What’s Really Holding Back PC Games?


I’m going to try to make this my last post connecting to The Witcher 3 before I actually play the game (which will probably be long after its hype dies down). Another point of discussion regarding its technology is whether or not consoles are the reason the final game doesn’t look like its initial reveal videos. I think that assertion misses the whole point.

CDProjekt RED has confirmed it built Witcher 3 on one renderer between both consoles and PC, in some ways essentially using the “weaker” consoles as a baseline. I imagine that yes, Witcher 3 may have looked a lot different were it not made for consoles at all. Developers increasingly making their games around consoles instead of mid or high-range PCs probably has held back certain gameplay aspects or graphics engines because of limitations in memory, CPU grunt, and control interfaces. CDPR also said however that Witcher 3 probably couldn’t have been made at all without consoles in the equation, at least not made to be as big and beautiful as it is.

That’s the truth I hope is pretty obvious here: these days almost nobody can afford to make a game so bleeding-edge technologically that it will only run on a GTX Titan or an i5 processor or even a mid-range GTX 960. Not enough gamers own those things to justify it commercially. Right now you’ve got Star Citizen and ArmA III — two games made for very specific audiences, in the case of Star Citizen an audience that’s willing and able to pay a lot of money to finance a game the likes of which they haven’t gotten in years. Bleeding-edge PC games like this were more common in the past because in the past bleeding-edge wasn’t as expensive. Over the last few years the number of big-budget games with high-end graphics has gone way down on all platforms.

Okay, maybe some developers might be able to manage finances better and work out more sustainable models with which to satisfy their core audiences. Regarding console games with mid-range graphics, Atlus and From Software are two great examples. Technically the original Crysis — a 2007 game with graphics that are still impressive today, was able to be considered a success based on just a million copies sold on PC. ArmA III seems to be doing fine with its highly ambitious tech and modestly-sized audience. I still think that going forward games like this will be rare. A new PC-only Witcher game would probably look more like the first Witcher game in order to run on a higher number of computers like Diablo III.

That brings me to possibly my most important point. Discussions about PC gaming seem to always focus on the power of middle-to-high-end hardware, as if that’s the only reason to get into PC gaming. Far from it.

PC gaming is mainly about one thing — flexibility. The fact that it’s an open platform is the one thing that sets it apart from console gaming. You have the more powerful hardware because the hardware is open in the first place, allowing different manufacturers to sell stronger and stronger chips on a consistent basis that run the same games. The whole thing is about being able to play games the way you want to play them, not how the developer or console manufacturer wants you to play them.

I spent around $1000 building a PC around the same time the PS4 came out and it probably runs games much better than any console, but to be honest most of the games I’ve played on it have been rather low-end. With the exception of ArmA III I’ve spent more time playing modest indie games and old school games than trying to run blockbuster games with dazzling graphics at 60 frames per second. Being able to run those games at higher resolutions and frame rates than consoles comes from the flexibility first, the added power second. Because of its open nature PC will always have more exclusives than consoles, and most of those exclusives are going to be technologically modest games. That doesn’t change the fact that you can’t get them on consoles.

Furthermore it’s about the freedom of what to do with those games: what hardware to run them on, where to buy digital games from, and even sharing in the case of DRM-free games. Even Steam — a DRM-based platform, drew me away from PlayStation Network and Xbox Live simply because I feel like there’s more I can do with it. Steam has probably been the primary force getting me into PC gaming, the added power being second.

So, I think if anything held back Witcher 3 or any other high-end game that has a PC version, it was money. Money is what causes developers to focus on consoles or lower-power computers in the first place. Cost is what keeps them from only targeting the most powerful hardware. I don’t think you should blame consoles on the realities of the market.


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