Digital Tabletop: Concerning PC Gamers

So lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time playing on my PC. I have a nice gaming laptop that can run pretty much anything I throw at it with all the settings cranked and still put out nice enough frame rates that I don’t have to adjust much. I do have a PS3 and a Wii, but the Wii is usually gathering dust, and while I do play quite a bit on the PS3, most of my preferred games, read RPGs and MMOs, are on my laptop. That coupled with Steam having had some amazing deals in the last few months led to me raiding their store for games as well.

The last few recent games I’ve played I’ve noticed have alarming issues with the PC versions. Rage on PC was virtually unplayable by half the people who bought it, Jurassic Park: The Game had serious control issues when it came to using the keyboard and mouse to play, and the biggest culprit I’ve been playing is Skyrim. I’m mentioning Jurassic Park, because to finish the game I had to use a friend’s Xbox 360 controller to actually get past certain points. I had originally borrowed it for another game however, a certain RPG set in Nord controlled lands.

Skyrim on PC has an atrocious user interface. You get into it and instantly tell it was designed from the ground up for a console and very little was done to make it easy to use on a PC. All sense of logic when scrolling through menus is out the window, as certain sections of the menu you have to use the keyboard, other portions the mouse wheel, and yet another portion you have to use the actual mouse pointer itself. This is coupled with the fact that the menu and the game itself only responds to about two-thirds of the key presses you’re throwing at it, so if you’re in combat, say, and open up your favorites to change spells, you could end up healing your companion instead of yourself because you hit the wrong spell even though you know you hit the right amount of keystrokes to get there. That is, of course, if your spell goes off in the first place. It’s not just me and my variety of keyboards I’ve tried. My wife, my son and two of my other friends that have it on PC are noticing this as well. On top of that, assigning actions to your mouse can be an exercise in patience as half the time the game thinks I’ve assigned something to the opposite mouse button than I wanted. That makes combat even more exciting when you’re doing that on the fly.

All that changes when I plug in that 360 controller. Sure I lose that nifty zoom in and out option and am either in a standard third person or first person view, and aiming with arrows is a chore, but the menu responds properly, and you can tell just by using the controller that they designed the menu system to use a controller first and must have added keyboard and mouse support later and did it extremely sloppily. Outside the menu the game plays relatively the same, but response times seem faster with the controller, every button I press has the immediate action I told it to do, and changing out spells or weapons to the button I want works every time, unlike the mouse.

We’ve heard from developers time and again that they develop for the console first and we can infer that as PC gamers, we should be grateful we get anything at all. Pirates you see, and difficulty developing for the PC platform. Take Transformers War For Cybertron as an example here. High Moon did a fantastic job on this game on console. Knowing I would have a bunch of friends to play this with on PS3 I picked it up for the console, and being active in the Transformers community I got to hear about all the nightmares with the PC version, bugs, control issues, etc. Then Activision and High Moon announced DLC maps and characters for the consoles. PC gamers were basically told that they wouldn’t be getting that DLC because it would be too hard to distribute it. Last time I checked, EA and Bioware had a pretty good system for getting DLC to PC users for Dragon Age and Mass Effect. You’re telling me a company that’s partnered with Blizzard, the company that makes primarily PC games, can’t find a way to get DLC to PC players? They could have sold the DLC on a disc, or put it up on Steam, any number of things. No, they chose instead to ignore a portion of their customer base instead. A customer base that will shrink with the next release in the series because of the poor treatment they received on the last title.

Now these same companies who dropped the ball on their PC titles wonder where their PC game sales have gone. No support, half-assed ports to the PC, no DLC when the consoles are getting it, insane DRM; there’s a reason people have left the PC market and it’s not all hardware requirements on new games. There are those of us who are still here and like playing on a computer or laptop. Valve understands this. EA is starting to get it as well as they’ve made their own download service to sell to us. Personally I think they should have stuck with Steam, but I’m just a PC playing grunt who likes to keep things simple, what do I know?

It’s gotten to the point where I actually have to make hard decisions about what platform I get my games on anymore. Mass Effect 3 is a no-brainer as I had gotten the first two games on my PC, even with the Origin requirement I don’t see myself picking up the PS3 version when I’ve got two games worth of saves to import. On top of that, registered disc copies can download off of Origin, which came in handy when my disc copies were stolen along with my laptop during the break-in this summer. So it has its uses. The only reason I got Deus Ex on PS3 was the sale price on Black Friday was cheaper than the PC version and my wife is awesome. My wife is a PC gamer at heart. She loves to play games on her laptop. She barely touches the PS3 as most of her RPGs and games are on her laptop. The Wii kicks on when she wants to goof off with Tennis, or one of the other Carnival style games she’s got, but those are also on her phone in some fashion, so that one sits dormant most of the time unless we have a group of people over and want to goof off with the Wii. My son is also mostly a PC gamer and he uses Steam almost more than I do.

Gaming companies, in general, are missing the boat when it comes to PC players, and honestly, I can’t blame people for swapping to console when all we seem to get is disappointing port after disappointing port. Some companies do actually take the time to optimize for PC, and my hats off to them. I like being able to tweak my graphics options and have my keyboard and mouse actually make things happen on the screen. They are a pretty basic way of inputting information into a computer and have been the standard in home computing for awhile now. Programming a game to use them properly should not be hard at this point. While I like having the option to use a controller, it shouldn’t be the better way to play a game on PC, it should be an option, like turning off anti-aliasing or cranking the textures and shadows all the way up.

I think as long as there are MMOs being made and the consoles keep making it difficult to run MMOs on them, there will still be a PC market. How well that market stays afloat really depends on the support the game companies give their PC titles. Piracy isn’t the big problem with games on PC, at least in my extensive gaming circle of friends. The companies short-changing their customers, offering lackluster product support and getting disgusted by bugs, DRM and how poorly the games work that are driving them away.

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