Save us based Durante
June 24, 2015 7:35 PM   Subscribe

For PC gamers, the launch of a new AAA game is always occasion to wonder whether the port will be wonderful or agonizing. Some games have needed end-user modding to fix issues that developers ignored, with some games seeing truly heroic efforts from the community. But just as thing seemed to be getting a bit better, Warner Brothers and Rocksteady released Arkham Knight, a game with such serious technical issues (and harsh user reviews) that they have been forced to take the almost unprecedented step of suspending sales on Steam after launch.
posted by selfnoise (144 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
*turns off motion blur*
*game uninstalls itself*

Yeah they fucked this one right up.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:40 PM on June 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


And nobody even has Dave Lang's phone number to get in touch with him anymore...
posted by kmz at 7:42 PM on June 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I almost never buy a PC game until at least six months after the initial release. They're usually on sale by then and the devs have gotten a chance to let the users act as QA on the thing for half a year. Sadly that means that I'll be waiting until about this time next year to buy Fallout 4 but screw paying $60 to be one of these companies' beta testers
posted by octothorpe at 7:49 PM on June 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


I wonder how many refunds Steam had to give out.
posted by Tenuki at 8:01 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not only are there unplayable graphics bugs, they stealth edited the minimum systems requirements 12 hours before the release with no notice. MINIMUM system requirements start at an i5 and Ati 7950/Nvidia GTX 680. My 6950 runs GTA 5 on normal settings with anti-aliasing, but I can't make it through the opening sequence of Arkham Knight due to a siezure inducing graphics stutter, and since I don't meet the ambush minimums, I have little faith that it will be fixed in a patch.

Oh, and I purchased through Greenman Gaming's clearly too good to be true 40% off deal, meaning that neither Steam nor Greenman is currently offering a refund, although GMG today made vague promises about a refund *after* the patch, whenever that is.

Complete clusterfuck. If I get a refund, I fully intend to sit back for a year or two more and maybe get the Game of the Year edition with all the DLC included. Hopefully they'll end up with around 10$ from me instead of the $40 they're holding hostage at the moment.

And hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the bogus preorder scam, I sure learned my lesson and won't be preordering Fallout 4. Good on Steam for offering the refund feature, and hopefully people use it to deter publishers from shipping fraudulent garbage.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:02 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Was there any way anyone out there could have possibly predicted this unfortunate turn might arise?
posted by triage_lazarus at 8:04 PM on June 24, 2015


i'm used to a certain amount of fuckery - but this is just epic levels of failure. why did the studio outsource the pc version? how could they not have seen this coming? so many questions, which i imagine will be the subject of hit pieces for years to come.
posted by nadawi at 8:09 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I sure learned my lesson and won't be preordering Fallout 4.

Yeah, The Fallout and Elder Scroll games of the past few years have been very, very buggy at launch. As good as it looks, no PC gamer should be pre-ordering Fallout 4.
posted by thecjm at 8:12 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


y'all could just get the ps4/xbone versions, I hear those work
posted by hellojed at 8:13 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is there some other possible reason for it except that they tried to do it on the cheap? You give competent people an adequate amount of money and time, and this generally doesn't happen. The people who own it have now shat up its reputation. I don't understand.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:15 PM on June 24, 2015


Also, this is just complete incompetence across the board, Knight runs on the Unreal 3 engine, which is a very mature engine that powers a metric shit-ton of games including Arkham City and Origins. It's not like they're working with newfangled tech here, this should've been How to Port a PC Game 101.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:16 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is making me feel glad that all I ever play anymore is Kerbal Space Program.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:16 PM on June 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's a semi-funny circlejerk on a lot of gaming forums to never preorder anything that isn't a physical object(or just never preorder in general). I used to constantly preorder games in my teen years, and never do anymore.

I'll buy it during the next steam summer sale when it's $18 for the Turbo Deluxe GTR Final Edition™ that comes with the jumpjets for the batmobile, leopard print suit, and all the extra missions. Shit, i haven't even finished arkham asylum yet.

The tweets where they talk about 30fps being "the standard for modern gaming platforms" is hilarious though. Then why did every previous batman game, and quite a few modern games(including on consoles!) run at 60fps? Give it a rest dude, christ.
posted by emptythought at 8:18 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


piece of cake or not, it seems like they were porting a not quite finished game with far too little time provided. they're likely going to take the fall for this, but something here is mismanaged from the tippy top.
posted by nadawi at 8:19 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's completely amazing that shitty PC ports continue to be a thing, and a sign of how very little developers care about the PC market. All they had to do was actually play the thing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:20 PM on June 24, 2015


Something important to note - this was the first big budget AAA title to release since Steam introduced refunds. Before, if you pre-ordered a buggy port, there was no recourse. Now WB is dealing with having to pay out returns. Hopefully this is the new status quo, and being able to get a refund on a digital purchase will actually force publishers to stop thinking it's ok to release broken products.
posted by thecjm at 8:20 PM on June 24, 2015 [23 favorites]


What i will say is holy shit this game looks amazing visually even if it doesn't run right and can be weirdly inconsistent. The rain on his suit(which randomly doesn't show up on PC sometimes? some people report seeing it, some not) is one of the most striking and real looking effects i've ever seen in a game. It looks like a 3D animated movie from a couple years ago. Like, wow.
posted by emptythought at 8:20 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The original developers may very well care how their game runs on PC. It's the publishers who farm out the ports to other systems and cut costs wherever they can.
posted by thecjm at 8:21 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Damn. The PS4 and Xbox One versions look miles better than the PC version. I know PC has been getting the short shrift (whatever the hell that means) for the past few years but this is pretty outrageous.

I've been considering saving up to get a new gaming rig, but maybe it's not worth it when a PS4 is about a quarter of the price.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:26 PM on June 24, 2015


The original developers may very well care how their game runs on PC. It's the publishers who farm out the ports to other systems and cut costs wherever they can.

My guess would be that it's less to cut costs and more to compress the schedule, so the same team can make games more often
posted by aubilenon at 8:37 PM on June 24, 2015


And to rub salt in the wound, an executive director from WB was responding in the forums to complaints, calling customers "cry babies".
posted by msbutah at 8:40 PM on June 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I put the kid to bed a few hours ago and spent the evening playing his copy of Splatoon.

I don't think it runs at 60fps but I had a hell of a fun time anyway. These PC games just seem...joyless.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:41 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


y'all could just get the ps4/xbone versions, I hear those work

I have never been able to figure out how play games with a console controller. It's strictly mouse and keyboard for me.
posted by octothorpe at 8:44 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Last time I had to go in and manually edit a config.ini file was twenty years ago. That's pretty outrageous.
posted by naju at 8:56 PM on June 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I assume this decision was made because gamers have been willing to put up with (and even pay for) early access/unfinished games increasingly of late. If I'm the business honcho at $AAA_GAME_STUDIO I'm looking at that trend and adding a bunch of laid off PC QA people's salaries to my bonus. Console games are a bit more resistant to this, but I imagine as internet connectivity increases that will become less true.
posted by axiom at 9:04 PM on June 24, 2015


y'all could just get the ps4/xbone versions, I hear those work

Which is, I'm pretty sure, exactly what Sony and Microsoft want, and why the PC version ends up being a buggy, maybe-we'll-fix-it-later mess. But I don't trust the XBone given Microsoft's initial Big Brother-ish insistence that the Kinect had to be plugged in and always on for the unit to work--something they had no problem toggling off, once enough people protested--and although Sony looks good by comparison, they've had their own privacy problems in the past. I've got the previous-generation consoles from both, and I only use the PS3 to play Blu-Rays (and that's becoming less important as I do more streaming) and haven't booted up the XBox in months, thanks to Steam game sales. Even with a PC whose guts are several years old, for the most part--I replaced the graphics card a couple of years ago--it's still a better gaming experience than the consoles.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:05 PM on June 24, 2015


It's spectacular visually; how are the game mechanics? If the graphics were simplified, would the game part of the game be fun?

As JoeZydeco said, Splatoon is a masterpiece. The movement, the colors, the action and, above all else, a brand-new game mechanic that's really engrossing (you can speed through areas you paint, which also claims territory) -- it all works perfectly.

I've never been interested in the AAA games for the big consoles and gaming rigs because they seem to be waging an evolutionary battle where the real fun isn't.
posted by argybarg at 9:13 PM on June 24, 2015


JoeZydeco: "These PC games just seem...joyless."

...You think that this game, which works great on consoles but is unplayable on the PC, is a PC game?
posted by Bugbread at 9:19 PM on June 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Which is, I'm pretty sure, exactly what Sony and Microsoft want, and why the PC version ends up being a buggy, maybe-we'll-fix-it-later mess

If Microsoft wanted Windows gaming to fail, they certainly have more direct ways to make that happen. Apple would sure love that, I'll tell you.

Are you suggesting Sony somehow sabotaged the PC port of Arkham Knight? Or paid Warner Brothers off to make them do a shitty job, but not do any PlayStation-exclusive features or DLC or anything?
posted by aubilenon at 9:28 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


What is an "AAA" game?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:32 PM on June 24, 2015


Big budget from major studios, pretty much the same as a summer blockbuster. Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, Batman, Elder Scrolls, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, etc.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:39 PM on June 24, 2015


What is an "AAA" game?

As popularized by eBay feedback comments. "AAAAAA+++++ GAME WOULD PLAY AGAIN, ZERO SHIPPING HASSELS!!!"
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:45 PM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


All I want to know is if the camera angle is adjustable in this one. I never finished Arkham Asylum because the over-the-shoulder camera felt claustrophobic and drove me nuts. From what I've read online, this was the same in Arkham City.
posted by Anoplura at 10:00 PM on June 24, 2015


I don't think it runs at 60fps but I had a hell of a fun time anyway. These PC games just seem...joyless.

Splatoon, like most Nintendo games, runs at 60 fps. Despite being a company that de-emphasizes cutting edge graphics, Nintendo will almost always have their action games at 60 fps because it makes a huge difference in gameplay.
posted by zixyer at 10:04 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


*goes happily back to Witcher 3, one of the best games ever made*
posted by Justinian at 10:07 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


These PC games just seem...joyless.

how are the game mechanics? If the graphics were simplified, would the game part of the game be fun?

Arkham Asylum, the first in the series, came out 6 years ago, so its graphics were less sophisticated (if good for the time), it was very fun. Throwing batarangs, flying around in your suit, kickpunching baddies with a really fluid combat system. One of the most polished games I've ever played, PC port or no.

Games can be colorful and bright, they can be dark, they can be stylized, they can be realistic, independently of this they can be good or bad. It's a minor shame that the graphics issues of this game are holding people back from playing what is by most accounts a really good game.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:19 PM on June 24, 2015


Her Story came out today. That's pretty fantastic. But so is Batman, for different reasons. At least the PS4 version is staggering. Like, salt in Nvidia wounds. Yeah, it smarts for that PC master race demographic, console peasants getting the as of yet best version, but they'll get around to fixing it. Eventually. Knight is feeling more Asylum than City. I like the batmobile and second participant mechanics. The batmobile alone effectively doubles the toolset for riddler-type challenge puzzles, and they're all pretty great for brain stumping.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 10:27 PM on June 24, 2015


turbid dahlia: "As popularized by eBay feedback comments. "AAAAAA+++++ GAME WOULD PLAY AGAIN, ZERO SHIPPING HASSELS!!!""

I don't get it. Isn't this post referring to games that suck, or at least, are terribly buggy and well-night unplayable?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:37 PM on June 24, 2015


What is an "AAA" game?

The origin of the phrase is the highest league of American Baseball. It has since been used to describe high-budget, highly publicized films and video games - implying that they are the best of the best, and carrying the appropriate expectations in terms of quality and commercial success. A triple-A game can only be a gigantic success or a flop.
posted by Anoplura at 10:56 PM on June 24, 2015


Major League Baseball is the highest league of American baseball, not AAA. At any rate, "AAA" isn't a baseball reference. It's a reference to American high school / college letter grades (source). Turbid dahlia's eBay feedback joke is actually pretty accurate.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:12 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]




The "AAA" designation means that the game had a very large budget. It doesn't really carry any expectation of quality at this point, I don't think.
posted by IAmUnaware at 12:06 AM on June 25, 2015


AAA games are sort of like the Hollywood films that cost in the hundreds of millions. Big budget, big fanbase, big expectations and sometimes a bottomless pit of suckitude.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:09 AM on June 25, 2015


Batman: Arkham Knight Suffers from Its Terrible Treatment of Female Characters

This surprises me not one bit. The earlier games have had loads of problems on that count.

The writing in these games as a whole is actually pretty bad. The Arkham games have completely linear plots, so I don't see why Rocksteady doesn't just pay someone with a proven record of writing good Batman stories. Money can't possibly be an object, given what it would cost to pay a writer versus what they put into marketing or new tech development.
posted by IAmUnaware at 12:14 AM on June 25, 2015


Batman: Arkham Knight Suffers from Its Terrible Treatment of Female Characters

After Arkham City has you beat Harley Quinn into a miscarriage, can't say I'm terribly surprised about that.
posted by kafziel at 12:27 AM on June 25, 2015


Honestly, you could have just said "After literally any aspect of the Arkham games' Harley Quinn...."
posted by IAmUnaware at 12:34 AM on June 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I watched my kissfriend play this on his Xbone a while yesterday and it looked pretty good. I laughed at BATMANVOICE because I am incapable of taking BATMANVOICE seriously, but luckily he is a kind, tolerant, benevolent soul who wasn't upset that I came in the room and started laughing at the dramatic cutscenes he was watching/playing through.

I'm wondering if we're just gonna see people keep getting mad about terrible PC ports, like everyone does about DRM and a lot of DLC content without it changing, or if this might push a new industry standard.

Last time I had to go in and manually edit a config.ini file was twenty years ago. That's pretty outrageous.

I bought Assassin's Creed II in the Steam summer sale, figuring I'd give it a shot, and the DRM broke it completely. Some of the fixes involved screwing around with the registry. (I decided it wasn't worth it and returned the game; if Ubisoft wants my money they can stop adding user-hostile bullshit to their games.)
posted by NoraReed at 12:34 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


NoraReed: "I'm wondering if we're just gonna see people keep getting mad about terrible PC ports, like everyone does about DRM and a lot of DLC content without it changing, or if this might push a new industry standard."

By itself, this would do nothing. But given that Steam has rolled out its new easy return policy (and it's glorious, I've already used (not abused) it multiple times), all of a sudden "Who cares, we already sold a ton" becomes "Who cares, we've already so-- wait, what? They're all being returned?! But, our revenue stream--!"

The Steam refund policy combined with this fiasco may provide a boost to the baseline product quality threshold (not an industry standard, per se, but raising the floor).
posted by Bugbread at 12:39 AM on June 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, this is just complete incompetence across the board, Knight runs on the Unreal 3 engine, which is a very mature engine that powers a metric shit-ton of games including Arkham City and Origins. It's not like they're working with newfangled tech here, this should've been How to Port a PC Game 101.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:16 PM


Here's the really funny/weird bit: over the course of developing a AAA title in Unreal 3 with standard workflow you almost always test changes (ie level scripting) by launching to PIE (Play In Editor) which is executing... on PC. Since launching on console requires cooked (heavily platform-optimized format) content which can take 20-40 minutes and your content devs will get super whiny if launching to test changes takes longer than five seconds (I prototype gameplay and am therefore the worst of sinners about this), this was almost guaranteed working acceptably on some PC hardware configuration in a debug build up until content lock.

If you're using a 3rd party dev for the PC port (long list of pros and cons) their job is to engineer an optimized release build that performs acceptably across a vast range of hardware combinations, instead of the single workstation hardware profile everyone at the studio was using. The investment for both hardware and sufficiently trained QA staff that border not-joking-this-time-actual-QA-engineers is enormous. No less so the corpus of knowledge and general experience necessary to do it right.

Pure speculation follows:
Probably someone very senior on the management team wanted the studio team immediately switching to (small strike team) vertical slice of the next project and (everyone else) DLC* once everyone got back from post-content lock vacation, and they made a very, very poor call on the bid vs. reputation/experience matrix of third party options. Either that, or the PC build was in absolute shambles on every other hardware config by the time the studio finished their custom extensions to the engine, and the port team simply ran out of time. Because this was for a non-Christmas release target, the odds of the latter explanation are significantly lower in this case.

Given the extremely public nature of all this it's pretty likely that - in addition to the third party port team scrambling like they've got the fear of God in them and pulling back-to-back all-nighters - the entire inhouse core tech team for the studio just got yanked out of their vacations after 6 months of 80+ hour weeks (read: the average of 60 slowly ramping up to 100-110). I honestly can't imagine anything worse, so believe me when I say that everyone responsible and a whole hell of a lot of people who aren't are getting punished for this. This is sufficiently public there's a decent chance even senior management - the ones who actually fucked up - is going to feel it for once.

Additionally, the Metacritic penalty means the studio is probably going to get fucked on their bonuses after months of brutal crunch with no overtime pay. If anything, gamers should be pissed as bathed cats at the senior management calls here, and feel nothing but the deepest pity for anyone in the trenches on this.

*Like it or not as a gamer, DLC keeps the studio profitable and prevents massive shareholder-demanded layoffs, which cuts a shit-ton of devs who just crunched brutally out of the bonus pool and poisons your hiring efforts for the next few years at least.
posted by Ryvar at 1:43 AM on June 25, 2015 [36 favorites]


Speaking of people to feel bad for, my friend used to work in the steam support department. For the entire service it was one room, in one floor of their offices. Maybe... 12 people? And several of them were multilingual people for the non english european/asian steam versions.

I bet everyone in that department is working like 12 hour days right now just processing returns and complaints. The ticket queue alone is probably like romance of the three kingdoms long. They must have like, an f1 pit crew to come through and stuff hummus and redbull into their faces over their shoulders whenever there's momentary downtime.
posted by emptythought at 2:35 AM on June 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Isn't broken product sort of expected with new software these days?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:50 AM on June 25, 2015


"I shot the sheriff / But I didn't shoot no deputy" is the right level of nuance on who's to blame. Unfortunately, we don't know who was yelling "THIS WON'T WORK" and who was ignoring them and watching WB's stock price and dreaming about the new granite counter-top in their condo and insisting "it'll be fine". Similarly, we don't know who was behind the Sim City catastrophe demanding the game require an always-on internet connection, and who, behind the scenes was agitated and pissed-off about that requirement.

That's assuming that good developers haven't all wandered off to greener pastures by now, as game development is notoriously horrible - aside from the tiny part where you're working on a game and not billing for an insurance company - which doesn't actually make it worth it for many.

Microsoft (the company that makes Windows) is nowhere near as powerful as Microsoft (the company that makes the Xbox) when it comes to demanding things about programs that run on their respective platform. If you've been privy to the level of nit-picking that Microsoft requires of Xbox games, it's no surprise that even the worst Xbox game is still playable, even if it's not actually fun.

Games needing huge patches to even be playable has unfortunately been the norm since Quake 2 came out in the 90's, and most of us were still on dial-up. What's changed since then is AAA games are best compared to big Hollywood blockbusters - including the multi-million dollar price tag (GTA-V cost some $265 million, half of which was marketing) and the small army of peons who don't get any recognition (somewhere above 1000 developers). Additionally, AAA games are quite like movies if you look at the graph of revenue streams - that first weekend is all important, with sales falling off sharply after for most games.
posted by fragmede at 2:53 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, a new...

God damn it.

Mac users are people too.
posted by Wataki at 3:30 AM on June 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's assuming that good developers haven't all wandered off to greener pastures by now, as game development is notoriously horrible - aside from the tiny part where you're working on a game and not billing for an insurance company - which doesn't actually make it worth it for many.

Game developers are easily among the best in software, simply due to near-infinite supply. As of a few years ago there were about 150K major studio jobs total in the States, vs. how many tens of thousands of college graduates every single year that would kill themselves for peanuts just to have a shot. Several years ago while an Art AP during a three month hiring push I had to sort through about 700 serious resume/portfolios from 3000 total applications. This does not lead to heavy turnover, typically, because it takes years to ripen a college grad into an experienced developer - but the pressure from below is omni-present for everyone in the studio at all times, as is the prospect of burnout from within.

Also, typically the sheer specialization and complexity of the endeavor weeds out anyone who can't hack it before the onsite interview. Couldn't-hack-it botched hires is ~1-2% in my experience.

If you're working as a dev at a big-name AAA studio you're there because you're not only the best but also view making games as something akin to a moral crusade. Dealing with omnipresent passion/high-functioning mental illness is yet one more exhausting aspect to the whole thing, but the massive upside of AAA game development is the total non-existence of "not my problem" attitudes, even in the worst of crunch.

(GTA-V cost some $265 million, half of which was marketing)
More extreme example would be the Modern Warfare sequels: ~$75 million development budget, over $400 million advertising. In practice most AAA titles are more like $50-75 million on both sides of that ratio. Scalability of communication and coherent production becomes a problem above 40 developers, and a nightmare over 150. Marketing side, for most titles you'll hit awareness saturation of likely customers at a fraction of Halo/COD budgets.

and the small army of peons who don't get any recognition (somewhere above 1000 developers)

1000+ is only true for weird many-project campus development houses (ie Ubisoft Montreal with 2400+ developers, or Gameloft with their machinegun approach to mobile releases), and not at all the norm. Project seed for single-title studios is typically less than 20 people, vertical slice demo 40-50 (communication efficiency falls off sharply past this point), and full production 100-150 plus some asset outsourcing. Ubisoft Montreal uses more of a title-rotates-through-multiple-teams process according to a dozen or so former co-workers who've worked on Assassin's Creed SKUs, but I don't claim to understand how that's feasible in practice.

Mega-titles like Halo/CoD/GTA might go up to 300 in full production, but that's pretty much the upper bound.

...at any rate, my engine compile just finished and I'm out of AAA for as long as I can keep food on the table, mostly for artistic reasons. With Perception's Kickstarter hitting its funding goal a couple days ago that may be a while longer :)
posted by Ryvar at 3:55 AM on June 25, 2015 [13 favorites]




This clusterfuck begs the question--why not abandon developing games for the PC platform altogether?

True, the losses would be many. The pleasure of tinkering with *.ini files; the challenge of buying parts online and configuring a rad gaming rig; the minute control of the keyboard and mouse; the brilliant PC mods. These would fall into the black hole of history.

Yet in a few years, when 70" 4K TVs and virtual reality goggles become everyday household items, gaming on a clunky, size-restricted PC monitor will steadily lose its attraction. By then, developers will have figured out how to optimize their code for the PS4 and Xbox One, and visuals will be jaw-dropping. Add to this the fact that personal computers themselves are giving way to smaller devices like smartphones, tablets, and sleek, lightweight, 12"-screen Macbooks, none of which are suited to the visual drama of games.

Given these parameters, is there any rationale for developers to devote finite resources of money and personnel to porting console games to the PC?
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:38 AM on June 25, 2015


Yet in a few years, when 70" 4K TVs and virtual reality goggles become everyday household items, gaming on a clunky, size-restricted PC monitor will steadily lose its attraction. By then, developers will have figured out how to optimize their code for the PS4 and Xbox One, and visuals will be jaw-dropping. Add to this the fact that personal computers themselves are giving way to smaller devices like smartphones, tablets, and sleek, lightweight, 12"-screen Macbooks, none of which are suited to the visual drama of games.

Given these parameters, is there any rationale for developers to devote finite resources of money and personnel to porting console games to the PC?


Because the real world.
posted by srboisvert at 5:00 AM on June 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


Also, this is just complete incompetence across the board, Knight runs on the Unreal 3 engine, which is a very mature engine that powers a metric shit-ton of games including Arkham City and Origins.

I mentioned this in a Nintendo thread recently, but: I wouldn't be holding up Arkham Origins as some sort of stable platform. Whatever technology is underneath it, the Wii U version is completely fucking broken, and the developer has more or less said "sorry, too busy to fix it". I had to stop playing it because 10 hours into the game, I ran into a bug that got me stuck in an area with no way out, and with no way to revert to an earlier save. Their response:
"The team is currently working hard on the upcoming story DLC and there currently are no plans for releasing another patch to address the issues that have been reported on the forums," a community manager said in a post on the game's official forums.
To my knowledge, no patch has been released in the intervening 18 months or so. Also, insult to injury, they DLC they were so busy working on? They announced at the same time they'd decided DLC wasn't gonna happen for the Wii U after all (they even had to refund a bunch of people who they'd pre-sold it to).

It seems like whoever is behind the various Arkham games is not doing the series any favors these last few releases, which is a shame -- I really did like the first few games (played on PC).
posted by tocts at 5:01 AM on June 25, 2015


Given these parameters, is there any rationale for developers to devote finite resources of money and personnel to porting console games to the PC?

Despite the drastically lower numbers, for many AAA titles PC will produce 25-35% of the profits once the final numbers are crunched. Genre and target demographic are major factors here, so this is hardly universal, but PC releases aren't going anywhere.
posted by Ryvar at 5:02 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


In previous console generations, consoles had the leg up for a while for various reasons, but because their specs were fixed versus PCs, eventually PCs would catch up. This is arguably the first generation of consoles where PC games already look and perform better, when they're not bad ports, than their console equivalents. Arkham Knight looking best on PS4 is something of an anomaly.

Also, everything you mention that should make PCs obsolete also exist on PCs. You can plug your computer into a 70" 4K TV right now, and with a good enough graphics card (or an older game) you can even run at native 4K resolution. No PS4 or Xbox One game can do that, and they're unlikely to ever do that. VR goggles? Sony's making one for PS4, but the Xbox One doesn't have an equivalent yet. Meanwhile, Valve has a PC solution coming out this year, and the VR revolution started with a PC-only product, the Oculus Rift. And while laptops and tablets are indeed gaining ground on desktop PCs, that trend has been in place for years now and yet PC revenues keep climbing, even hardware.
posted by chrominance at 5:03 AM on June 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Given these parameters, is there any rationale for developers to devote finite resources of money and personnel to porting console games to the PC?

I can't find real numbers, but Gartner had a projection of revenue from a few years ago that estimated the console market at more than twice the size of the PC market. Pretending that still holds true, you can't just throw out nearly a third of your market, but at the same time, it wouldn't make sense to spend the same resources on it. It does explain why most games are console-first with mediocre PC ports as an afterthought, though.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:03 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


PC gaming is extremely healthy right now. The high-budget games market, of course, targets consoles first, because it's the console audience that is the most reliably going to buy the by-the-numbers sequels that most big studios like to turn out... but independent and smaller-budget games are frequently PC-first or, more often, PC-only, and they can have more complex and interesting mechanics because of the realities of the PC interface.

This fiasco doesn't make PC a less viable gaming platform.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:08 AM on June 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


It does explain why most games are console-first with mediocre PC ports as an afterthought, though.

You/Gartner are right on the relative numbers (profit, not necessarily revenue, FWIW), but marketshare aside the reason to lead with console SKU is that you're coding against a fixed hardware target. Once all the major content bugs are cleared, it only has to work correctly on one hardware config to work for the entire platform.

[Not exactly true, for example the 360 had units with no harddrive that meant assets might be streaming in off an optical disk for like 30% of the userbase and the resultant ~400ms worst case seek time's a fucking nightmare if you want, say, precisely synced voiceover/animation for branching in-engine cinematics. But in general....]

PC SKU, as I mentioned upthread, has to be tested against countless hardware combinations, lots of potential errors that don't actually produce pathological behavior on a single console hardware target now have to be solved for real in the general case, and retested again and again. If any subsystem was inadvertently relying on sane framerate or timing deltas, it now needs to be rewritten to gracefully handle massive spikes in Tick() DeltaTime values because some Windows background process suddenly decided now would be a good time to eat up an entire CPU core. Etc., etc.

That testing cycle is infinitely easier if you're working against a fixed base of locked content that is sufficiently bugfree to pass console technical certification requirements. So leading with a console SKU is pretty attractive on a number of fronts, despite the fact that during development the dev team was checking all their work against a PC debug build.

A more subtle influence can be console exclusivity - XBox APIs hew closely to Windows, whereas Sony's OpenGL-like API makes a Mac SKU that much less out of the question when management runs their ROI projections.
posted by Ryvar at 5:48 AM on June 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's a reference to American high school / college letter grades (source).

If I'm reading the Wikipedia citation correctly, it refers to the fact that developers started using the expression in the '90s, not that it came from academic grading (where, after all, A+ seems to be far more common than AAA)--the letter-grade claim does not seem to be sourced.

One might consult Demario and Wilson's 'High Score' to be sure (me, I don't care that much, I just always figured the video-game AAA came from bond credit ratings).
posted by box at 6:00 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Using multiples of A for grading is popular in a lot of contexts, but specifically not academics. I agree credit ratings is a good example. Another is butter quality grades, which are B, A, and AA.
posted by gilrain at 6:11 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Last time I had to go in and manually edit a config.ini file was twenty years ago.

20 years ago? 20 years ago we were still playing games that launched in DOS -- many of us didn't even have Windows 95 installed yet -- and might even need a separate boot disk to deal with memory management. We're talking about Phantasmagoria, The Dig, Command & Conquer, Warcraft II.

Half-Life 2 was 11 years ago. If you were one of the thousands of people like me, you had to edit an INI file to fix the field of view or the vehicle sections would make you throw up.

Rainbow Six Vegas was 9 years ago (another bad PC port), and in order to make the thing playable and look half-decent on my system I had to edit HLSL shaders. (Without a guide too, but then I was a game developer then and all too familiar with DirectX and shader programming.)

Borderlands was 6 years ago and Borderlands 2 was 3 years ago. Many people edited INI files to fix interface issues and tweak performance.

Marvel Heroes 2015 is (despite the name) 2 years old and many people edit config files to improve the interface.

I edited an INI file last night -- trying to play Rainbow Six 3 Gold through Steam, which I bought during the sale last week -- and it keeps wanting to flop between fullscreen resolutions and it confuses the hell out of my dual-monitor system.

I'm really not particularly a hardcore gamer.
posted by Foosnark at 6:15 AM on June 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


To back that up a bit, in this list of academic grading systems, only Japan uses multiple As (topping out at AA) in their grading system, and only at a few institutions. On the other hand, Japan was obviously huge in the early video game industry, so hm.
posted by gilrain at 6:18 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm willing to bet that none of the AAA citations are true. It's just standard inflation.

First there was A. Then something big budget came out and it was labeled AA. Then later, something HUGE came out and was AAA.

Now, the market is such that it's doubtful an AAAA game could be made and succeed -- the costs would be so high that they'd never make it back. But who knows.

AAA baseball, pronounced universally as "Triple A", is the highest level of Minor League baseball, but is not Major League Baseball, and there are a number of players on MLB team rosters right now playing in AAA baseball, because there are 40 players on a MLB roster, but you can only play 25 until September 1st. There's a big difference between Triple-A players and MLB rostered players in Triple-A. MLB roster players are on MLB contracts, with a $480K/year minimum salary. Average salary in Triple-A is $2150/month, for five months, so about $11K for the season. A Triple-A player who gets a 1 day emergency callup gets a month of MLB salary -- it may be just a cup of coffee with the big club, but it's a cup of coffee and a $40,000 paycheck! This is why the "cup of coffee" callup is so rare nowadays. Once you're rostered, you'll stay rostered for a month. They gotta pay you, might as well keep you available.

Whoops, big digression there. Sorry.
posted by eriko at 6:22 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


The basic rule with PC gaming and AAA titles (and it's true to a lesser extent on console) is now as follows:


NEVER pre-order because if you get it on day one, you'll be a beta tester for six months until they patch/mod out the show-stopping bugs.

If people didn't pre-order less of this would happen.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:26 AM on June 25, 2015


Glad to see this FPP, because I've been seeing a lot of news items about this, and I kind of trust MetaFilter gamers and developers to bring the straight dope in the comments.

The one thing I don't get is the title of this FPP. I cannot even begin to guess what it means.
posted by sidereal at 6:27 AM on June 25, 2015


http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=488240

There's a dude called Durante here who talks about how to fix Dark Souls display, and is referred to in one post as Based Durante.

I'M CALLING IT.
posted by Swandive at 6:31 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think one of the reasons that people get so confused/fighty over the current status of PC gaming is that the market has become so funky and heterogenous. With consoles you basically have a bunch of people traveling down a road together while the device is "current gen" buying the games that come out which interest them. With the PC you have a subset of people on Steam buying AAA and similar games, but also a ton of people playing weird F2P games like Unturned (which I had never heard of until looking at a Steam chart recently), a ton of people buying every strange survival game that comes out, people buying every weird softcore Japanese puzzle game (notice how those just started flowing out of the tap?), people who have been playing one game for the last decade (Skyrim, WoW, Dota, CS:GO), people who want to simulate driving a bus in Leipzig.... it's not one market, it's many. Many of the people playing weird F2P games probably don't even have the hardware to play modern AAA games so aren't a factor in that market for multiple reasons.

Modern PC gaming is just big and weird. Any attempt to shove it into a box provokes objections.

(Durante is just below Gaben on the PC gaming pantheon of weird but justified fame. He also wrote a really neat program called GeDoSaTo that allows you to downsample older games at crazy resolutions and generally inject games with new effects, etc. This allowed the port of FFXIII to be fixed, among other things.)
posted by selfnoise at 6:37 AM on June 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Apologies Ryvar, I did not mean to insult your, or anyone else's abilities, so let me put it a better way.

Game developers are underpaid (when compared to similar positions at Apple or Google), overworked (crunch time deathmarch leading up to sales season is the norm, and burnout is endemic), and these days, receive far too little recognition (John Carmack and Sid Meier, come readily to mind, but I can't think of any recent developers who were attached to AAA titles. If you dig a bit and go into the indie scene, there are some; Notch is easily the first that comes to mind there).

I cannot think of a worse way to treat very valuable, highly skilled employees that you want to keep.
posted by fragmede at 6:39 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Got a friend on the inside, and she says (totally off the record and unofficially) that the dev team is FURIOUS as you'd imagine, because PC was the reference/development platform in the first place, and they have the skilled programmers and QA to do the port beautifully, but the decision came from high up to farm it out. This decision (and the resulting backlash explosion) stomped all over the years of effort the artists and designers and programmers put into the game, not seeing their families, skipping holidays, eating break-room cuisine, etc.

This happens to AAA developers all the time, BTW. I've had the same experience working at a large studio, though the (external) porting house they hired ended up doing a passable job. But nobody likes it or wants it to happen; it's 100% always a decision made by publisher suits and studio management, because they're stuck in the "Minimum Viable Product" mindset where just getting it out the door makes them look good. Those are the heads that need to roll. They're also the same people who force us to make paid DLC, understaff the multiplayer teams, make us put licensed Nickelback songs in battle scenes, etc etc etc.

The funny part is that these port houses, that's often ALL THEY DO, their entire business is usually porting console games to PC, so you'd think they'd be at least slightly competent at it!

Anyway, this is why I'm primarily an indie developer now. The pay's a little worse, but people's "Day 1 Sick Days" aren't ruined by the products I work on.
posted by jake at 6:48 AM on June 25, 2015 [16 favorites]


*goes happily back to Witcher 3, one of the best games ever made* posted by Justinian at 7:07 AM

Master Witcher, please help a poor peasant in need! The most 'orrible monster of un-optimisation has been ravaging the orchard of Picee.

1. Sure I'll help. Need to ask some questions.
2. Haggle for DLC.
3. Sorry, can't be bothered.
posted by ersatz at 6:49 AM on June 25, 2015


Swandive: "There's a dude called Durante here who talks about how to fix Dark Souls display, and is referred to in one post as Based Durante."

Thank you. I was just assuming there was some new $1,000 NVidia card coming out with a Durante core or something like that.

fragmede: "I can't think of any recent developers who were attached to AAA titles"

What about the guy who made Cat-Scan, subject of MetaFilter's very first FPP?
posted by Bugbread at 6:50 AM on June 25, 2015


Mac users are people too.

Don't most Mac users use Bootcamp for serious gaming, since the graphic drivers on the Mac are generally not as good as Windows anyway?
posted by smackfu at 6:52 AM on June 25, 2015


(On preview: Agree with Ryvar though, it's really infinitely easier to test/lead with consoles, whose hardware configs don't vary much, which is why PC farm-outs are so appealing to the suits, QA testing is a bear on PC. Even on handhelds though, for example, there are usually several different models of 3DS (in my case requiring different audio mixes for totally changed speaker response! i.e. "Issue #32961 Why does music sound awful on Slim Vita but not regular")) In short, releasing functional games on multiple platforms is hard
posted by jake at 6:53 AM on June 25, 2015


Steam's new refund policy is glorious. Game manufacturers have been abusing their customers for years with broken releases. Finally there's some way to get revenge, or at least your money back. I imagine the game manufacturers are furious. OTOH they love Steam because it destroys the market for used games.

Personally I gave up on PC games a few years ago. There's still a few games where keyboard-and-mouse are the better interface and I still play those rare ones that have been ported to MacOS. But most big games are designed for console first and play fine on console so why fight it? Of course some big console releases are broken at launch too, like Battlefield 4 from DICE/EA. That one worked sort of OK on PC, passably playable on X360, and completely unplayable on PS4. Speaking of which: do not preorder Star Wars Battlefront, from the same dev team. Really, don't preorder any game from a major producer.
posted by Nelson at 7:07 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


True, the losses would be many. The pleasure of tinkering with *.ini files; the challenge of buying parts online and configuring a rad gaming rig; the minute control of the keyboard and mouse; the brilliant PC mods. These would fall into the black hole of history. Yet in a few years, when 70" 4K TVs and virtual reality goggles become everyday household items, gaming on a clunky, size-restricted PC monitor will steadily lose its attraction.

Our gaming pc is hooked up to our 55" 1080p tv, and we play ~everything with a 360 controller.

This is arguably the first generation of consoles where PC games already look and perform better, when they're not bad ports, than their console equivalents.

That was last gen. PS3/360 graphics weren't any better than midrange gaming rigs at launch and both consoles had tiny amounts of RAM.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:15 AM on June 25, 2015


fragmede: I wasn't insulted in the slightest. That you would think that makes perfect sense for all the reasons you listed. If it weren't for my experiences, I'd think exactly the same.

Compared to, say, two of my college dorm mates who were among the earliest Android kernel devs, or a pair of old friends who've made senior/lead programmer for high-volume financial backend/trading platform software, the core tech programmers I've worked with in gaming were less inclined to formally proper methodology but produce a shit-ton more ingeniously optimized code in an ever-shifting landscape. It's an altogether different emphasis but every bit as hardcore and brilliant as you'll find anywhere else.

...there's just too many goddamned kids desperate to get in for it to be less abusive, or worthwhile for any but the [ought to be] committed. As jake said, indie pays a bit less - but on the whole I prefer it.

They're also the same people who force us to make paid DLC

The only thing I'll say in defense of management, pretty much at all, is that the DLC thing is honestly more of a short-sighted shareholder problem than anything. They view human resources as commodity and "idle" dev teams as unnecessary cost centers between releases. No understanding of/interest in the actual longterm costs of losing accrued expertise and (re)building a functional team.

Everything else you listed, though, I completely agree can be laid at management's feet.
posted by Ryvar at 7:28 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


PC graphics have always been slightly broken, sometimes much more so. The most glorious absurdity in this story, for me, is that the companies are issuing special patched drivers to make games work. Really? That takes me back to bloody 1985 and Hercules video cards... and 2013, when I was trying to make Ubuntu 13.04 work properly with my (vanilla) laptop and an external monitor.


If people really are deciding that there's no point in spending 4x the cost of a console for a top-line PC rig because it doesn't work as well, then that market is thoroughly broken. I'm not sure that supercar economics work for GPUs. At some point, the market's going to stop working anyway - once you've got your 4K 60fps at photorealistic polygon counts, where do you go? - but if you're constantly frustrated because half your software doesn't work anyway, why buy?

I am not a games programmer, and I don't know the practicalities of how a gaming engine talks to the graphics subsystem, but I can't see how it isn't a standard engineering issue that can be solved by the normal approach of properly specifying APIs and data flow pipelines. The problem is very well specified (when was the last time anyone introduced a fundamentally new graphics primitive?) and we are light years ahead in terms of software design and hardware capabilities from the bad old days.

I do understand (from following the harrowing world of Linux drivers) that GPU hardware makers are addicted to secrets and under-documentation. Don't they want the market to work?
posted by Devonian at 7:32 AM on June 25, 2015


At some point, the market's going to stop working anyway - once you've got your 4K 60fps at photorealistic polygon counts, where do you go?

Better lighting, better surfaces (ie subsurface scattering for skin), more and better particles, better refraction, better reflection, better in-card physics...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:00 AM on June 25, 2015


I do understand (from following the harrowing world of Linux drivers) that GPU hardware makers are addicted to secrets and under-documentation. Don't they want the market to work?

Nvidia is currently trying to choke the life out of AMD/ATi through a combination of better architecture(yay!), tons of proprietary extensions(boo!) and "incentivizing" game developers to use all these extensions(yuck). Unfortunately, both the XBox One and the PS4 use AMD/ATi graphics cores, so this has led to some very strange situations where a game will run fairly well on the PS4, effectively a cheap computer with a poor CPU and a decent/low-end AMD GPU, and then run like crap on a much more powerful PC with a higher-end AMD GPU because the PC version has been larded up with Nvidia Gameworks or whateverthefuck.

It's worth noting, as I tried to in the OP, that there are a lot of AAA PC ports that are really really good! Even Warner Brothers released a game last year (Shadow of Morder) with an excellent PC port (by Monolith who know what they're doing re: PC games). Rockstar delayed their PC port of GTA V basically so they could make it fucking awesome. But this one is a clusterfuck.
posted by selfnoise at 8:00 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


The problem with PCs being ahead of consoles in rendering technology is that the developers need to generate the art assets to support the tech. Few game develoeprs are going to spend months adding a fancy new shader that only works on PCs if 70% of the market is consoles. Or to look at the last generation, a whole lot of PC games looked crappier than the hardware was capable of because there was only so much texture memory available on PS3/X360 and the art assets were targeted at consoles.
posted by Nelson at 8:03 AM on June 25, 2015


Nelson: "But most big games are designed for console first and play fine on console so why fight it?"

I'm not "fighting" it, but I already have a computer, and my XBox 360 gamepad works awesome with it.

I used to have an XBox and a PS2. Then I got bought an XBox 360 and got rid of the XBox. Then I got rid of the PS2. And then I got rid of the XBox 360. Not because "PC master race", but because consoles are big, and bulky, and take up power outlets, and result in a ton more wiring behind the monitor, and I have to switch both video and audio inputs to play them, and it's a pain in the butt to switch to the PC to look something up real quick or check an email, and I have to buy my console games from importers to get English language versions, and worry about regional compatibility...and all of those problems disappear if I just play games on the PC itself.

Not saying it's the better choice for everyone, but for me it's a no-brainer. Using consoles was fighting, switching to PC only is giving in and stopping fighting.
posted by Bugbread at 8:04 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


ATI and NVidia (and if there's still anyone else) want to differentiate themselves from each other, and to sell expensive new hardware to enthusiasts as often as possible. So they keep adding stuff.

I'm happy with my 4 year old midrange card. But then I'm running at 1680x1050 most of the time anyway.

And yeah, the need for games to run on multiple platforms screws everything up.
posted by Foosnark at 8:04 AM on June 25, 2015


once you've got your 4K 60fps at photorealistic polygon counts, where do you go?

VR!
posted by Drexen at 8:05 AM on June 25, 2015


The funny part is that these port houses, that's often ALL THEY DO, their entire business is usually porting console games to PC, so you'd think they'd be at least slightly competent at it!

Nobody's saying anything official, but all signs point to Iron Galaxy being the port house they used, and they've done good ports before as well as being the primary developers of the well received Killer Instinct revival. But the scuttlebutt is they were given barely any time to work on the port.

But who really knows... maybe Dave Lang will spill some secrets the next time he's on Giant Bomb's couch.
posted by kmz at 8:07 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do understand (from following the harrowing world of Linux drivers) that GPU hardware makers are addicted to secrets and under-documentation. Don't they want the market to work?

They also don't want to get sued into oblivion when its discovered that they're all infringing on each others' patents.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:07 AM on June 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


VR is going to be insanely graphically intensive because of the need to drive two screens at once, at very high resolution, at up to 90+ FPS per screen. It's going to be a big pain in the ass. You can't get away with 30FPS at a "dynamic" resolution in a VR helmet because it will look like crap and people will throw up (literally).
posted by selfnoise at 8:10 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


4x the cost of a console? What are you buying, solid gold components?

You can build a pc that is on par with the "next gen" consoles for less than the price of the console, and for only a bit more you can build a pc that massively outperforms a console. Yes, you can spend a crapton, but you damn sure don't need to. PC gaming is much cheaper than console gaming, steam sales for games, no monthly extortion fee for online stuff, better hardware for less money, etc.

If you're broke and want to game, pc is the only reasonable choice.

And yes, you can hook a pc to a tv and play sitting on the couch if that's your thing.
posted by sotonohito at 8:11 AM on June 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


The funny part is that these port houses, that's often ALL THEY DO, their entire business is usually porting console games to PC, so you'd think they'd be at least slightly competent at it!

I'm not sure "porting to PC" is actually a generic competency a studio could hypothetically have. The ways Arkham Knight, as developed for PS4 and XBox, differs from a generic Unreal engine game are probably unique to that game, so there's a standard bit porting Unreal games to PC that any studio could do and the rest that requires intimate knowledge of Arkham Knight that only Rocksteady has the expertise to do well.
posted by straight at 8:12 AM on June 25, 2015


Yeah, a PS4 is $400. You can build a good, powerful computer for less than $1k, easily. I'm an "enthusiast" and the most I've ever spent is $1200. My current computer was about $1200 a year ago and will run every game I've ever tried to run on the highest settings.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:17 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and there will be no improvement in console graphics as time passes for this generation. Prior generations did have funky hardware with stuff to tweak. The current consoles are just standard pc hardware. What you see today is as good as it'll ever be. 30fps at 720p or possibly 1080 if they really try hard, is the most the "next gen" consoles can ever push, if I were a console gamer I'd be piss ed at how ms and Sony ripped me off.

What really bugs me, as a pc gamer, is that since the push is still for high quality graphics over all else, games will continue to have crappy ai and so forth because all the console's limited processing power is going to be focused more on pretty pictures instead of decent gameplay and ai. Look at promises vs reality for the radiant ai system in skyrim, they had to cut all the good stuff so it could work on the antique hardware of the ps3 and 360.
posted by sotonohito at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2015


why not abandon developing games for the PC platform altogether?

PC gaming might die when developers start making games on something besides a PC.

As long as games are originally made on PC, it will always be easier for an individual or small independent team to make (and release) a game for PC than for anything else. So a lot of small-scale innovative stuff will be done first on PC. Notch could never have done what he did with Minecraft without PC gaming.

In addition to Minecraft, there are a bunch of PC-only games like League of Legends and World of Warcraft that are bigger than all but the most enormous AAA console games.
posted by straight at 8:22 AM on June 25, 2015


You can build a pc that is on par with the "next gen" consoles for less than the price of the console

You really can't, like for like. A new windows license from MS and a new 360 controller will run you $150 right there, leaving you with only $250 for the actual box. And if you say that you can get a Windows key from reddit and re-use your existing case and suchlike, then you're in the used market and the proper comparison is whatever the cheapest XB1/PS4 is on craigslist, which seems to be about $200-250.

I don't have either new system, though I'm sure we'll pick up a PS4 at some point, but am delighted they exist for the simple reason that now games are being made for 4-8GB of memory instead of 256MB.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Despite the drastically lower numbers, for many AAA titles PC will produce 25-35% of the profits once the final numbers are crunched. Genre and target demographic are major factors here, so this is hardly universal, but PC releases aren't going anywhere."

Not anywhere close to that. But the per-copy-sold-margin is higher than on consoles.

Shipping a semi-working PC SKU is easy, take whatever you used during development (most people who aren't Naughty Dog have on-par PC builds to test their stuff) polish for a few weeks and ship it at the same time as the console SKU to ride along the marketing campaign. The problem is it'll most likely be a bad release, cause even if it works for the dev team, doesn't mean it works on other systems.

Compared to a console you have a crazy number of configurations to test, different hardware configurations, different drivers installed, crazy software installed that'll cause issues, you'll add options to enable/disable features in your game to allow less powerful machines to run it which will make you testing harder. There are bugs you can't even fix cause you're waiting for nVidia or AMD to get their shit together and fix the driver, which usually you'll be able to work around on consoles. Also your framerate will usually be worse until nVidia and AMD release the drivers updated to make your game a bit faster (hopefully this will change with DX12 and Vulkan). Shipping a cutting edge graphics PC game without having AMD and nVidia providing private support is almost impossible.

And if you're farming it out to a different team, you basically end up with developpers who don't really know how the game works, and make a bunch of terrible decisions on how to adapt it for a general release on PC and they probably didn't have much time to adjust anything after the console SKU was done, yeah, recipe for disaster.
posted by coust at 8:33 AM on June 25, 2015


The most glorious absurdity in this story, for me, is that the companies are issuing special patched drivers to make games work. Really?
Many years ago, I briefly worked at NVIDIA on the DirectX driver team (internship)... My job was to get games that were broken on Vista, dismantle them from the driver level, and figure out why they were broken...

Nearly every game ships broken. We're talking major AAA titles from vendors who are everyday names in the industry... Then somebody would go in, find out what the game screwed up, and patch the driver to deal with it. There are lots of optional patches already in the driver that are simply toggled on or off as per-game settings, and then hacks that are more specific to games - up to and including total replacement of the shipping shaders with custom versions by the driver team...

it's been understood for quite a few years now that you cannot max out the performance of any given GPU without having someone from NVIDIA or AMD physically grab your game source code, load it on a dev driver, and do a hands-on analysis. These are the vanishingly few people who have actually seen the source to a game, the driver it's running on, and the Windows kernel it's running on, and the full specs for the hardware.
And that guy doesn't mention the obvious motive that, for NVIDIA, it makes sense to reverse-engineer specific fixes for games so that they run better on NVIDIA hardware than to sit back and insist that game developers figure out for themselves how to make their games work on PC cards.
posted by straight at 8:38 AM on June 25, 2015


After Arkham City has you beat Harley Quinn into a miscarriage, can't say I'm terribly surprised about that.

Wait, what? I haven't played Arkham City, but I'm googling around a bit and I'm not seeing that as having happened. Am I missing a joke here, or is this actually part of the game?
posted by JDHarper at 9:50 AM on June 25, 2015


Yet in a few years, when 70" 4K TVs and virtual reality goggles become everyday household items, gaming on a clunky, size-restricted PC monitor will steadily lose its attraction. By then, developers will have figured out how to optimize their code for the PS4 and Xbox One, and visuals will be jaw-dropping.

No way. They can't even push 30 fps at 1080p. The hardware just isn't there to do what you propose.

Meanwhile, high end PCs are already doing 4k at 60fps with awesome visuals!
posted by Justinian at 10:01 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


$342 for a next gen equivalent pc. You are correct, no os is included in that price. Linux is increasingly a viable option, thanks to steam pushing it. But yeah, add another $100 for that.

So I'll walk back my previous statement a bit. For $50 more you can get a console equivalent pc, and make up that $50 in free or steam sale games in next to no time.
posted by sotonohito at 10:41 AM on June 25, 2015


Where do Steamboxes figure in this?
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on June 25, 2015


JDHarper, it's an Easter egg, the details are inferred from a medical report found somewhere in the game that you would be extremely unlikely to find accidentally.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:55 AM on June 25, 2015


Speaking of which: do not preorder Star Wars Battlefront, from the same dev team. Really, don't preorder any game from a major producer.
posted by Nelson at 9:07 AM


Oh - that explains EA's comment about Battlefront. I was like - shouldn't that already be understood?

(That is - EA says they're willing to hold of releasing until it's ready and not broken... which... I mean... remember how back in the day, that was sorta... the goal? Before Day 1 Patches and all that other bullshit).
posted by symbioid at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2015


Wait, what? I haven't played Arkham City, but I'm googling around a bit and I'm not seeing that as having happened. Am I missing a joke here, or is this actually part of the game?

There's no medical report involved. When you go to Harley's home in Arkham City, there is a positive pregnancy test sitting out, and if you scan it then she sings "hush little baby" during the credits. In the Harley Quinn's Revenge DLC that happens two weeks after the main campaign story, you go back there, and you see that positive test sitting in a crib with a bunch of negative pregnancy tests littered on the floor around it.

And the only real thing that happens with Harley Quinn between these two moments is Batman slamming her torso-first into walls, pillars, lockers, the floor, etc about thirty times.
posted by kafziel at 11:48 AM on June 25, 2015


Wait, so on one side, we have the game companies "waiting for AMD/nVidia to fix their broken drivers" and on the other side we have AMD and nVidia loading the games into a dev setup, seeing the blatantly broken game code, and then *breaking the driver in a new way* to make the code work?

No wonder this problem never gets fixed. Of course the drivers are buggy as hell. They're require to run code that in fact doesn't follow the documented specs in any way shape or form. Worse, that driver is switching code in and out depending on what game is running, which makes it enormous, and what do we call enormous code bases? Unmaintainable.

I'm honestly surprised anytime even runs.

I mean, seriously. "One D3D9 game never even called BeginFrame/EndFrame." You're dealing with bugs on the order of "Whoops, I forgot main {}; in my C code" and then blaming the problem on the standard C libraries on the box, and demanding that they be patched so that when your broken program runs, C doesn't need main {}; and EVERY OTHER PROGRAM WRITTEN has some other alteration to the rules, and the box has to track that and switch them in and out, and why the FUCK are you standard C libraries so buggy?

No wonder this industry is so full of misogyny. With that much stupidity running around, OF COURSE IT IS. It would be hard to come up with a worse development model if you explicitly tried to build one.
posted by eriko at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's a dude called Durante here who talks about how to fix Dark Souls display, and is referred to in one post as Based Durante.

Which, to go a little bit further, is a variation of a meme -- in the actual literal sense, not the bullshit meaning of "a funny picture with text on it", although it does involve that, too -- centered around rapper Lil B, aka Based God.

I mention this primarily because I did a little digging myself the other day after seeing multiple variations of "Thank You Based $FOO", and wondering what the hell it meant. Now you don't have to.

</internetanthropology>
posted by jammer at 12:21 PM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


For all it's flaws, it does take a swipe at GamerGate.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:22 PM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting, as I tried to in the OP, that there are a lot of AAA PC ports that are really really good! Even Warner Brothers released a game last year (Shadow of Morder) with an excellent PC port (by Monolith who know what they're doing re: PC games).

My only complaint with the SoM port was the FOV, which was too close for my tastes and couldn't be modified. Fortunately someone made a Cheat Engine script which allows you to customize the FOV (you can see it in action starting around 3:04.)
posted by homunculus at 12:46 PM on June 25, 2015


Eriko, the spec is also sufficiently vague on some points that's it's not always easy to determine who's actually breaking it. None of the people involved are stupid, on the contrary.

The BeginScene/EndScene thing used to be only relevant for PVR types of GPU that need complete buffering of the scene to work. I could see why somebody would forget to call it, it worked on most drivers if you didn't call it. When you do renders to multiple surfaces to build your final buffer, that type of call doesn't make that much sense, I believe it was used for controlling multithreading at driver level though. It's also gone as of D3D11.

The whole opaqueness of the situations just doesn't help, gamedev dude/dudette can't step into the DX framework or the driver so once the call is made stuff is showing up on screen or not and you have to figure it out. The driver dude/dudette doesn't have access to the game code/source data and receives a bunch of calls from the game, a bunch of buffers of DX shader opcopdes that have be transformed for their hardware and must figure out why stuff is not on screen. If both dev are communicating and collaborating things usually go much faster.

There's better tools now to make sense of all that stuff, but it's still not easy to get the full picture.

Not on top of that throw in a middle layer like DX written by MS, an agressively optimizing compiler that transforms the shaders and then another compiler in the driver, hardware bugs that have to be worked around by the driver team, new chips rolling out all the time, poor shaders debugging tools (especially if you want to see what's happening "on chip", not the logical representation of the chip D3D makes you think about), sometimes it's hard to know what's going on.
posted by coust at 12:51 PM on June 25, 2015


"Even Warner Brothers released a game last year (Shadow of Morder) with an excellent PC port"

And then there was Mortal Kombat X back in April. I think it's still having issues on PC. I wonder if Steam refunds had been in place back then would WB have pulled it as well.
posted by Tenuki at 1:18 PM on June 25, 2015


Where do Steamboxes figure in this?

A steambox is sort of the macintosh of PC gaming. It's just a regular computer running a different OS, and valve is selling them prepackaged from reputable brands. Most of them aren't really a good deal bang-for-buck wise scaling up to actually terrible*, but it comes set up and ready to go. And i'm sure when the steam controller is out(which is awesome) you'll get one thrown in the box.

They pretty much exist for people who want a small form factor system to throw in a TV stand and don't want to do the legwork neccessary to cram everything in and make sure it'll work well together. Some of them are custom(like the alienware), most are just parts you could order yourself off of newegg + a fat markup.

*(the alienware alpha is a notable exception and the closest to a decent dael because it includes a controller and is very, very tiny compared to anything possible to build currently... but you could still build a notably superior system for the money even including a windows key)

You really can't, like for like. A new windows license from MS and a new 360 controller will run you $150 right there

Yea, if you include windows it's not really possible to have *more* power, you just very slightly exceed it for $400. But including a controller isn't really fair. The controller for a pc is... the keyboard and mouse. And a decent set of reasonable quality brand name "gaming"(ie high dpi mouse, etc) stuff for that is $25 or so. It really adds more like 100, not 150.

Including windows, the good stuff where you're massively more powerful is ~$500. This is why i usually advise my friends on tight console-priced budgets to just hit up craigslist, at least for all but a few key components if not everything. Ive gotten someones entire setup, including the freaking desk on craigslist for $400 though... and it was a stupendously monstrous computer, nice monitor, great peripherals, quality speakers even. There's $150 PS4s on there too, but meh. Buying even a few games from like, GMG or on sale somewhere else closes that gap instantly when you're thinking about value for money. PC games are often on sale on launch day.
posted by emptythought at 2:17 PM on June 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, and there will be no improvement in console graphics as time passes for this generation. Prior generations did have funky hardware with stuff to tweak. The current consoles are just standard pc hardware. What you see today is as good as it'll ever be

People are still figuring out ways to get more out of the original standard PC hardware, which is nearly 35 years old. It would be pretty weird if developers didn't continue to improve their tools, their engines, and their techniques.
posted by aubilenon at 2:39 PM on June 25, 2015


A steambox is sort of the macintosh of PC gaming. It's just a regular computer running a different OS, and valve is selling them prepackaged from reputable brands

To be pedantic, Valve is defining specs, and providing the Linux-based OS, but the vendors (e.g., Alienware) are the ones selling them, similar to how Windows PCs are sold. Though it sounds like Valve is also going to make a Valve-branded Steam Machine themselves.
posted by aubilenon at 2:50 PM on June 25, 2015


You really can't, like for like. A new windows license from MS and a new 360 controller will run you $150 right there.

If you buy a Windows license or install Linux on it, you get a gaming system that is a full-fledged desktop computer instead of game console/media box.
posted by nathan_teske at 3:20 PM on June 25, 2015


I think there has been both underselling and overselling in this thread on the PC vs. console pricing. What I'd say is:

For 1.5x the price of a console, you can build a computer which you can use for gaming for two console generations. (I.e. if you built your computer back when the XBox 360 came out, you would have paid 1.5x the price of an XBox 360, but that computer would be able to play both XBox 360 games and, later, XBone games.) So the initial outlay is a bit bigger than the purchase of a console, but not way bigger, and over the long run it's cheaper than consoles, but not way cheaper.
posted by Bugbread at 4:23 PM on June 25, 2015


You're not taking into account the price of the games. Steam sales can save you hundreds of dollars easy.
posted by Justinian at 4:24 PM on June 25, 2015


Justinian: "You're not taking into account the price of the games. Steam sales can save you hundreds of dollars easy."

That's what I thought, too, but then I talked with a friend who is a dedicated console player. He buys his games online, plays them, and then sells them on Amazon for almost the price he bought them for. So he plays brand new games and they cost him $10 or less, and I wait a year to get those games on Steam for $20 or so. Like, I'm still looking forward to playing Dark Souls II, but over a year later, even during Steam sales it still costs $30. My friend played it when it came out and, if memory serves me, I think he actually made money off of that one (wtf?).

I still prefer the convenience of Steam, so I'm not going back to console, but I think the Steam sales vs. console reseller market can be effectively considered as a draw and disregarded when comparing system prices.
posted by Bugbread at 4:32 PM on June 25, 2015


Sure, but he no longer has the games. If you want to buy physical copies of PC games and sell them after you're done you can do that too!
posted by Justinian at 4:55 PM on June 25, 2015


wait wut?

I thought most AAA games were tied to individual computers/accounts to prevent piracy, making them mostly unsellable.
posted by Bugbread at 5:05 PM on June 25, 2015


For 1.5x the price of a console, you can build a computer which you can use for gaming for two console generations

This makes sense to me, though I also don't think you can buy many big-name pc games that don't require a login to steam/uplay/origin. PC also gives you access to humble bundles, though, which can be really cheap for back-catalog games.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:18 PM on June 25, 2015


Some are, Bugbread, but those would be tied to individual accounts on console as well.
posted by Justinian at 6:48 PM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah, okay, things have changed, then. At the point where I got rid of the XBox 360 things were going that direction with multiplayer often being tied to accounts, but I generally either bought only single-player games, or, for multiplayer games, never activated the multiplayer part, so even if I resold the game, it would be "like new".
posted by Bugbread at 7:01 PM on June 25, 2015


Some are, Bugbread, but those would be tied to individual accounts on console as well.

Pretty sure that's not so.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:11 PM on June 25, 2015


I don't get it. Isn't this post referring to games that suck, or at least, are terribly buggy and well-night unplayable?

Well, for me, eBay feedback is generally completely meaningless and without utility, same as calling a game an "AAA" game.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:19 PM on June 25, 2015


(I.e. if you built your computer back when the XBox 360 came out, you would have paid 1.5x the price of an XBox 360, but that computer would be able to play both XBox 360 games and, later, XBone games.)

Are you forgetting that the XBox360 came out in 2005? You could not have build a machine in 2005, for any amount of money, that could play current AAA titles.
posted by aubilenon at 12:39 AM on June 26, 2015


Wow. Yeah, I guess I am forgetting it came out that long ago. Maybe it's because I built my PC a long time before the XBone came out, so I'm thinking "It's straddled two consoles", forgetting that it was built square in the middle of the 360's era, not the start.
posted by Bugbread at 1:19 AM on June 26, 2015


This makes sense to me, though I also don't think you can buy many big-name pc games that don't require a login to steam/uplay/origin. PC also gives you access to humble bundles, though, which can be really cheap for back-catalog games.

Not sure what you mean by this. Steam, at least, is free, and it's a store—many games use it for copy protection, but it's not a paywall for online functionality or anything like that. It's also a vector for very cheap game delivery.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:07 AM on June 26, 2015


He's saying, as you said yourself, that many games use it for copy protection. And the way that copy protection works (tying something to an account) makes it impossible (as far as I know) to later resell the game.
posted by Bugbread at 6:48 AM on June 26, 2015


Sure, that's true, but it seemed a non-sequitur in the context. I mean, how is that a bad thing? If I can buy a game on sale for a few bucks (which I've done many times), reselling it is of secondary concern. Given the pitiful price you generally get for console resales, that seems like an insignificant factor.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:09 AM on June 26, 2015


It matters a bit since the games aren't on sale for a few bucks until a year or whatever after release, so if you primarily want new games you don't buy on sale.
posted by Justinian at 12:17 PM on June 26, 2015


sonic meat machine: "reselling it is of secondary concern. Given the pitiful price you generally get for console resales, that seems like an insignificant factor."

I'm a PC gamer, but, like I said, my console gamer friend plays games right when they come out, and then resells the games on Amazon for almost the amount he paid for them (far from a "pitiful price"). So he played Shadow of Mordor, for example, when it came out, and after reselling, it only cost him $10. I'm going to be waiting probably two years or so for Shadow of Mordor to be $10 on Steam. And don't make me even think about Grand Theft Auto V. Between waiting for a port and waiting for a sale, it'll probably be 2017 before it hits $10 on Steam - Four years after my friend played it on his XBox.

I still prefer the PC, for the convenience, and for the fact that I already have a PC, so it's basically a "free" gaming console, so I'm not arguing for console superiority or anything. But reselling is not an insignificant factor.
posted by Bugbread at 4:56 PM on June 26, 2015


Hmm. I guess reselling returns have improved since my console years. I used to buy a $50 game and then get maybe $15 back. If I was lucky. Maybe they've stopped being so aggressive with re-issues of popular games?
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:13 PM on June 26, 2015


Yeah, I think the key is going through Amazon, but I'm not sure. I always resold to this online used game shop, and I didn't get nearly as much as he did, but I got a lot more than, I gather, people get from Gamestop or the like.
posted by Bugbread at 5:26 PM on June 26, 2015


if you resell immediately a lot of places will give you more than 1/2 the purchase price back - you can resell for almost all of the purchase price on ebay and the like if the game is in demand. every week that goes by resell value tends to fall, though, so you have to want to burn through the games.
posted by nadawi at 6:19 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


It matters a bit since the games aren't on sale for a few bucks until a year or whatever after release, so if you primarily want new games you don't buy on sale.

Who the hell are you mutants who actually have time to play a new game on launch? I've had a full time students reading backlog level list of "must play" games getting stacked up faster than i work through it since the end of high school. There's no point in me buying a game before it's under $20, or even under $10 anyways because i won't even have worked my down to it until it is.

And i consider myself a Person Who Plays Games.

I'll occasionally make an exception for like, a first party nintendo title or something that's primarily multiplayer my friends are all jumping on. But single player story driven shit? Nah, that goes in the pile.

I literally haven't even booted up mass effect 3 yet.

There's also the point that, even if you are playing new games they somehow manage to still be on ridiculous sales right at launch or even before.
posted by emptythought at 3:40 AM on June 27, 2015


emptythought: "Who the hell are you mutants who actually have time to play a new game on launch?...i consider myself a Person Who Plays Games."

<Wipes brow, squints at engine>
"Welp, that's yer problem right there"

There are maybe four to six games a year I want to play. So I've got two or three months to play each game, and I tend to play intensely for three weeks, then kinda off and on for another few weeks, and then one day I think "Man, this feels like work now", and I uninstall the game. And then there's like a month or so of playing nothing. Like, right now, I've got no games on my plate. When GTA V or Dark Souls II or Shadow of Mordor or Witcher 3 get cheap enough, I'll buy them, but right now I'm just twiddling my thumbs, having gotten tired of Assassin's Creed The Pirate One in March and Terraria in May.
posted by Bugbread at 7:13 AM on June 27, 2015


I just don't understand the appeal of selling games. I replay a lot. Heck, I loaded up Master of Magic just a few days ago and that's 21 years old. Several months, or years, or whatever after I play a game I often have the urge to play it a bit more.

Each to their own style I suppose, but I'm definitely not upset about the lack of resale in Steam.
posted by sotonohito at 12:23 PM on June 27, 2015


Huh, there are maybe six games I want to play right now. So many games, so little time.
posted by Justinian at 1:12 PM on June 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


First patch is out.
posted by Auz at 3:08 PM on June 27, 2015


sotonohito: "I just don't understand the appeal of selling games."

Different people have different ways of enjoying things. When I play games, I stop when I'm no longer enjoying the game, and it feels like work. And no matter how much later I resume or restart the game, it's like I pick up where I left off - feeling like work. I loved Just Cause 2, played the heck out of it on XBox. It eventually felt like work, so I stopped playing. Years later, it was super cheap on Steam, so I rebought it, started playing...and about 15 minutes in, I was like "This isn't fun, this is work". Same goes for AAA games (replaying GTA games) and indie games (replaying Zen Bound, Dwarf Fortress, etc.). My mind just apparently doesn't reset, so if I stopped playing because I was no longer enjoying it, taking a break does nothing, even if that break is years long.
posted by Bugbread at 3:15 PM on June 27, 2015


Right, which is why I said "each to their own" in my comment. I'm not condemning selling games, I'm just saying I didn't include it in my analysis because it's so alien to me I literally didn't think about it.
posted by sotonohito at 5:47 PM on June 27, 2015




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