PC gamers know that it might take long until they can play a new console game on their computer. They have to wait - sometimes several months, or even more than a year - until the developers decide to port the game from a console to PC. However, there is more to it than the waiting. Console ports are often inadequate, with tons of problems which make them virtually unplayable. But why does it have to be that way?
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What is software porting
First of all, we feel the need to explain what porting is, which doesn’t refer only to gaming.
In software engineering, when we refer to porting we mean the process of changing a software’s code, so it will be able to run on a different computer environment from the one it was designed to run.
A different computer environment may involve different hardware (e.g., CPU), or even operating systems.
For example, if we would alter the code of a Windows program, and made adaptations so it could run on Linux, the new software would be called a “Windows port.” Furthermore, we could say that we ported the software to Linux.
The term “portable” is well-known among computer users, and we use it to refer to any software that we can run without installation.
However, besides the installation part, portable is the software that can be easily ported (transferred). In other words, it needs only a few adaptations to run in a new environment.
In the same way, we have portable devices, which we can carry (transfer) everywhere we want.
Porting of video games
Video games can be ported from an operating system to another as well. Although, game porting usually means that the game was transferred from a console to PC.
Whether you like console gaming or you prefer PCs, all gamers agree on one thing: they want their games to run flawlessly, no matter the platform.
Games initially made for a console (e.g., Playstation, Xbox, etc.) are ported to PC pretty often, but the result does not always involve a smooth gaming experience.
Plenty of these game ports have bad controls, bugs, low-quality visuals, low fixed FPS, and poor performance in comparison to a computer’s hardware.
Let’s find out why.
It is easier to develop games for consoles
How many major console platforms are out there?
Three? Probably not more than that.
These consoles might get a replacement every two years or so. But aside from that, every PS4, for instance, has the same hardware specifications, with few and unimportant exceptions, such as the hard drive capacity.
As a result, a developer that is trying to design a game for this console knows precisely what configurations and API he will need. Thus, he can optimize his code and maximize performance for this specific console.
On the other hand, we have PCs. In computers, there are virtually limitless combinations of hardware, and each combination is a different machine.
Every computer will have different performance, depending on the CPU, GPU, RAM, other hardware, or the version of the operating system. Even a single driver can have a severe impact on a computer’s performance.
Not to mention that in computers, games have to share the resources with other programs, according to what the user has installed.
Now, a developer that wants to design a game for computers has to take into consideration many more factors than what a console needs.
And even if he tries the code on multiple PC configurations, the chances are high that every time the game is installed on a different computer, it will be its first run on this specific environment. It makes sense that the gameplay won’t be flawless on every machine.
This is why a PC game’s code has to be adjusted to run in general technologies, such as Microsoft’s DirectX, or Nvidia’s and AMD’s drivers.
For that to happen, developers have to spend a lot of time - from weeks to several months - to rewrite countless lines of code, before they release a console port to the public.
Console gaming is more profitable than PC
We all know that to spend more time, someone has to spend more money as well. The case we just described above leads to the next big issue: the available budget.
In game making, the developer handles the digital production. There’s also a publisher, who has to take care of everything else, such as the game distribution, advertising to the audience, and so on.
Game publishers are running businesses, and of course, they aim for the highest possible profit from a game, with the minimum effort. That means they may spend less time or money on a game port if it doesn't bring them more profit anyway.
To maximize your profits, you have to cut down your expenses, and at the same time increase your income. How can you do that in game development? By hiring third-party developers, and selling more games.
The publisher’s job is to assign multiple developers to every aspect of the game’s production. Usually, the publisher will assign game porting to secondary developers to reduce the cost.
Publishers might also want to release the game on multiple platforms simultaneously, and the primary developing team won’t be able to work on all of them.
In such a case, the leading developer will work on a specific console, since it will be easier - as we already mentioned. The secondary developers will undertake to port the game from this console to PC - or other consoles.
However, that won’t always go as expected. When a team of developers works on code created by someone else, it’s only natural to result in minor or major issues.
Pirated games may play a role in the developers’ decision to focus on consoles. Besides the fact they are more accessible to code, it is way easier to run a pirated game on PC than on consoles.
Therefore, a publisher will choose to prioritize the console version that will bring more sales, instead of the PC equivalent. As a result, games ported from console to PC don't get the necessary attention.
Moreover, the PC games have usually extra DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection, to avoid illegal distribution. Such measures, though, may have a negative impact on the gameplay.
For example, the Always-on DRM has lead to problems in several game launches, from Blizzard's Diablo III and EA's SimCity (2013) to Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed II, and many other games.
Because of that, players were complaining about slow servers interrupting or stopping their game, among other issues. Not to mention that they couldn’t play the games without an internet connection.
Do you play any games that were ported from console to PC?
All the reasons above contribute to making console ports a terrible experience for dedicated PC gamers. No matter how many bad ports we may see, though, there are also several excellent ports from console to PC.
What are your favorite game ports on PC? Have you ever bought a game, only to find out that it is unplayable on PC? Leave a comment below.
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