Following Watch_Dogs’ release on PC, a month ago, its optimization problems, and the locked file debacle, many questions were raised about next-gen titles and PCs. Let’s talk about that.
So, after Watch_Dogs was released, many users discovered the PC version was not up to par with the E3 2012 presentation. Not only that, but the game was poorly optimized, and it struggled to run properly on max-settings, even on the beefiest of computers.
This is not what we got
Of course, Ubisoft has never been a friend of the PC. The developer has a long history dotted with poorly optimized titles, problematic DRM, and unreleased PC games.
Almost two weeks ago, a modder called “TheWorse” revealed that there were files making Watch Dogs look like the E3 2012 presentation, locked. Obviously, a path / mod popped up. It was also reported that there was no performance in fact, some sources said the game ran smoother. This whole debacle sparked up an interesting debate.
This is (sort of)
Why was the PC version gimped?
Conspirators might say it was purposefully dragged down on PC, at the behest of Microsoft and Sony. After all, PCs shouldn’t be miles ahead of the new-gen consoles, both in performance and looks, right? Others, dismissed the issue entirely, or attributed file locking to glitches, or considerable chugging in certain instances, or downright crashing. After all, the game wasn't working flawlessly to begin with. Ubisoft actually came out and adressed the discussion, stating:
"The dev team is completely dedicated to getting the most out of each platform, so the notion that we would actively downgrade quality is contrary to everything we’ve set out to achieve. We test and optimize our games for each platform on which they’re released, striving for the best possible quality. The PC version does indeed contain some old, unused render settings that were deactivated for a variety of reasons, including possible impacts on visual fidelity, stability, performance and overall gameplay quality.
Modders are usually creative and passionate players, and while we appreciate their enthusiasm, the mod in question (which uses those old settings) subjectively enhances the game’s visual fidelity in certain situations but also can also have various negative impacts. Those could range from performance issues, to difficulty in reading the environment in order to appreciate the gameplay, to potentially making the game less enjoyable or even unstable."
Whilst Watch_Dogs not running and looking as well as expected might not be such a massive problem, you have to wonder if future multi-platform releases will suffer a similar fate? Especially ones coming on new-gen consoles exclusively.
It wasn’t long ago when consoles held PC gaming back. We all recall the dark-DRM age, when Securom and TAGES and the olden StarForce littered PC releases (due to that nasty, nasty piracy issue), when Ubisoft was releasing games with always-online DRM that hurt buying customers more than it hurt pirates. That period is thankfully almost gone, and in no small thanks to the platforms like Steam, Origin, GoG, Greenman Gaming, which provide a great deal of convenience to the average user. PC has seen a massive growth in the past few years, and right now it towers next to the new-gen consoles, and it will continue to grow.
Unfortunately, remnants of said dark-ages are still a problem. Multiplatform developers & publishers didn’t change their attitude towards PC. Watch_Dogs is a perfect example of that.
There is a lack of faith in PC as a whole. Sure it’s treated as an ideal place for MOBAs, MMOs, Indies, and Free-to-play titles, but not so much for the traditional AAA games. This is in no small part to what the PC is. A versatile machine that could be continuously updated. It isn’t set in stone like a console, and it uses multiple ways to game, from keyboard & mouse, to controller, joystick and racing wheel.
This kind of option is great for the consumer, but not as great for the developer, who needs something set in stone to work with.
However, when PC gets a dedicated developer it pops out gems like Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, a gorgeous game even by today’s standards.
In the upcoming years, the current multiplatform attitude might not be good enough. PC is growing as a platform (evidence of that is the resurgence of strategy games and old-school RPGs). Hardware will become even more affordable. Soon enough, it will be harder and harder for developers to overlook its most vocal audience.
Unfortunately, it seems that day is yet to come.