Each year, console gamers enjoy AAA titles, tailored to the machines they play on. During the first years of a console’s lifespan, most accept the fact that the games were designed for specific hardware. But now with game engines like the Unreal Engine and Unity Engine, you can build once and play anywhere. Not to mention, PC gamers have hardware that greatly exceeds the current console generation’s graphical muscle. So what are some reasons that a publisher or game development studio would or would not want to release it’s games on the venerable PC platform?
PC Publishing Pros
One of the great things about the PC market is that you can typically sell your software globally without worrying about regional lockouts. You especially gain a lot of freedom with this as an independent developer.
Low Cost or Free Publishing
Another great thing about the PC market is that publishing a game is as simple as uploading it to your website with a Paypal “buy now” button. Publishing on major online retailers is overall pretty cheap too, especially when compared to physical publishing which requires the manufacturing of discs, a manual, boxes and more.
Variety of Publishing Options
Similar to the previous benefit, there are a lot of options for publishing PC games. Between services like Steam and Amazon, independent release, physical release and various free to play business models, the PC market covers the gambit and usually at a lower cost.
PC Publishing Cons
The cost of all that ease and low cost publishing is less proprietary systems which makes it easier for players to hack a game’s license and distribute it. Piracy is rampant on the PC platform, fortunately a lot of this has been reduced thanks to services such as Steam which has given gamers an economic and convenient way to download games.
Continuing the previous con, despite highly popular publishing options such as Steam, PC game sales are overwhelmingly low. One of the best selling games of all time, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 sold very well on consoles, moving over 14 million units on Xbox 360 and over 12 million units on PS3, yet on the PC it only sold a meager 1.5 million units. Compare this to Doom’s PC sales exceeding 2 million.
Potential Software Issues
Id Sofware’s Rage showed us that things like graphic drivers can be problematic, especially if you’re releasing your own game engine. Supporting the newest and greatest graphics cards can be a challenge but is definitely not something you want your customer’s troubleshooting your bugs.
At the end of the day, people in the business of making games are, well… running a business. If the PC platform doesn’t seem likely to yield the profits they want to justify the expense of releasing a game, then they won’t. I truly believe that piracy is one of the key factors to low sales on the PC. Even back in the Doom days, people would make copies of the game after it was installed and give it to their friends to play. Things really haven’t changed thanks to the systematic way that “cracker” groups break DRM and other software protection methods sometimes within hours of release and even before release. As long as gamers continue to download these pirate copies and not support the developers of the games you can count on less PC ports and the for the ones that do get ported to PC, low budget ports without any frills.