Since making the wholesale switch from console to PC a couple years back, there’s only really one thing that I miss: the abundance of sports games. Sure, there are a host of great ‘non-traditional’ sports games (the snowsports of Steep and the explosive car football of Rocket League, for example) but what the platform as a whole is currently lacking is virtual representations of some of the world’s most popular spectator sports. Their availability on PC is so bad, in fact, that the sports category on the Origin store is literally entirely Fifa. I put to you all now the radical notion that this is not a good thing.
As it stands, there is currently no way for PC gamers to play an up-to-date simulation of ice hockey, American football, or baseball. Mana Games’ Tennis Elbow 2013 is by all accounts a mechanically-sound tennis game, but it lacks the visual polish and AAA presentation that for many players comprises a large part of the overall enjoyment. Although basketball (NBA 2k17) and association football (Fifa 17; Pro Evolution Soccer 2017) are represented, there can be no denying the fact that sports fans are far from spoilt for choice.
This dearth of titles is a problem, as it is particularly instrumental in the lowering of standards both in terms of what developers will release and what players will purchase on the rare occasion that a title makes it to the PC. The powers that be know full well that quite often players will settle for a substandard release if the alternative is nothing at all, and this is evidenced by the fact that the reviews for NBA 2k17 are marked by scathing criticism (52% on Steam; 6.2 on Metacritic) from players who have poured hundreds of hours into it regardless.
Fifa, too, operates effectively free from competition as Konami has bafflingly insisted on releasing a last-gen console port with updated squads for every new Pro Evolution Soccer title on PC. As a result it too enjoys some less than stellar reviews (4.2 on Metacritic, whilst customer feedback is perhaps wisely omitted from the Origin store) from players who, in all likelihood, continue to devote their time to it as it is very much the lesser of two evils. Both Fifa and NBA 2k17 come under frequent and heavy fire for their appalling netcode and a hefty contingent of online cheaters, two pretty fundamental issues with a vital component of the games that would certainly not be allowed to proliferate on the console versions.
It’s clear that, where sports games are concerned, the powers that be don’t care an awful lot about PC gamers, and the end result is a pretty tedious self-fulfilling – not to mention self-perpetuating – prophecy. The standards for what constitutes an ‘acceptable’ PC sports game are lower, and as a result the end product is not as good. Over time, the negative reviews that these products receive cause more and more fans to err on the side of caution and abstain from purchasing the yearly iteration. As sales gradually decrease, the publishers (and by extension the developers) place less emphasis on the PC market, and the quality of the final product suffers. Do you see where I’m going with this?
I think part of the reason this particular issue rankles so much is that it is, on paper at least, a frustratingly simple problem to solve. Publishers will point to a relative paucity of demand when compared to consoles and make the argument that significant outlay of both time and resources to cater to this smaller market is an unjustifiable blow to overall profit margins, but let me tell you why that’s bullshit. PC gaming is only getting more popular: Origin has as many registered users as Xbox Live (50,000,000), whilst Steam has more than twice that. Do all of these people want to play NHL or Madden? Of course not. But there certainly seems to be plenty who do.
Furthermore, just how much developmental energy is expended on these titles? They’re iterative games, with each new entry only marginally distinguishable from the ones that came before. Nobody’s saying you have to build a bespoke PC version every year, just throw us a port of the latest console installment. My knowledge of the intricacies of game development is more or less non-existent, but I’m sure that can’t be too much of a difficult ask. Aren’t these games developed on PCs anyway?
For smaller studios, I can appreciate that cost could be an inhibitor, but for a financial powerhouse like EA? The excuse is sheer laziness and nothing else. Their microtransaction empire brings in over a billion dollars a year. After all, what’s to say that self-perpetuating cycle that stifles PC sports games can’t be reversed, given enough time? More games means more players, and if the quality of the final product can match what’s available on consoles, then these players will gradually become the same kind of repeat customers that have been lining corporate pockets for the past two decades.
Surely, this has to be a no-brainer?