If you’re a big name publisher looking to make a boatload of cash, it’s an inescapable fact you want to hit as many platforms as possible. Bringing a game just to PC, or just to PlayStation 4, effectively carves the majority of your potential audience right out of the picture. It’s why you’ll probably never see an Xbox exclusive Call of Duty - there’s just too much money to be made for Activision by sharing the love.
The upshot in terms of PC gaming is that the formerly ‘console’ experiences have now become the norm on PC. Whereas before there were very few games that straddled the divide, nowadays practically everything bar strategy games and MOBAs makes the leap both ways. If the games market was still how it was in 2000, the list of PC games we wouldn’t have had over the last few months would probably include Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Rise of the Tomb Raider (in its reboot incarnation), Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Just Cause 3.
Now not only do we get these games, but we expect them. And that’s a big win for PC gaming. When EA announced Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, we barely needed to check it was coming to PC. Such games are practically a given. It’s meant millions of normally console-only gamers moving to PC, and PC gaming has swelled as a result.
Every silver lining has a thunderous rain-cloud lurking within it though. Where previously PC gaming was at the undisputed forefront of graphical horsepower and ambitious ideas, graphics pushing PC exclusives are hard to come by these days. Instead it’s the console ports and cross-platform games which set the visual benchmarks. Hopefully they look nicer and perform better on PC, but it’s not always a given. I’m looking at you, Batman: Arkham Knight.
What can happen then is that the bottom-tier console version, usually Xbox One at this point, is taken as the benchmark through which all others perform. Whatever crazy ideas are in a development studio’s minds, what they create has to be possible on an Xbox One. Not necessarily just visually, but also gameplay mechanics. If the Xbox One can’t handle crowds of 1000+ people, or advanced physics based destruction, then it’s not going to happen on other platforms. You might have spent $2000 on a gaming PC, while someone else is using a $300 Xbox One, but the experiences you have will been scaled down to accommodate the lowest denominator.
We saw it recently with Ubisoft, who vehemently denied console versions had held back the PC edition of The Division, despite word from an anonymous Ubisoft developer. We don't know the truth of this situation, although it certainly raises a few questions. Is it fair that you can spend thousands of dollars on a PC, and a developer could intentionally make a game look worse in order to not upset an audience which spent a fraction of the cost on hardware? Do you even care if it looks no better?
There is a flipside to this of course. Games on console are typically more expensive. If you’re a PC gamer you’re usually getting a cheaper game, that looks better, and probably wouldn’t have existed were it not for the console audience buying it in its millions.
To that end, I guess, how would you feel about paying more for games that were designed to take advantage of high-end PCs? Essentially handing over extra cash for more premium experience?