I hear that old Dido song "White Flag" in my head right now "I will go down with this ship. I won't raise my arms in surrender. There will be no white flag above my door. I'm in love and always will be."
You've heard this kind of thing before but too often it has been insincere. Which promptly calls my comment into doubt. You've done it forever and want to rationalize your own behavior. You're a child who has little or no understanding of impact of piracy. All of the Et al's. It brings up a question I often ask when faced with something I doubt, is it a badly told truth, or a well told lie?
The amount of stuff I've pirated over the years is pretty minimal. An album a couple of years ago that is rarely in print, and exists in the US solely as an import and very hard to get a hold of in the U.S. At all and never for less than about $50.00. Prior to that, nothing for years. I used to use Morpheus, a p2p client, until the napster case went to the supreme court. I had bought my own music for years prior to that, barring a stint as a shoplifter as a teenager born more out of the boredom of suburban existence than a need for music. so it was no big deal for me to go back. Most of the crap I'd downloaded I didn't even like, I just heard it once or twice, it got a handful of listens, and never got played again. I deleted the folders that included the music I'd downloaded, and that was that.
I'm well an adult at this point, and really have had an income of my own for more than half of my life. Generally, I can afford my largely modest wants, and games are not an exception to this. But I've hit a wall. An odd one. The developers have worn down my tolerance. You see, I'm a dedicated PC gamer. This comes across to different people differently. Some people ask why without a hint of sarcasm, others ask why with sarcasm dripping from their lips. It's a spectrum of grey responses for the most part. The only other type I get with any regularity is is more positive, and proffered by other dedicated PC gamers.
I want to move forward with my point, but I also want to talk about my reasons for PC gaming for a moment first. It's not actually wholly pertinent to the topic, but it will clarify some things and provide a little context for my decisions. I wasn't especially enamored of games until early in the previous decade (the aughts). I'd seen the Atari 2600 in it's day and each console since. I was born a year after the Magnavox Odyssey. PCs as well, but like consoles, I'd not been especially interested.
I'd played some games, some of which are now considered classics in some ways or similarly famous for being horrible. Elite and Bards tale I played back on my Commodore 64 as a young teen. I had played E.T. on my friends Atari 2600. I played the first Zelda and Mario 2 on my younger brother's NES. The first Sim City on my Mac Classic I was given for college. I even played pong on a magnavox odyssey when I was a small boy. When the Playstation came out, I was in college, but I wasn't so enamored of games that buying a system solely for that purpose seemed like a good idea, they were an occasional diversion for me then. I had a Macintosh computer, and it seemed to me having them integrated into a system that also did other things made more sense.
Early in the aughts, I bought a computer that I grew to hate. It was one of the first computers I'd owned, the first I'd paid for myself, and it was a hassle. Didn't perform well (An old Prescott Pentium 4, oh the memory of the agony of buying from a large OEM, but anyway...) I wasn't used to windows and found it unintuitive, hated what seemed to be hellish ineffective antivirus software plus the ton of bloatware I couldn't figure out the purpose of...What hell. I decided to do something about it. I decided to learn how to deal with computers properly. Stop paying inordinate sums to talk to tech support to talk about crap that was often simple or at other times could have been answered for free by others elsewhere.
There was a community of people out there that could do this. PC gamers offered me a way to indulge my DIY inclinations, plus provided me with the tools to take the corporate goons off my phone's contact list. They did this for free. Told me, in online forums and chatrooms how to piece together a PC, where to get parts, how to troubleshoot. Many of these people were younger than me, some of them having gone on to CS and IT degrees, being real computer enthusiasts. Some just hobbyists, some DIYers like myself. But they all shared another pastime...killing one another online. :)
In quake III or Unreal tournament or Counter Strike or Starcraft or Command and Conquer, they all went about killing one another. This is how I started gaming. This group of people that offered me so much relief from the jackasses that were really trying to steal from me were indulging their visceral desire to destroy this or that or they or them for their own amusement. And I grew to like it too. My exposure to them put me in a position that made it pretty easy to try it out, and I had fun. For the first time I was having fun gaming, rather than it being something of a diversion I felt disinterested in. I think the online aspect made gaming possible for me. Once there were other people there...I could have fun with it for some reason. I still largely play online games, but I play single player games with some real relish now too.
The point of all this, is not to wax nostalgic, but to tell you why I'm so emotionally invested in PC gaming. It's not the same elsewhere.
I wouldn't say I hate consoles. But what I do hate is their narrowness of function. They're PCs with a narrow functionality, proprietary through and through. Now, later in the lives of the current generation of consoles, they are adding functionality to them to make them into PCs. We've come full circle back to a PC from a console. They're functionality will be identical soon (I'm not sure why we don't just do this on PC, a platform that affords all the functionality already, but) I'm sure you all see it on the horizon. The difference is, they're proprietary in a way that the PC is not. This bugs me, giving corporate assholes the opportunity to corner the market on games is a bad idea in my opinion. But this isn't really the debate I want to have. The point is more, I have some grievances with the various (corporations producing) consoles, not those who use them.
I started crying a moment ago at the thought of this going the way I think it's going. I think the ship's on fire...
This started not long ago when Ubisoft decided to make clear that it didn't care about us. At this point I think the cat's out of the bag, and there's no getting it back in there. No matter the seeming of an effort to patch this up, their various titles directors leads more or less giving away that PC gamers should expect none from them put me in a mood. Not because I cared that much about those titles (Though I used to have a thing for Rainbow 6) but because I felt as though they were trying to fire a shot to stir up other developers to stop developing for PC. They've made their sounds and I think those who they want to have hear them have heard. Whether or not those titles get released on PC, they've made their statement.
Not that I didn't understand before. Their titles for several generations have been ports when they came to PC. Their last effort that seemed even faintly directed at the PC was FarCry2. Which was poor in some regards. The online was an amount amusing, but nothing stellar. Their other PC titles have had pitfalls of various kinds...Horrible draconian DRM, games that are clearly designed for a controller on PC etc. A general neglect of consideration for the particularities of the PC platform.
They've been drifting away for a long time. And I could see it. They didn't have a Counter Strike, nor a Quake nor Unreal nor Starcraft for them to establish a dialog with the community. Rainbow 6 had something of a presence, so too the Splinter Cell games, but they were drowned out by the sound of the console owners. I got the sense that some of their developers wanted a strong dialogue with PC gamers, but didn't get the repartee that they wanted from the PC community.
Unfortunately, those things, that drift away produced some of the piracy they are now railing against. The DRM caused an overt reaction away from legit copies of the games, but the lack of emphasis or what seemed like care had created distance earlier. And as less and less were the games well suited to the platform, more and more did people not want to pay for them.
We'd stopped talking, or maybe never had, like the end of innumerable relationships we'd simply stopped talking. They felt obliged to build versions for us, versions that did not work well, were less profitable, met with criticism more than praise...while their efforts were met with praise elsewhere. Maybe the grass is greener, who knows.
Back in October I bought pre-ordered myself a copy of Batman: Arkham City (here forward referred to as B:AC) . It was a birthday gift to myself. When it was finally available to be played, the twenty-second of November, not that long ago, but more than a month from the release of the console versions of the game.
B:AC is a disaster on PC. You may have heard or be experiencing it yourself. DX11 is broken, physx is broken, the two primary draws for playing it on PC don't work well or at all. It's like a fuck you in a can. You open it and someone's hand pops out, middle finger raised. If you own a console of whatever kind, you're better off buying it on the console as it stands. This is not a foreign thing on PC these days, broken console parts are part of the bargain unfortunately. More and more developers make it clear they don't give a damn for the people who want to play these things on PC. Rockstar shines here, shitty ports for several generations of games. The version I bought, on steam, includes securom. Effing securom, that bastard of a DRM, increasing my vulnerability to malware. Generally making my system sluggish. Not only does it do those things, but as a DRM it is unnecessary because Steam functions as DRM for the game as well. And to boot, I don't love the game.
B:AC was almost universally lauded by reviewers. This had been the prompt for me to buy it. I don't usually look at one person's review, because I don't have a single reviewer I trust implicitly. I look at a few, sometimes I just go to metacritic and glance at the list of aggregated reviews, read the leaders for the various articles, looking for those that may be writ with the kind of direction I want the review to take, and go read that review. This is one of the occasions in which that blew up in my face.
Not agreeing with the lions share of reviews is par for the course as well, it happens some, but for many the virtues of B:AC dwarf it's failings. The fights are fundamentally identical, they simply evolve a little in the course of the game. The pacing of the story conflicts with the gameplay mechanic a lot, I can't even recall the number of times I had a seemingly "time critical" event happen only to have it interfered with by another seemingly time critical event, neither of which were actually time critical. I could have gone across town for coffee, and gone and done each at my leisure. It draws you out of the story. Admittedly this could be a bit tricky to make work with an open world game, and it's often fine, but for me it seemed to happen repeatedly, anyway, the point of all this paragraph is that I'm not enough of a Batman fanboy that a pretty cool combat system that seems to suit batman, and nice art, well suited to the IP, isn't enough to make up for the faults. Don't get me wrong. I don't hate it either, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement. The point of this is, All of the reviews were reviews on console versions of the game, if they'd been playing the PC version, they might have felt differently.
This game is NOT a PC game at it's heart. It isn't meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard. Nor does it seem to be well suited for a gamepad while on PC. You see, on the PC, the gamepad has more software layers than they do on consoles. On consoles dedicated input and firmware reduce lag from gamepads as opposed to on the PC where there is a software layer controlling them. That software layer, the driver, whatever software had to be placed in the game by the developers, those are each layers that decrease a gamepad's responsiveness. (greater latency) This can be dealt with by optimizing by the game maker.
On the PC the gamepad is neither a gift nor a curse, but both at different times. I had to play with both a keyboard and a mouse and sometimes a gamepad. Some of the boss battles need a controller, other parts of the game worked better with mouse and keyboard. This was incoherent. Letting me know it was never really designed for the PC. Other things about the game said the same thing, the lack of optimization (horrible framerates in a game that was for the most part identical to the previous iteration) the somewhat dated graphics (Even with DX11 turned on, it looks a lot like B:AA, the differences are subtle, noticeable some, but not really significant, it seemed clear that it had been tacked on, and really should have been left out, given the problems they're causing.)
This was a punch in the face for me. I looked back at the titles released this year, and With the exception of Portal, every major release was a port. Not necessarily a bad port, but a port. Nearly all of them required significant patching to work well. Skyrim will be patched for years possibly. To Bethesda's credit, they'll likely put at least some time into Skyrim as needs continue to arise. Deus Ex actually worked well on PC, optimization for the PC platform could have been better, but that's really nitpicking at this point, because Deus Ex worked pretty well overall, but still a port. The list could go on for a while.
This is where the straw broke the camels back. I don't want to pay for a game to make it easier to put malware on my computer. And I don't want to pay for a broken port, regardless of content. If I'm going to acquire a broken port, particularly one that goes unfixed, (No you don't know. Epic never fixed The PC version of Gears of War, a long dedicated PC developer prior to that) I don't want to have paid for it. I don't want to dwell on this, but you don't know. The Developers make all their money from a game in the first three months after it's release, the PC version of MW3 made up something in the neighborhood of 3% of it's sales. We are marginalized, by the people who fund the games. They're not worth the development costs to them clearly. And I've fought for the developers for a while now. Calmly arguing for the developers when questions about piracy come up, but I can't do it after this. B:AC was a disaster, they're cheered for everywhere, and provided us with a hellish experience, and lackadaisical about fixing it, they're money's been made, their investment in the platform minimal, and I don't feel like they have any real investment in the PC version such that they'll fix the game.
There's not a friendly ship in any direction, nor land to see...
I feel like turning to piracy will validate those developers claims in some way, and allow them to simply stop development for the PC, and at this second at least, I'm okay with that. It would be more sincere than what is going on otherwise. Though I think those rationales are in a way self fulfilling prophecies, and ultimately that the blame should be shared with them. They're providing us with crap no one should have to pay for. At least If I'm going to have these headaches getting this thing to work, I won't have paid for it. But I think this will help sink the PC gaming ship. Believe me when I say, I have no interest in piracy. I don't feel as though people are entitled to games they didn't pay for, but the devs are ruining the experience by not taking us seriously. The confluence is going to ruin PC gaming, possibly destroy it.
The conundrum I'm left with is that the best solution, is to stop gaming, start pirating, or continue to allow myself to be robbed.