Ubisoft vs. PC Gamers
Exhibit A – Watch Dogs
Just a couple of days ago, we were one of the first outlets to post about the mod for Watch Dogs that unlocks a better looking version of the game. This version is the one that Ubisoft showed off all the way back at E3 2012--yes, 2012.
Back then, Watch Dogs looked incredible; it looked like the first of a slew of true next-gen games, until the later revealing of it when it looked watered down.
Then, in October 2013, Ubisoft delayed Watch Dogs on all platforms for 6 months. The developer said that "Our ambition from the start with Watch Dogs has been to deliver something that embodies what we wanted to see in the next generation of gaming. It is with this in mind that we've made the tough decision to delay the release until spring 2014. We know a lot of you are probably wondering: Why now? We struggled with whether we would delay the game. But from the beginning, we have adopted the attitude that we will not compromise on quality. As we got closer to release, as all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place in our last push before completion, it became clear to us that we needed to take the extra time to polish and fine tune each detail so we can deliver a truly memorable and exceptional experience."
So, Ubisoft had an additional 6 months--on top of the five years in development--to work on the game. But what were these 6 months used for if the version PC gamers received was a watered down experience?
NVIDIA had worked closely with Ubisoft Montreal on the PC version of Watch Dogs, but what was all of that work about if the PC version of the game was gimped? Why would NVIDIA waste its time if Ubisoft was going to lock away all of those pretty graphics it showed off at E3 2012? That's the interesting part.
Why Would Ubisoft Do This?
Consoles are big money pits to developers and studios. We've seen this happen over the last decade or so, beginning with the Xbox really. The Xbox 360/PS3 really shifted game development and concentration of pushing games to gamers in the form of marketing--and other ways--to consoles. PC gamers felt like PC gaming was dying, but PC-centric companies, tech sites, and the media constantly said otherwise.
So, without going into a debate about the future of PC gaming, why would Ubisoft deliberately gimp the PC version of Watch Dogs?
Ubisoft doesn't have the best history when it comes to PC ports, which is something the company is going to have to change rapidly if it doesn't want to be seen as the EA of the gaming industry, something that is happening very quickly in the PC gaming community. Right now, Ubisoft is looking quite bad for gimping the PC version of Watch Dogs, and so they should.
One of the only reasons that make any sense for gimping the PC version of Watch Dogs is consoles. Microsoft and Sony sell tens of millions of Ubisoft games every year across their platforms, so if the PC version stood above and beyond graphically, compared to even the next-gen consoles, gamers would be asking, "Why does the PC version look like that and my Xbox One/PS4 version doesn't?"
It would be a valid question as Microsoft and Sony have only just released their next-generation consoles, and right out of the gate they're not rendering the current games at 1080p. Consoles have been hindering, and downright holding back, PC gaming for nearly a decade.
Those Damn Consoles
Most people don't believe me when I say something like "consoles have held back PC gaming," but they have. Sure, there are arguments on both sides--without consoles we wouldn't have some of the games or technology we have today--but if games were simply designed on the best hardware available (PC) and then scaled down to consoles, we wouldn't have these problems.
The PC should be the development platform, a place where developers create their games with the best possible graphics that scale all the way up to 16-threaded CPUs, 32GB+ RAM, 4-way GPU setups, and of course 4K and triple-monitor setups.
If developers had followed my method 10 years ago, where would we be today? We would have games that would look at least five times better, and games that scale much better across hardware. Consoles could be locked to X resolution and Y frame rate much more easily. It would actually benefit all platforms.
Consoles wouldn't need to be super powerful gaming machines as the PC is there for that job. If you want to build a beast of a PC, you can, but with consoles, every single gamer has the same hardware in their console. This makes making games easier--at least on console--but when it comes to PC, the games have been built for X resolution, which on console is around 720p (or so).
Watch Dogs is an incredibly gorgeous game, because games have been mediocre (in terms of where they could be) over the last few years. But, if what was shown at E3 2012 was better looking than the release in mid-2014, where would Watch Dogs be graphically if Ubisoft had two years to work on it from its unveiling at E3 2012? It feels like we went backwards, doesn't it?
It's Not Just Ubisoft, Either
Ubisoft Isn't the Only Culprit
This isn't a Ubisoft hate piece; they aren't the only one hindering PC gaming. What this piece is about is bringing your attention to the fact that PC games have been getting gimped, and it has been happening for quite some time.
Recent examples would be Skyrim, which when modded looks absolutely mind blowing. Why wouldn't Bethesda want to properly unleash Skyrim to PC gamers? Because it would look five times better than the consoles, which is where the money is.
Grand Theft Auto IV was a mess on PC, and pretty much still is, but when modded, it again looks absolutely incredible. There's some hesitance about GTA V on PC, but most--including myself--are hoping that Rockstar Games has learned its lessens from GTA IV on PC. Max Payne 3 was beautiful on the PC, so there's no reason GTA V should be anything less than completely unrestrained on PC. Rockstar has promised that GTA V on PC will be something special, so let's hope it's not just marketing talk.
These 'modders' are just people on the Internet, fans of the game, who have the skills to make these games look better. The problem is in why the developers wouldn't want to make their games look this good in the first place. Why not hire these developers to work on their next-gen games? Oh wait...it would make consoles look bad again, wouldn't it?
Most games released this year, even the big ones like Titanfall, felt like ports to PC. Games not designed on PC, but designed on under-powered, controller-based consoles and then ported over to the far superior hardware and controls found on a PC. Even Titanfall at 4K isn't that impressive, when it really should be.
EA faced massive backlash over the last twelve months over SimCity 4 and Battlefield 4--Battlefield 4 only just now feels like version 1.0, versus the feeling it was released far too early and in beta form. SimCity 4, on the other hand...well, for those of you that know, that was a huge mess for EA.
Even a once PC-exclusive company like Blizzard had serious issues with the release of Diablo III, which was launched with so many issues that it saw two countries take legal action against Blizzard over the game.
It feels like developers are either not caring about the PC install base or, behind the scenes, the companies who own or distribute their games are forcing them to build on console and, for what it seems, barely test it on PC. If they test it on PC, how are these games even released with show stopping issues?
The Mainstream Definition of Gaming is Skewed
Whenever someone who isn't as technically minded as most thinks about "gamers," they imagine this kid sitting on their couch, controller in hand, abusing some person on the other side of a headset.
Games have been returned to retailers by parents because their kids were complaining that the game itself was so hard they couldn't play it. This has--not fully, but it has contributed--to games being made more simple. This isn't the problem of a "mainstream gamer" but rather because games are developed on consoles.
The big firms, which have so many studios under them now, see consoles as gamers, and PC users as this entire other beast. PC users are using their desktop or notebook computers to use Facebook and watch videos on YouTube, right?
Wrong! The PC gaming market is absolutely gigantic and pretty much overshadows the entire console market. We have gaming peripheral makers like Tt eSports, Razer, and more; we have companies making overclocking and enthusiast specific parts like ASUS, MSI, GIGABYTE, and many more.
Years ago, there was a reason to have all of this increasingly fast hardware, but when a game like Watch Dogs launches, and those three GeForce GTX Titan Black Edition GPUs aren't providing 60 FPS at 1920x1080 or 2560x1440, what's the use? This is the problem, folks. Whether you agree with my point of view or not, this is an undisputed fact.
You can have the best PC that can be built, and drop $10,000 big ones on a custom-built, perfect PC, but it's only as good as what games you're playing. Watch Dogs and games like Battlefield 4 are the games people would be playing, but 3 or 4 GPUs don't scale that well in today's games, even at 4K. There are so many issues attributed to this, and while I'm not saying it is squarely consoles' fault, they are definitely attributing to this mess.
League of Legends, WoW, World of Tanks, and others are now pulling in tens of millions of gamers, more than nearly the whole install base of previous generation consoles, and more than the 12 or so million next-gen console owners. This is a gigantic market, and the right companies are taking advantage of this.
Casual gaming is another big market, and Facebook games that people are obsessed with like Candy Crush, Farmville, etc. are again, big business, so there's no lack of PC gamers. It's just they don't get the games developed on their systems properly.
There are, however, some companies that do build their AAA titles for PC better than others, but they are only a few of these, and it feels like the flood of console ports overwhelms any other developer's attempts at pushing out a quality PC title.
There are Some Companies We Should Hold Responsible
Bigger Fish to Fry
One of the big companies I put the blame on is Microsoft. Back when Sony was making big business with its PlayStation, it began to take over the living room, especially when the PS2 launched. Microsoft saw the threat and decided that the Xbox was the best move: a PC built as a console, without Windows.
It worked, and Microsoft now has a gigantic multi-billion-dollar business because of it. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on Xbox consoles, accessories, and the biggest money-maker of all: games.
Microsoft was so drunk on wanting to compete with Sony that it ditched its PC gaming business to concentrate on Xbox. We've seen Microsoft reiterate its position on PC gaming, but with games being developed on consoles first and then ported to PC, this is nothing but empty words, in my opinion.
If Microsoft teamed up with AMD, NVIDIA, and Intel and repositioned themselves all with the idea that games should be made on PC first and scaled down to consoles, things could work. But game developers and studios would need to be in on this too, which is something I don't see happening in the short term unless Microsoft really pushed it, and pushed it hard.
Valve is a company that is solely dedicated to PC gamers, and the company, in my opinion, is single-handedly saving the PC gaming industry and has been over the last 10 years. Valve has been doing what Microsoft should've been doing, and it doesn't even need to release Half-Life 3 yet.
When the company announced DirectX 12, it should've announced at the same time that it had talked to all of its partners, which would be pretty much every gaming studio on the planet, and that from this day forward, it (along with NVIDIA and AMD who power virtually every gaming console or PC on the planet) wants to see developers making games for PC first, and scale them down to consoles after.
It would've been huge news, something that wouldn't have an effect on the market for another year or two, but by 2015, things would start swinging around. Now, we have a world of games made for still underpowered hardware, the Xbox One and PS4, scaled up to PCs. It makes me sick.
4K, Increasingly Faster GPUs and Other Tech Are Useless
Why should I buy a 4K monitor when games are made for 1280x720? This means that the game is simply upscaling to the increased resolution, so while it looks better, the game world itself isn't made for that resolution. It's like watching a DVD on your $5000+ 4K TV; sure, you can do it, but it doesn't look that great.
Then we have the problem of user interfaces (UIs), which are again made for TVs (and thus consoles). So, when you do have an Ultra HD-capable monitor, the in-game user interface is made for a game that was built with consoles and therefore 720p (or so) in mind.
When 4K becomes mainstream, and GPU makers shift to the 20nm process, we're going to see GPUs that are $200 and much more powerful than what the PS4 and Xbox One are capable of, a GPU that can do 1080p at 60FPS or 4K at 30FPS without breaking a sweat.
Next-gen consoles will never push games out at 4K at a decent frame rate, so we'd need another generation of consoles released for that to happen, something I don't see happening, but it isn't impossible. Maybe we could see an Xbox One Pro or PS4 Pro? Or maybe I'm dreaming.
Controller and input lag is another problem for gamers stemming from games being made on consoles so that they're played on your TV. Console controllers have input lag to deal with, the lag between the controller, console, and TV, something you come to respect when you move to a keyboard and mouse for first-person shooters.
Ask any PC gamer to move to a console for their FPS gaming needs, and I guarantee they'll laugh at you. It just doesn't compete, but now all of these games are being built for consoles, and the aiming systems on first-person shooters don't feel right half of the time.
I won't even dive into the world of virtual reality, but Oculus VR are going to be another Valve in the coming years. Facebook has its business plastered all over PC and mobile, which is where Oculus VR is going with its Rift.
When PC gamers are enjoying truly mind blowing VR games on PC, what will console gamers be saying? Is this why Sony is working on Project Morpheus, so it has something to attempt to retaliate with? Oculus VR is ahead of the game right now, and has basically limitless pockets thanks to Facebook's acquisition.
Where to from here? Nothing will change, unfortunately; I could almost put money down on that. But, there is hope! I see Oculus VR and Valve changing the face of PC gaming in the next five years.
We already know Valve is working on Steam Box, Steam OS, Steam Controller, and allowing PC makers to make Steam Machines. Valve is pushing big time because of Microsoft and the lack of dedication to PC, so Valve is looking toward the light of Linux to power its Steam OS. But unlike Microsoft, Valve will be making its Steam Machine and Steam Box capable of both world's: Steam OS and Windows. You can install Windows onto a Steam Box or Steam Machine and enjoy the best of both operating systems.
Maybe you want to buy a Steam Box and play Battlefield 4 or Watch Dogs. You can install Windows on your machine and play those games. You can't just install Windows on the Xbox One (even though they're both Microsoft devices and operating systems), which is a disappointment. You also can't play Xbox games on the PC, another disappointment, especially considering they basically use the same hardware.
I don't see Microsoft allowing Xbox games to be played on PC anytime soon. We have been waiting years between Halo releases on PC, a disappointment to most gamers.
From here, I see Valve and Oculus VR "saving" the PC industry. There are no games coming out on the horizon that will push for 4K at 120FPS because the games are made on console first. The new Unreal Tournament might be something to look forward to, so I hope we see a giant leap in the graphics department of Unreal Tournament to show the world what developing on PC does for you.
Oculus Rift will push toward 4K before 2016 wraps up, if not 2015. With 90Hz+ displays required and used, 4K at 90Hz is going to require some serious horsepower. John Carmack is on-hand at Oculus VR as the Chief Technology Officer, so without the shackles of a console-dominated employer anymore, he will be able to make magic happen. You won't need a PC capable of 4K+ at 90FPS+, but that's the direction that Oculus VR is at least going in.
Valve will be the star of PC gaming in the future. Half-Life 3, Team Fortress 3, Left 4 Dead 3, and countless other games will put them at the forefront. Services, well, I'm sure Valve will update that when Steam OS is fully unleashed, and more so when Steam Boxes begin shipping.
The future of PC gaming is exciting, but we're going to see a shift of the companies we expected to save things, that's for sure.