Thursday, December 04, 2008

CFE: PC Gaming's Big Problems

THE BACKGROUND: Saw at Voodoo Extreme a link to a brief interview with Bioshock designer Ken Levine in which he said:

What is the industry's biggest mistake?

I'm a real believer in industrial Darwinism. It's hard for an industry to make a mistake because the market tends to be self-correcting...but I wish the industry could find a way to make PC gaming more broadly successful. There are so many challenges for PC gaming--the complications from systems specifications to the drivers--most people look at PC games and say, "What are you talking about?" It's a shame because as a gamer, I am never more comfortable than I am sitting with a mouse and keyboard two inches away from my monitor.
I posted at VE:
Unfortunately, he is right, though it's ironic that his own Bioshock was in the vanguard of PC titles that punished PC gamers with SecuROM shenanigans. It doesn't matter if he didn't want the crap the publisher ladled onto his game; the damage was done.

This has to be the worst year, problem-wise, I've seen in PC gaming in my decade of gaming. I am so fed up, my purchase ratio has swung from about 50-50 PC-to-console to 90-10 in favor of console. Since I buy 90% of my console titles used all PC games new, my shift has not only meant less money for PC game pubs, but console title pubs, too.

Let's count some of the problems of the past year:

* Crysis - A year later, it's still a slide show on the majority of gamers' rigs unless they turn the eye candy down which defeats the purpose of this boring game. When every game you play EXCEPT Crysis will run with all the sliders to the right, something is desperately wrong in the devs heads.

* Gears of War (PC) - It takes longer to install (~45 minutes) than it took me to unlock Half-Life 2 on the disastrous launch day. That's time spent NOT PLAYING. Toss in the widespread bug that leads to all your saved progress being randomly deleted - it happened to a friend after he'd put in many hours and me after about an hour - and it doesn't matter if they added levels.

* Unreal Tournament 3 (aka Gears of Unreal) - Epic sodomized PC gamers a second time by making the PS3 their primary focus and showing utter contempt for the PC, starting with the interface. They could've hired a 17-year-old off a mod forum and paid him a couple cases of Bawls and a trip to a strip club and gotten a better interface in a couple of days. There is no reason why they couldn't have just slapped the UT2K4 front end onto UT3 other than sheer laziness. I'm also pissed that the game crashed every 20 minutes when it worked and now doesn't work at all, but what I saw told me I'd wasted $60 buying the CE on day one. If I'd waited a few months, I could've gotten the same for less than half price.

* Fallout 3 - While I've only had a few crashes and one funny glitch I captured and posted to YouTube, others are having tons of problems. Bethesda also hasn't released the mod tools which made a PC purchase the logical choice. WTF? PC gamers get screwed again. As an extra kicker, when my cable was out and I couldn't log into the Live network, I was unable to play offline with my saved game! WTF is that about?!?

* GTA IV (PC) - A glance at the front page of VE shows had badly botched this port has been. I played GTA III/VC/SA on the PC, but bought another Xbox 360 to play GTA IV when it came out. I was likely to buy the PC version to get the replay editor and higher rez quality, but it appears they've lost another sale.

* Vista Compatibility with Older Games - It's too hit and miss. I can't get Red Alert 2 to run at all and that was a Win2K-compatible title. Blade Runner had graphical corruption until I found out that if you alt-tab back to the Desktop then return to the game, it'll be fine. Your new hot-rod computer is less capable than one from the turn of the century.

* Impulse - Stardock took all their DRM-free goodwill and torched it by releasing a Steam-wannabe client that works fine on WinXP and refuses to run on Vista. (Hey, maybe after it's out a couple more years, they'll learn to code for it.)

* Games For Windows Live - The anti-Xbox Live which showed that all the brains were in the console department. All M$ needed to do was buy X-Fire and rebrand it as an integrated buddy list/game updater/game launcher. How fraking hard would it have been to do that? About as hard as putting a decent interface on UT3, I suppose.

* The Addiction to Punitive DRM - I believe that piracy has received its biggest boost as a direct result of the outspoken attitude that the paying customers are actually predatory thieves robbing developers and publishers of their just rewards. Huh?!? Install limits, irremovable DRM schemes, we know the drill. People who honestly took their money to the store to buy the game were punished for the sins of the real thieves and after getting slapped in the face over and over decided that if they were going to be treated as if they were guilty of something, they may as well save $50 and commit the crime they're being suspected of. How many people downloaded Spore just to stick it to EA? How many sales were lost because people won't pay to be insulted?

The combination of buggy, half-assed games and lousy support and insulting DRM is killing my love of PC gaming. For every Witcher EE (new, improved, DRM-free, and cheap) have been several pooch screws. I have spent at least five hours researching my UT3 problems, un/reinstalling, updating drivers, downloading patches, rebooting and watching it lock up and fail again. Every hour spent futzing with beta drivers for the newest games is an hour not spent PLAYING! (I want to know are these games being developed when the necessary drivers and hardware aren't available until after the game has shipped?!?!?)

I'm a fairly savvy wirehead and while I'm searching the back alleys of teh Intarwebz looking for fixes for my problems, I often pause to wonder WTF civilians who just want to game would do when confronted with the myriad problems PC gamers suffer thru as par for the course? How the hell can we proselytize PC gaming as being a superior experience when it clearly isn't? How can we say to someone, "No, you don't want to buy a $300 Xbox 360 that will play games like Gears of War 2 and Dead Space with stunning graphics, has great online features, and the ability to stream Netflix to your 50" HDTV. You want to spend $1000 and have to constantly update your drivers for every game and not be able to lend or sell the games you're done with and if there's a bug or incompatibility spend hours trying to figure out why it's not working. Hey, why are you looking at me like I'm crazy?"

If PC gaming is dying, it's because it's bleeding to death from all the bullet holes in its feet. Before anyone retorts that it's more fun on the PC because you get to tweak and mod in ways that consoles can't, tell me what that has to do with my complaints that if you just want to play games and have fun. Spending hours monkeying with your systems should be a CHOICE, not a requirement. Most people would rather finish a game than try to get it running in the first place.

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