Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm kind of an asshole.

I am. Really. I know it's hard to believe, but bear with me.

I'm a pretty self-important consumer.

Let's look at gaming. I own a PS3. I want to purchase an Xbox 360 soon, I wouldn't mind owning a Wii, but I like PC gaming best. I can play PC games anywhere I have a computer. I can use nearly any input I want--Xbox controller, PS3 controller, keyboard and mouse, classic gamepad, joystick, etc.

For a while it was enough for me to say that if a game wasn't coming out for PC, I wouldn't buy it. In truth, there are enough good games out on PC to keep me occupied for years. Eventually games like Uncharted 2 came along to make me finally buy a console (the PS3 being a Blu-Ray player I could stream files to from my PC helped make that decision, too).

I still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I was considering not buying Red Dead Redemption because it came out for 360 and PS3 but not PC. I probably will buy it soon, but why isn't it out for PC? I'm sure it will be in a few months, just like GTA4 was, but it's still a letdown.

And look at this. Earthworm Jim HD, a remastering of the Sega Genesis game, is coming out soon. And what is it coming out on? DS, Wii, PS3 and Xbox. Also iPhone and Palm Pre. No mention of PC? It's literally coming out on every available platform except for PC? I really hope that's an oversight. If it isn't coming out for PC, what the fuck?

Analyzing myself, it seems I'm okay with system exclusives. Well, I'm not happy about it, but I understand why some games only come out for PS3 or 360--because Sony or Microsoft courts developers and gives them more assistance or better deals if they're developing exclusive titles. That's what I'm assuming, anyway.

I really resent cross-platform games that don't come out for PC. Why? Why not release a game for PC? Don't you want my money? Maybe developers are (wrongly, I think) worried about piracy. Maybe they just can't afford to develop for a third platform. I don't care, it makes me angry regardless.

I know, I know, it's all supposed to be about the game, right? If the game's good enough, then I should get it on whatever platform I can. From that perspective, my insisting that every game come out for PC--and refusing to buy some games that look cool only because they're not available for PC--does make me feel like a bit of an asshole.

And this PC semi-restriction isn't my only rule.

I also put a blockade on certain DRM restrictions. If there's a 5-machine activation limit, I probably won't buy the game (but 4 activations a month or something like that I'm fine with). I certainly won't buy any Ubisoft games if they keep that ridiculous always-online restriction in place.

If the game requires me to use a Games for Windows Live account, I probably won't buy it. Why? It's annoying. G4WL games tend to have online matchmaking instead of dedicated servers. Saved games don't work right if I re-stage my computer and simply copy my saved games back into their old directories. I had to edit save files with a hex editor to get my GTA4 saves to work on a fresh windows install, and it still doesn't work properly (there is the occasional error message).

I mean really! I was using the same G4WL login and everything, but I still had to hack my own saved games like I was cheating or something, just to get functionality every non-G4WL game has. Does Microsoft just not give a shit or what?

I've recently realized that I have another hurdle game developers must jump over if they want my money. I probably won't buy a PC game unless it's available on Steam. Yep.

If you're even a semi-regular visitor of this site, you have probably realized I'm a Steam fanboy. I admit it, I love Steam. I'm not a dick about it, some people think Steam is malware just as bad as I think G4WL is, and I can understand their criticisms. I agree that it was a dick move for Valve to require Steam in order to run CD-based versions of the Orange Box on their PCs. For me though, Steam is a great service and the Steam client is a great all-in-one store/library/social application.

The saving grace of Steam, for me, is it's intelligent DRM. You can install your games on as many PCs as you want, but you can only be logged into one PC at a time--therefore your games can only be played on one PC at a time. It's simple, it's logical, and I have no problems with it. Developers can add more strict DRM on if they want, although many don't, and if the developers allow it you can also set up Steam to play games while offline if you don't have a regular internet connection.

The main reason I will only buy a PC game on Steam is because all my other games are on Steam. What, I want to have three clients open in order to see what games I have available? One library for all my games, that's how I want it. Steam got to me first, so that's what I'm using. Simple as that.

Some people are nervous about putting all their games in one library, because if the service ever goes down, all their games will be inaccessible. I can understand their worries, but I don't share them. I have all my games backed up. If need be, I'm sure I could download a crack or something to play them without Steam. Also, of all the online distribution platforms out there, Steam is the least likely to fail in my opinion. Some might say G4WL would be the least likely to shut down, but Microsoft has shut media services down in the past, leaving all it's users with a bunch of DRM-protected files they've paid for but can no longer use.

Split/Second is the most recent example of my asshole-ness. It's coming out on PS3, 360, and PC. But it's not available through Steam. They've said they have no plans to release it through Steam (actually they said they have no plans to release it through "Stream", was that a fingers-crossed sort of maneuver? Doubtfiul.). I'd like to play the game, it looks awesome. I won't buy it if it's not on Steam though, and I certainly won't buy it on a console if it's available on PC (I have to support my PC brothers, of course). It all puts me in a weird quagmire where nobody wins.

I don't win--I can't play the game.

The developers don't win--they're not getting my money.

And what did the exclusive really gain Split/Second's developers? There were a lot of people in the Steam forums who, like myself, wanted to buy the game but won't unless it's through Steam. I really wonder, did they get anything out of this exclusivity or do they just care that little about the PC market?

You know what? I hate exclusives. I hate console exclusives, I hate pre-order exclusives, I hate store exclusives. It's people trying to earn themselves more money at the cost of our choice.

Exclusives are tolerated in spite of the fact that I don't know one gamer that hasn't been adversely affected by them in some way. I completely dislike them, and I dislike them just as much when Steam is the exclusive seller.

DIGRESSION: Exclusive "Bonus" DLC:

There's really no reason to buy a game at GameStop instead of Walmart or, so they have to try to muscle their way in, and it hurts us twice--it forces us to buy something where we normally wouldn't (for instance I avoid GameStop because they're notorious for selling new games opened, sometimes missing DLC codes), and usually different stores have their own exclusive "bonus" content, so even if we play their game we consumers end up missing out on some content.

I can do without Split/Second. Blur is on Steam. Don't freak out, I know they're not the same game. Oddly enough, I didn't even know Blur existed until people suggested it on a Steam forum post about Split/Second's D2D (Direct2Drive, a competing online game store) exclusivity. That's right, I found out about Split/Second's direct competitor Blur, which even released on the same day, by researching why I couldn't buy Split/Second where I wanted to buy it.

Had Split/Second been on Steam, I would probably be playing it right now, and I still might not know that Blur even exists. I'm definitely going to buy Blur, by the way. For PC. On Steam.

Do you think anyone's learned any lessons from this? Doubtful, but luckily for all of us there are enough great games on every platform (and in every store) that it matters less and less each day. The same way I could shrug off Ubisoft's ridiculous new DRM by just resolving to play the hundreds of other great games in the world instead, I can ignore all these exclusives by turning to something else, very possibly their slightly smarter (and more available) direct competitors.


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