Transparency: Why do PC games turn out worse than consoles?

PC ports are bad and getting worse. Let's study Batman: Arkham Knight to find out why.

This week, I was ashamed to be part of perpetuating the hype surrounding the gaming industry.

Normally, I love games and their creators. Of course, there are always the negative things in gaming, but for the most part, creators and gamers alike love what they do and love their creations. Games hold an intrinsic value that goes beyond the cost of making or buying the game. Like any artistic medium, we become attached to games because the meaning of the game becomes more than just the pixels on the screen. Sometimes, we are attached to the nostalgia other times we are attached to the memories of gathering around the television with friends playing Rock Band. However, some games like the Batman: Arkham series are really good games on multiple levels -- story, mechanics, and nostalgia.

But what happened to Batman: Arkham Knight? Just one quick look around GameSkinny, and you can see what happened and why PC gamers were upset about the latest installment in the series. But what you don't see is the reasons why it happened from the developer's perspective. And you probably will not hear the actual story for many years if ever. However, experience in the games industry can give you insight in why this and other PC port SNAFUs happen.

The battle of the publisher vs. the developer

Making a game is not easy. Making a triple-A game is even harder. Many gamers like to think that a game can be made in some guy's basement then sold on Steam or the Xbox store to make millions. And it's true that sometimes this can happen. There is a wonderful documentary called Indie Game: the Movie that you can watch on Netflix that tells the story of how Super Meat Boy and Fez were made. Those are both games that were pretty much made by a couple of guys and a dream. Unfortunately, they are the exception to the rule and they are clearly not triple-A games.

I had a college professor who told me once, "if you want something done you have three choices: have it done quickly, have it done well, and have it done cheap. Pick two." When you want anything artistic or crafty done, you have to know what you're getting into. Sometimes publishers tend to forget that game developers are actually some of the lowest paid engineers on the planet. So if they want it done well, it’s not going to be fast. And if it’s got to be done quickly, well then, it ain’t gonna be good.

I believe someone at Rocksteady or Warner Bros. forgot about the fast-good-cheap rule or someone grossly underestimated what it would take to produce a game at the level of Arkham Knight. Or maybe it was someone completely different that made the mistake.

In the gaming industry, it’s not uncommon for one studio to lead a project’s big thinking and design and another studio handle the grunt work. To Rocksteady’s credit, it appears to have one the vast majority of work on the project and the only thing that third-party Iron Galaxy appears to have done was the PC port.

It seems rather convincing that the problem with Batman: Arkham Knight was solely in the hands of Iron Galaxy, but I believe that it is much more complicated than that. And I believe at least part of the blame falls on the publisher Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. ultimately has the say as to when a game is released, and clearly somewhere along the line, Rocksteady believed that it wouldn’t finish the game by the release date that Warner Bros. set up. Of course, we don’t have a recording of the conversation, so we don’t know who actually called on Iron Galaxy to do the PC port, but given the history of Iron Galaxy Studios, it was likely not chosen to do the PC port because they specialized in creating PC ports. So likely they were picked because it was cheaper for Warner Bros. to outsource than to have Rocksteady hire more people. Or perhaps Rocksteady picked them because Warner Bros. wasn’t giving the studio anymore money to work with and a deadline had to be met. Regardless, the cheap and fast options were being chosen, and that meant that it would not be good.

A tough decision and a disturbing trend

Of course, I don’t think that anyone could have predicted that Arkham Knight would perform this poorly on a PC when the contract was first given to Iron Galaxy. However, a decision was made somewhere along the lines to spend less time and money on the PC port of the game. And looking at the past performance of triple-A titles on a PC, it’s easy to understand why.

Batman: Arkham City released on four consoles: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC. Of course, the Wii U was taken off the table this time around so there is no real reason to look at those numbers, but we look can at the sales figures for PS3, Xbox and PC. The PC port of Arkham City sold about 510 thousand copies, which isn’t too bad, to be honest. However, it pales in comparison to either one of the console releases. Over 4.6 million copies were sold on the Xbox, and over 5.2 million sold on the PS3.

This doesn’t look like it would be a hard decision. If you had a limit amount of money, where would you cut back? Yeah, me, too. The problem is that we don’t know why more money wasn’t dropped into the PC port. We don’t know if it was Warner Bros limiting it or if it was Rocksteady’s mismanagement.

Either way, this is a disturbing and growing trend in triple-A games. Concentration is placed on the consoles, and less emphasis is placed on the PC versions of games. Recently, we saw this prominently with Watch_Dogs. But it’s not alone, some games don’t even release on PC or release really late on a PC, like Grand Theft Auto V.

Unfortunately, for we PC gamers, there isn’t a lot we can do about it except one very important thing: stop paying for crap games. And conversely, show that good games can make it on PCs by buying them. In the end, the gaming world will be better for it.

Published Jun. 27th 2015
View Comments
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    Definitely Warner Bros fault. They gave a miniscule amount of time and money for them to port it and this is what happens. Seems like Rockstar with GTAV are the only triple A developers that realize that an extra year and some change of development for a PC port is absolutely worth it. Make the game work and make it scale on PC, or we'll hate you.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    I'd like to agree, but I don't know for certain how much money was given to Rocksteady nor how it was managed by the developer.
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    Well yeah, I'm sure pretty much everyone involved have some blame, but I think it's safe to say the root cause of all of it would be the publisher demanding unrealistic release dates.

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