Arkham Knight: power to the players

This year, PC gamers – that is personal computer, not politically correct – have already been treated to some very high-quality games, including The Witcher 3, Cities: Skylines, and the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V. Where, in the past, the PC market was treated with relative contempt by big developers (largely down to the ease of piracy), there is a quiet optimism in the PC-gaming community that their platform is now being taken as seriously as consoles. This optimism can now be backed with confidence, following games developer Valve’s decision to offer guaranteed refunds on all purchases made on the company’s digital-distribution platform, Steam – as long as they have clocked up less than two hours’ playtime.

PC gamers now demand higher standards – and the industry is taking notice. The age of the shoddy PC port are over. Batman: Arkham Knight, which was released worldwide on 23 June, was greatly anticipated following the previous successes of Arkham City and Arkham Origins. The franchise has been well met by critics and gamers alike, thanks to its high production values and gameplay. So when developer Rocksteady released a largely broken and unplayable PC version of the game, the response was predictably fierce, forcing Rocksteady to pull it from sale.

PC-game sales are set to eclipse console sales in 2016; developers must understand that they can no longer treat PC gamers as second-rate consumers. Thanks to the convenience of digital-distribution platforms such as Steam, piracy is no longer a significant issue, as most PC gamers will opt to pay for a high-quality game. The Witcher 3 is one of the most commercially successful games of the year, despite the fact that the game’s developer, CD Projekt Red, purposefully released it without copyright protection.

Fears that Steam’s refund policy will only have an impact on small indie developers, which rely more on digital distribution, have been proven unfounded. As shown with the pulling of Arkham Knight, no development studio is safe from the consequences of producing a poor-quality game. Overall, this shift will have a positive effect on the industry by putting pressure on developers to ensure their releases are of a decent quality: less ‘build it and they will come’; more ‘build it right and they will part with their money’.

The withdrawal of Arkham Knight from sale shows that the boot really is on the other foot now. In the past, studios could get away with releasing a poor-quality port, as PC gamers were considered part of a tertiary market. This is no longer true, and the focus is now where it should be – on the consumer. Now that PC gamers have made their feelings clear, it is up to the developers to adapt.

Stephen Beard is a writer based in Liverpool.

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