If you’ve been connected to PC gaming, even remotely, over the past year or two, you’ve sensed a certain heat emanating from the community. A rising sense of frustration that things are bad and getting worse. Many PC gamers feel like they’re reaching a breaking point, and it’s hard not to sympathize.
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The PC gaming market has been hit by a string of perfect storms of late, and they all appear to have converged in 2023 in a massive cloud of bad vibes, the impact of which is particularly felt at the pricier AAA end of the market.
First, the pandemic has caused an absolute glut of graphics cards, driving Nvidia insane and resulting in three years of releases and prices well beyond most sane people’s guesswork. Then some blockbuster games dropped that didn’t do very well. Then something else. Then more. Once-beloved studios have been gutted by years of mismanagement and attrition (the two things are related). Meanwhile, game prices have crept up, and DRM continues to haunt so many games and hamper their performance.
Everything is bad. And gamers want someone to blame. So they take it out on supposedly lazy developers, they take it out on the QA who should have found those bugs, they crucify company executives who are only in business to make a player’s life worse. They even blame each other and point fingers at those who keep buying broken and bad games at launch (or worse, before launch), which all just encourages it.
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However, the anger has an incoherence. Punches are thrown in the dark. There’s a general tension, a sense that the walls are collapsing, that each day brings a new, new horror. There is also a hint of hopelessness that people have been complaining about these problems for months, years, decades in vain. Parties and people are blamed, but nothing ever seems to stick or make a difference. But the need to hit something is there, so the hits keep flying anyway.
It can feel like every major PC release is bad, but to make matters worse, no two bad releases are bad for the same reasons. The Last Of Us is a bad port, not a bad game. Cyberpunk’s problems stemmed from unfocused gameplay as much as it did from bugs. Battlefield 2042 was pushed out in the middle of a global pandemic. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor seems to be doing well for a lot of people, but not for those with the best hardware, who are also the most likely to complain about it online. Redfall feels like a game made to fulfill a contractual obligation, not because anyone at Arkane really thought it was good.
The problem is that games are rushed out before they’re done, before they’ve been properly tested on a variety of hardware. The problem is that a new generation of consoles – specifically the architecture of the PS5 – has presented new challenges for both multi-platform developers and port studios. The problem is that game development is getting more and more expensive. The problem is that the management of big publishers and graphics card manufacturers are beholden to shareholders who demand steady growth, and the only way to ensure that is to increase profits while cutting costs.
The problem is that video games are really hard to make.
Like I said, a perfect storm. That’s a lot of things trending down at once, making it easy to sympathize with a disgruntled PC gamer at the moment, or at least those who are into the blockbuster side of the market (smaller games by smaller teams playing using fewer resources can’t be affected nearly as badly by all of this). I say that because I’m also a PC gamer first and foremost and I’m very upset about all of this – especially the graphics card bullshit – but also because I can understand the frustration that there doesn’t seem to be a way out.
Some of these problems can be fixed in time. Especially the console port; I have a feeling that a lot of the people who fret about bad PC versions of console games now weren’t around 10-15 years ago, when multiplatform releases on PC were just as bad, if not worse. Console generations don’t always sync cleanly with advances in PC performance, leading to chaotic ports. We’ve been here before. We’ll get through this, as Twitch streamer Casey Explosion summarizes here:
The rest, however, is all just part of broader trends that have been sliding in this direction for decades, but seem only now to have gotten to the point where gamers have gone from annoyed to genuinely angry. EA and Activision shareholders will never decide together, “OK, that’s enough growth, we’re good now.” As video game budgets get bigger and more expensive — a natural consequence of the games’ insatiable need to expand (in terms of graphical fidelity and world size) — the more publishers looking for growth are looking to things like retail pricing, season passes and DRM push and downloadable content. And as long as Nvidia controls so much of the graphics card market, they can do – and charge – whatever they want.
Trying to blame developers, platforms, companies, or even individual executives is like yelling at clouds. Do you think Andrew Wilson is doing terrible things as CEO of EA? I guarantee you the next person to take his place will do the exact same shit. He, and every other person in an executive position at a major video game company, just does their job to the letter.
The one thing all of the factors listed above have in common is that they are all produced by and owed to a system designed to bleed you dry in the name of ever-increasing growth. Every great company is pressured by shareholders, and management, in turn, will continue to pressure their own employees and then pressure you more and more, because that’s the way it all works. Endless growth doesn’t come from a vacuum, it comes from increased profits and reduced expenses. Or in video games — an industry defined by both layoffs and record profits — both at the same time.
Before that there is no escape. The machine does exactly what it was designed to do. Hoping for some kind of AAA miracle that every executive at every major publisher and hardware manufacturer will have a collective enlightenment and make things the way they’re meant to be is the definition of insanity. There is no other way around the downward trend in blockbuster PC gaming than to rely entirely on it and take solace in the fact that, unlike most other platforms, the PC is actually capable of a diverse and support the thriving independent development scene (mainly thanks to Steam). , whose business model is a whole different story). Because the only message a game company hears when their broken games sell is that their broken games will sell.
I understand that people are angry, but it might be time to stop being angry with the trees and try being angry with the forest instead. And if that doesn’t make you feel any better, you can just leave the forest.