Assassin's Creed Landahn is out! But not on PC, as we have to wait till next month before we can leap across all of Victoriana like an acrobatic chimney sweep. Far Cry Primal, the caveman sequel, will also arrive on PC the month after its February appearance on the console box. While this sort of situation isn't quite as common as it used to be, it is one which refuses to go away - with Assassin's Creed in particular a repeat offender, despite occasional promises to the contrary.
Is this - and the late arrival of other games on PC - cause for alarm? Alec, Alice, Pip and Graham gathered to discuss.
Alec: Sorry I’m late, I made a cup of coffee then immediately spilled it all over the floor. Which I imagine sounds very similar to however Ubisoft justify their latest Assassin’s Creed being late on PC yet again. Wahey!
These delays are something we’ve got cross about a few times in the past, but were we cross because of the fact of the delay or because they said there wouldn’t be and then there was?
Alice: I'd get annoyed during the runaround years of Ubisoft when they'd swear blind that the PC version would launch at the same time, and I'd go around telling Our Dear Readers that, then a few months Ubi would mention "Oh, yeah, nah, it's delayed." After a while, it was clear it would happen but they'd still insist otherwise. I don't like people yanking my monkey's uncle, as I understand people say in London.
Alec: Crikey guv’nor, cahhhalm down. On a personal level, I get a bit put out when I see people talking about something I can’t play yet because I haven’t got the relevant hardware, but I guess that’s a broader issue. I’d much rather have the PC version late but stable than end up in the Arkham Knight situation where they seemingly left the PC version on the back burner while jumping through Microsoft and Sony’s infinite hoops of certification, then shoved a mess out to meet a deadline.
Alice: I do understand the frustration with not getting to play a game your chums are into, but it seems a trifling complaint when your gaming platform of choice is the most bounteous ever. Though with Assassin's Creed games, it's a shame to ruin the surprise of their latest historical idiocies. I wish I hadn't heard which famous historical figure you team up with to destroy an opium processing plant.
Graham: I think PC gamers take this kind of thing as a personal affront, but that there are probably perfectly reasonable technical and business decisions at work behind the scenes. I agree that it's a shame about potential spoilers though, or more broadly the feeling of missing out on a game's cultural moment. Everybody's Gone To The Rapture was being talked about everywhere for about 15 minutes and it seems unlikely that it'll get a second go around when it eventually reaches PC, and therefore it's less likely I'll be motivated to play it instead of any of the other games on offer. These habitual, month-long delays from Ubisoft and other big publishers do something similar to my desire to play the games.
Alec: What is perhaps a more justifiable noise-of-joint observation is that these big, rich companies didn’t allocate more staff and time to the PC version during main development: it’s a sign, perhaps, of habitually treating it as an afterthought. ‘The console versions are so much more important, we’ll worry about those nerds later.” Surely it’s not that far beyond possibility to stick a few extra staff on the PC build, especially during the long certification phase? And some studios outsource it to other devs entirely to make sure the job gets done, though again in the case of Arkham we saw that backfire spectacularly. But the question is whether someone like Ubisoft really is going ‘PC don’t matter so much’ or if there is, as Internet Theorists sometimes claim, other agendas, such as fear of piracy, at play?
Graham: Perhaps they are saying "PC doesn't matter to us quite as much," but it's the "stick a few extra staff" on it idea that I take umbrage with when it comes up again and again. These games are made by impossibly large teams of 800 people or more, spread across multiple studios, working across timezones, for projects that take years to produce and require extremely careful budgeting and time management. It is no small thing to "stick a few extra staff" on anything. It's a huge ship to try to steer.
Alec: I mean plan for this from the start, not airlift extra dudes in at short notice. I mean, other pubs don’t ritually have this problem - and in the case of AssCreed, why is it that the ship seemingly gets mis-steered in this very particular way almost every time?
Alice: To loop back briefly, the problem with Arkham City wasn't necessarily that the PC version was outsourced, more that the project was clearly grossly mismanaged.
Moving on, why's AssCreed always late? Because, ultimately, Ubisoft have decided it isn't important enough to make sure it's on time. It could be a combination of any number of reasons, none of which we're privy to, but they've made their decision and this is how they make their games. It beats them releasing PC versions which are six weeks away from finished (well, more like ten weeks, considering that the first month after release is spent patching in minor features like people having faces).
Assassin's Creed is Ubi's big huge annual franchise, and it's increasingly falling apart with formulaic design, bugs, and zany nonsense. They're probably a few years away from giving it a little rest but, for now, those extra six weeks give them a small but important slice of extra time as they desperately wring the last out of a once-exciting series.
Pip: I wonder how much more a PC version takes in terms of resources than console. I mean consoles are these single sets of specifications – you make a thing for a PS4 and you should be able to play it on any PS4. And then you try and make a thing for PC and you glare at every combination of hardware and software and operating whatnot and you maybe sit under your desk and have a little cry and then you try and deal with it. Obviously I am not a game development studio spanning continents (that I know if) but I feel like it would make sense to prioritise the platforms that simplify at least part of the process and let you get the game into shape.
Alec: I was just looking at Steamspy, and apparently Black Flag racked up 800k sales but the next year’s Unity just 200k. This may be down to recent dodginess with trying to lock people into Uplay so we’re only seeing a fraction of what sold, or to Unity being far less well-received, but that might well be informing why the tune changed from ‘day and date PC’ to ‘welllllll…’ again.
(Obv Steamspy’s accuracy is far from guaranteed.)
But yeah, on what you’re saying Pip, I suspect there is huge Sony and Microsoft assistance on hand for console versions, but you’re a bit more on your own for PC - plus you have often to pick a side between NVIDIA and AMD.
Pip: On a sidenote, Unity was a bit of a weird one because it came out at the same time as their last gen Rogue thing. I'd imagine there might be issues of brand messaging and confusion to add in to any kind of sales figure analysis.
Alec: We used to get New & Shinier PC versions a little later, didn’t we? I think the first two Arkhams did that, and the Fables. I miss those days, they made up for the wait. Look at all my pixel shaders and PhysX effects and all that. I guess now console hardware is a little more similar to PC hardware there’s less they can do (or at least that would look sufficiently flashy in promotional screenshots).
Alice: Games do often have a little extra flash on PC, but I think people don't care as much because we're in a lull for Interesting Graphics Happenings. I don't know: I'm just not outraged anymore. Games come out when they come out. I can play them or play something else. I can buy them or not. This is a wonderful time for PC gaming, and a hold-up for the creaking husk of Assassin's Creed doesn't bother me. I still haven't even finished The Witcher 3, and that game's amazing.
Alec: Graham, what would you do if Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on PC was delayed until six weeks after the console version? Would you murder anyone?
Graham: No, I think I would just go, "Oh, that's a shame." Like Alice, I find it difficult to muster up outrage about this kind of thing. I think I always did struggle. No matter how excited I am about a game - and I am giddy with excitement over Mankind Divided - it doesn't feel like a reason to be cross when the machinations of big business only cater to me 99% of the time instead of the perfect 100%.
Pip: On a personal level I get it when people are a bit disappointed but not when they're angry or feel personally slighted by the workings of big business. With Twitter and Reddit and platform agnostic news sites and a million other things there's a progression of hype towards a release date which comes to an abrupt halt when you don't own the chosen platform and need to wait. It's deflating. Plus you suddenly have to treat all of those sites with caution if you're worried about spoilers. It can feel like you've missed the boat a bit and that by the time you're playing everyone's moved on. So I get why you would be disappointed, but outrage that a business isn't taking your feelings into consideration? That's just not how businesses work. If they've stuck with this way of doing things I assume it's because it works for them.
Alec: I’m perfectly happy so long as a reasonable explanation is given. It’s when there’s evasion or something contradictory or unlikely stated that I remember ‘oh yeah, I shouldn’t ever put trust in big companies no matter how excellent the game or chummy the marketing, should I?’
Alice: 'AAA' development is a big bag of mystery with no desire to explain itself or its machinations. Most people have no idea how games are made, so we stand outside their shed guessing at what's going on from the sounds shaking its walls. Most people don't even know what a producer does, which is convenient for AAA when it wants to advertise a game as "From the producer of…" I'm losing this thread rapidly, aren't I? POINT IS: we rarely receive explanations because ultimately they come down to "We made a cost/benefit analysis and either decided against it or miscalculated." Capitalism is so unsexy.
Alec: Yes, it all comes down to that a corporation can never admit to any kind of fault or even cynical calculation, because board members and shareholders will FREAK OUT. It’s unhealthy to try to apply conventional human rationality to decisions and communication like this.
Alice: I'll probably pick Syndicate up in a sale at some point, mind. As former Londonfolk I am keen to see its treatment of places I've been drunk. Just from trailers, I've seen at least two places I've fallen over.
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate is due out on PC on November on 19th November. It was released in the UK for consoles today.