Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are publishers TRYING to kill PC gaming? Yes. Yes they are.

Over the past several years, developing games have become a very expensive affair. Because of this, more and more games are going multiplatform and abandoning exclusivity. The age of PC exclusives is coming to a close, and we've seen games come to consoles which no one would consider playing without a PC just a few years ago. FPSes, RTSes and even MMOs are being released on multiple platforms now, simply because they will generate more overall revenue because of it. It's hard to blame a business for wanting to make money, but I do feel that the overall quality of games has deteriorated because of this behavior.

Most recently, we've seen the rise of some very harsh Digital-Rights-Management (DRM) in PC games. The reason is obvious: piracy. It has been a problem virtually as long as games have existed on the PC. I doubt it is possible to completely eliminate the problem of piracy on the PC - nor on any platform on which piracy exists, including the 360 and the Wii right now. Yet this is precisely what Ubisoft, EA and other publishers claim they are seeking. There is considerable evidence that adding more restrictive DRM will only encourage piracy, not dampen it. Take the recent example of Ubisoft's DRM in Silent Hunter 5 and Assassin's Creed II. Both games - and all future Ubisoft games, as of now - require a constant internet connection to play. If your connection or Ubisoft's authentication servers drops out for any reason, the game will stop until the connection is resumed. Even if you are playing strictly singleplayer, as is likely to be the case with both games. Within a day or two of release, Silent Hunter 5 was cracked and pirated en masse. Shortly thereafter, Ubisoft's authentication servers went down, preventing legitimate buyers from playing the game they payed for. The pirates could still play the cracked version just fine.

Do publishers (who certainly are the ones behind the implementation of DRM, not developers) really believe this type of system will stop piracy and increase game sales on the PC? Average gamers such as myself, who do not work in the game industry, can clearly see evidence that it will not. Indeed, DRM like this drives gamers away from the PC platform and from purchasing PC games, because they are in reality being punished for legitimately buying games.

Now ask yourself what is more likely: that game publishers are completely oblivious to this effect of DRM and sincerely believe they will decrease piracy and increase sales, despite all evidence to the contrary; or, that they know full well what they are doing and the consequences of doing so?

The latter seems far more likely. But why would they do it, if they know it doesn't work and only encourages piracy? Because they want to kill gaming on the PC. There are a few reasons they would want this specifically:

A: PC games cost more money to make than console games
While I don't work in the game industry and I don't have evidence to back this up, it seems logical to me. Developing a PC game means ensuring that game will work for a wide variety of hardware and software configurations and versions. With consoles, the hardware is a very known quantity and not as difficult to develop for.

B: Console games make more revenue than PC games
With WoW as the major exception to this point notwithstanding, console games are more profitable to make than PC games. The average gamer doesn't really care about the inferior controls of FPSes on a console, and the RTS genre is now mostly a niche genre anyway. Games simply sell better on consoles now compared to the PC (in general).

C: Game publishers would prefer all gaming to be done on consoles only, with the PC out of the picture

This becomes clear when you consider the previous points and the problem of piracy. Beyond this is the lack of control over their product which game publishers desperately want. Modern Warfare 2 illustrated this when Activision chose not to have dedicated servers or mod support (I firmly believe it was Activision's decision, not Infinity Ward, despite what they may claim). They don't want gamers to modify their game. They don't want gamers to have access to the longevity and moddability of dedicated servers for their games, because they want every customer to switch to the newest game next year when a new one comes out, rather than continuing to play the older one. Publishers want to sell map packs and other content that PC gamers are used to getting for free. Big publishers do not want to compete with free user-created content. The PC simply offers too much freedom for gamers, and too little control for publishers.

I don't think PC gaming will die because of the moves of these publishers, thanks in large part to Steam and Valve's efforts on behalf of our platform. Even so, I do expect large publishers to begin abandoning the platform in the next few years. At the moment, most big releases are developed for consoles primarily and then ported to PC, often to the detriment of the PC version. There are also frequently no demos of games, which PC gamers use to determine if a game will run on their hardware. When publishers do this, in addition to adding obtrusive and restrictive DRM, gamers turn to pirated copies of the game to sidestep the headaches of the DRM or test a game before buying it. When publishers see the high piracy rate of their games, they declare PC gaming is dying and decide to add even more DRM or put even less effort into porting games from consoles - nevermind putting effort into making native/exclusive PC games! If this trend continues - which I've just argued is intentional, so it ought to continue - then many large publishers will eventually give up on the PC platform. They just need to find the right excuse.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let's Play: My First Attempts

I've got some recording software up and running, so I've been attempting some Let's Play videos. If you're not aware, Let's Play means recording myself playing a game and adding commentary. The commentary can be done during or after I play the game itself, but I personally prefer videos with live commentary that reacts to the gameplay. So far, I've made:

a quick test using Peggle Nights,

A full mission in Wing Commander,

and a full (crappy) run of Dodonpachi,

It's a lot of fun to do these things, but it is difficult dividing my attention between playing and talking. I plan to do a few more next week, and I'm definitely open to game requests. I've had one on youtube to do a Dodonpachi Daioujou LP and I'm considering it.