Another PC game has fallen foul to the console curse, with the latest title succumbing to parity arriving in the form of the Ubisoft’s The Division.
And the reason? Because it would be "unfair" to consoles, according to one of the game’s developers.
"We do have to keep it in check with the consoles; it would be kind of unfair to push it far away from them," they said during a Team Epiphany preview of the game.
It’s an odd notion of what is "fair", to say the least.
Downgrading a game’s graphics to appease the console crowd, and in the process preventing it from fulfilling its potential full on PC, seems like the wrong way around.
Why should somebody who has spent two, three or even six more times the money on a gaming PC to get hold of the optimum gaming experience put up with the same level of graphics as those playing the game on far cheaper consoles?
The developer went on to play up the number of adjustable graphics settings on the PC version: "I’m really happy that we’re pushing the PC build as much as we are; there’s a lot more customised options than the console."
That’s right: The Division holds the unwanted title of being the first game to introduce tweakable graphics settings to consoles. So not only is the game not going to take full advantage of gaming PCs, there’s no guarantee it will always run smoothly on consoles.
Who exactly is benefitting here?
I’m all for developers creating games for consoles first to help sales numbers if it means that time is spent on developing a superior PC version for release at a later date.
That said, GTA V took too long to arrive on PC. It was an excellent rendition that took full advantage of powerful gaming hardware and higher resolutions, but a wait that lengthy every time is unrealistic.
PC players acknowledged the time and effort that went into the PC version, and Rockstar’s decision to include an in-game movie editor that was missing from console versions certainly didn’t hurt.
We just need a greater balance.
Think back to the unoptimised PC version of GTA IV, which ran like a slug covered in tar. The reception gamers gave the two titles couldn’t have been more different, and on a personal level it has raised my confidence in Rockstar’s future ports.
A more recent example of a successful console port lies in Rise of the Tomb Raider, which Dutch development house Nixxes Software made shine on the PC.
Featuring image-based lighting, deformable snow, enhanced hair simulation and numerous other PC exclusive options, it looks nothing short of stunning – and I haven’t been able to put it down in the past few weeks.
Do I care that I’ve had to wait four months after it came out on Xbox One? Not one iota.
Ubisoft undoubtedly has its reasons for holding The Division back, and piracy could be one of them.
When discussing its move into the free-to-play arena in 2012, the company’s chairman and CEO Yves Guillemot bemoaned the state of pirating in PC gaming, telling GamesIndustry International that "only around five to seven per cent" of players pay for PC games, "the rest is pirated".
If that’s the case, it’s not being reflected in the figures. PC games accounted for 9% of Ubisoft’s overall sales in the third quarter of its fiscal 2014 year, compared to 14% for the first quarter in 2015.
Its most recent quarter, the first of 2016, sees that figure sit at 23% for the second consecutive quarter. Sure, that accounts for barely a quarter of overall sales, but at least it’s steady.
Surely delivering a knockout experience of what is a beautiful game is the best way of raising that figure further. Ubisoft doesn’t seem to think so.
And no: mods aren’t the answer to the problem. Prevention, in my eyes, is always preferable to the cure. Many PC gamers are happy to tinker and tweak, but I’m confident that many more aren’t.
The Division isn’t the first PC edition to offer a diminished experience compared to its console version, and it will not be the last. It’s just one in a growing line of titles that includes Ubisoft’s own Watch Dogs, CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3. More recently, Mortal Kombat X suffered problems running in 4K.
It’s essential that PC gaming does everything it can to progress, and the fact that the most powerful and customisable platform is playing second fiddle to consoles remains a worrying trend.
It’s time to end this nonsense.