market, is it?

That said, PC-centric games do exceptionally well, rather like Wii U Exclusives. Hearthstone, for example, has become a behemoth. Rocket League did very well on PC too. The Witcher 3, despite its graphical downgrade, was clearly intended for a PC gamer audience like its forebears. And god help those games who move from a PC audience to a Console Market – Dragon Age 2 was practically crucified for dumbing itself down so console gamers could enjoy it.

So why then are Ports such afterthoughts – especially on PC, when you consider that the developers had to MAKE these games via a PC?

I do think part of the unspoken issue is that the gaming audience is a little bit greedy – it wants ALL the games. This is often seen from PS4 and XBox One owners who lament on the old theme of, “Why can’t Nintendo go third-party and just make games for MY console?” They forget that Nintendo actually makes money – i.e. profit. Sure, their sales are a little less in some cases, but their business model can support a few hiccups here and there. Nintendo COULD make games for other consoles – but why leave behind a model which has been making them tons of money for decades now? Pokémon continues to tear out sales charts on each new release – Nintendo sold 9.94 million copies of Omega Red and Alpha Sapphire in its first six months, after all. Splatoon, a new IP, has sold just shy of 2.5 million units. On any system, a new IP doing that well is brilliant, but on the Wii U? It’s astounding. And let’s not forget Sony has now pulled out of the handheld market completely, after the abysmal failure of the Vita to compete with the 3DS. That market is now completely and wholly dominated by Nintendo now. So, why exactly does Nintendo need to placate customers who clearly can’t be bothered to buy it’s games now? They’re doing fine without you people. Want Nintendo games? The foreseeable future, there’s only one way to play them. And you’re gonna have to pay! Though the same goes for Nintendo fans – sorry, but short of a financial meltdown of biblical proportions, Sony will be able to make a PS5.

PC Owners have the same problem; they like all these games, and they want them all. But in a lot of instances, Sony and Microsoft (Microsoft maybe not so much in future) have paid good money for exclusivity deals. Now, I hate that as much as anyone else does, but it’s business at the end of the day. It’s meant to make you want to go buy a PS4 or XBox One so you don’t have to wait – and if you can, well congratulations. Good for you. But you’re not the customer they want, sadly. You’ve demonstrated you’re okay with waiting. Why do they want to cater to you? They’ve made their money elsewhere! And there’s no doubt that Bloodborne in particular would be superb on a high-end PC rig. But Sony own that – and it’s a big selling point, rightly or wrongly, for their console. Again, why would they want to give that to the PC Audience? It’s meant to be what sells their console!

And rude it may be to suggest it, a lot of the “Glorious PC Master Race” think all games should be on PC.

But this would be a monopoly situation; Steam is already arguably too big. Having all Sony and Microsoft games would give it even more power – and even they would be helpless before the onslaught of Nintendo, whose technical work is so often impeccable. The market needs to compete; there needs to be competition as an incentive to do more and do better. Those who don’t pull their socks up usually get left behind. As different as the markets are, they are competing with each other.

Still, there is one more thing that needs to be said.

Consoles have, sadly, failed at their attempts to be “mini-PC machines”. Clearly they aren’t – that a game can’t be easily ported between a console and a PC is a testament to this unavoidable reality. Indeed, thinking back, PC Ports were easier – and actually often better – in the era of the PlayStation 2. As consoles have branched out in the last decade or so to try different things with different hardware and different parts and often different accessories and peripherals, so has the PC Port been declining in quality and frequency. And I’d argue the explosion of the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 might have something to do with that. These were specialised pieces of hardware – and it made the job of porting a game between systems incredibly expensive. With different statistics and speeds on hard drives, processors, available memory and the range of controllers and buttons/screens available, it’s likely even more expensive now. The PS4 and XBox One use different RAM. The Wii U has that second screen. PS4 has a useless touch-pad, the worlds largest and loneliest start button. XBox One tried to shoehorn in the Kinect, which we now know was stealing available resources from the console unit itself.

Making a game for these machines requires specialist teams and often a lot of money and focus; it’s why you don’t see such ports easily transferring, why they take so long and why more often than not ports are farmed out on the cheap. A sale is a sale; why invest in a top-quality port if a cheap and dirty hack-job can fleece a handful of gullible idiots here and there?

This said, I do remember the Generation 6 era. Ports were wonderful; hardware was different, but not outlandishly so like today. You could soup up a game for the Gamecube – it’s always fun to point out that the Gamecube was the technically superior console of that generation (and don’t take my word for it – put pictures of Wave Race: Blue Storm and others against PS2 and XBox games for a real eye-opener! Heck, Resident Evil Remake and RE Zero only needed minimal tuning – they still hold up graphically!) – and scale down a game to the PS2. Resident Evil 4 was a technical marvel on PS2, for what its worth.

So, what can we wrap this up with?

Porting has become way too complex and expensive. If we can find ways of fixing that, you’ll find ports happen more readily. Games audiences have become demanding and in some cases unreasonably so, expecting the stars themselves when the best they should hope for is a working port of a console game! And in some cases, the console manufacturers themselves have made this a big problem too – when the hardware is so dramatically different, and when each console is so wildly different in power and utilities available, is it reasonable or fair to expect people who have already spent three or four years on their game to invest heavily in learning the technical ins and outs of a different machine, delaying the game on the old system just to please another machines crowd?

The thing no-one wants to admit is that the playing field isn’t equal. Money, power and performance all play their part in the inequality of the video game market of today – and I doubt that the market is going to be any different in Generation 9. Until there’s a sort of coming together of minds from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to standardise certain aspects of games consoles, this will continue to be an issue for all of them, and for the industry at large. And the PC Audience will suffer as a consequence; their ports will either be farmed out to the cheapest available company, or be done well – but take years to reach them.

Time may change all of this – but for now? The best advice… just don’t buy crappy port jobs. Don’t pre-order them. Read user reviews. Make informed decisions. And if you really want to play that game first? Well… sucks to say it, but you’re probably going to need that games console.

Much of this is entirely down to publishers, developers and console manufacturers to work the hell out themselves – when they’ve stopped being selfish and greedy and realised if they don’t, they might bring the entire market down with them…

I wish I could give you a timetable for that. But uhh… I can’t. Sorry!

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