I’m going to take a short break from just writing about MMOGs to talk about PC gaming as a whole, so bear with me for this week’s column, all right?
As a youth way back in the early ’90s, my very first games were on the PC – educational titles like Ancient Empires and Operation Neptune. When I was a bit older, I played Myst and Rebel Assault, Warcraft II, and Silent Death Online. Though I also played on consoles, I still kept on returning to my mouse and keyboard, and these days still spend more time gaming on my built-from-scratch computer than on either my 360 or my PS3. There’s no ambiguity about it: I consider myself a PC gamer.
So I’d just like you to keep that in mind when I say this: PC gamers need to ditch the attitude and sense of entitlement. We need to get over ourselves.
You may surmise that this comes in reaction to the furor surrounding the revelation that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 would not be supporting dedicated servers for PC multiplayer, as well as the similar (though less fervent) backlash when PC auteur John Carmack announced that id’s upcoming Rage wouldn’t, either. If you are, then congratulations, give yourself a gold star, because you’re completely correct.
I suppose I ought to qualify that statement, shouldn’t I? Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why some PC gamers are upset over the lack of dedicated server support. There are some very valid arguments as to why dedicated servers are superior to a peer-to-peer connection, and I think that presenting those arguments to Infinity Ward reasonably and politely is certainly something that the PC community should be doing. To be disappointed over the removal of features from a game is natural, and I certainly don’t begrudge anybody that.
What I don’t understand – and what frankly has made me increasingly ashamed to call myself a PC gamer over the last few weeks – is the attitude. There is what seems to be a strong current of entitlement beneath it all, and the message from many of the protesters is clear: We deserve something above and beyond the call of duty (har har har) because we are PC gamers, and our platform of choice is special. In other words, “You owe us, Infinity Ward.”
The attitude and sense of entitlement was neatly summed up in the anger surrounding the response to a question asked in a developer chat hosted by Best Buy. When asked if MW2 for the PC was a direct port of the console version, Infinity Ward’s Mackey McCandlish responded that it wasn’t, since the PC version would have things not supported by the PS3 and Xbox 360 games: graphics customization, text chat, and mouse & keyboard control. Is that the barest of bare-bones upgrades? Sure it is. Does it give the game flexibility that consoles lack and (arguable) superiority over its console brethren? You bet your ass it does.
That’s what really gets me. If I were to pick up MW2 for the PC instead of for either of my consoles, I would probably be getting the best version – or at least, the version tailored to my specific preferences. I would be controlling it with a gaming mouse and keyboard (keys bound just the way I like them, of course), which has always felt to me more natural than a gamepad FPS. I would be running it at a gorgeous high resolution with graphics cranked to maximum. I would have a powerful gaming headset and microphone that are much better than the dinky little thing that comes with the 360.
The first Modern Warfare sold well on the PC, but it sold better on consoles – and didn’t have piracy levels that IW community rep Robert Bowling said “[blew] me away” – so what possible reason would the developers ever have to give their console audience a clearly inferior MW2?
We can scream all we want about how Call of Duty originated as a PC franchise, and how Infinity Ward owes us everything, but it doesn’t change the numbers. It doesn’t change the fact that the PC version had fewer preorders on Amazon.com than either the PS3 or Xbox 360 version (even factoring in the dedicated servers backlash). It doesn’t change the fact that IW reps have admitted that the PC – and the hardcore subsection within the PC market, to be precise – is their smallest base of users. PC gaming is certainly not dying (despite what doomsayers have been saying for oh, about a decade now) but it is less dominant and less relevant than it used to be if you’re not making easy-access games for the casual market, and it’s high time that we accepted that.
Many developers do make games for the love of the medium, but at the end of the day, Infinity Ward and companies like it have bills to pay and their employees have families to feed. So what sense does it possibly make to allocate extra time, money, and manpower to their smallest fanbase, which is coincidentally the group most likely to pirate the game anyway? While I have no doubt that there will be more pirates out there in a misguided attempt to “stick it to the man,” you can’t tell me that the game wouldn’t have been pirated to high hell and back even with dedicated server support – the first game certainly was.
Infinity Ward isn’t blameless here, of course. Beyond axing the dedicated server support in the first place, company reps tried a strange song-and-dance routine where they pretended like this was a change made solely with the benefit of the gamer in mind, and even the most rational-minded PC gamer doesn’t like having people try to yank the wool down over his eyes. This is a case where flat honestly may have been the best policy, and what was intended to calm the masses ended up just throwing fuel on a particularly bitter flame.
But this isn’t just Infinity Ward’s problem. If we PC gamers can’t accept the fact that our platform of choice may be versatile and powerful, but in the end is just a platform like any other, then it only hurts us in the end. There’s a difference between complaining about a PC title that is genuinely inferior to consoles (for a recent example, see multiplayer in Borderlands) and a PC version that’s merely “not better enough.” It’s one thing to demand something from companies for whom the PC is their sole market, it’s another thing entirely to demand that developers who make games for multiple platforms treat us as their favored children just because we aren’t console gamers. The louder we scream, the less likely anybody is to pay attention to what we’re actually saying through the din, and the more likely we are to garner opposition based on mere principle alone.
Now, by all means, return to your regularly scheduled protests, but remember that the most powerful protest tool at your disposal is your wallet. If it infuriates you so much, don’t buy the game. Don’t be a tool and pirate it – that just gives developers more reason to flee the PC platform entirely – but a refusal to purchase will speak louder than angry internet rants ever could.
But whatever you do, just … lose the attitude. You’re making the rest of us look bad.