The Problem With Hybrid Platform Games

Introduction

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have our preferred gaming systems. Some of us like the PC, some like actual consoles. Some like hand held systems and some prefer things like tablets. Each of these has their own benefits, and there are tons of games produced for each one. What I would like to bring in to people's attention, though, is hybrid games across the three main consoles: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii. The same will likely go for their future versions as well, but for now I will keep this focused on what we already have out.

We Love Exclusives

Everyone loves to play exclusive games on their preferred console. This is the main reason why some people purchase the consoles to begin with. For example, if you want to grab the latest Halo game, you are stuck with the Xbox 360. If you want to roll with something like Little Big Planet or Uncharted, you are stuck with the Playstation 3. And if you want something more like Mario, you have to go with the Wii.

Each of these different consoles has its own set of features, as well as different hardware. While one may be much more powerful than another one, when it really comes down to it this ends up being irrelevant; if you want to play the games you want, you have to get the console that supports them. It does not matter whether or not the Wii is weaker or stronger than the Playstation 3, because Mario will not be coming out on the Playstation 3. This has always annoyed me when people argue that one system is “better” than another because at the end of the day, they are each created for their own purposes. While they are often competing against one another for market share, they do it by bringing different things to the table.

As part of this, the exclusive games that are released for each system are just another one of their features. In a real sense, these games will also make or break the system in the long run. If people really do not have any reason to choose one of the systems over another, they will go with what others recommend they go with. I think this is a big part as to why we love exclusive games; they help justify the decision we made with our purchase, and they also help validate our opinions when discussing the latest and greatest systems with other people.

We Want to Play With Friends

This is where a little bit of controversy comes in. Different people like different consoles. Your favorite one, for example, may differ from that of your friend. So what happens when you want to play a game with them? You either have to get the same console as them, they have to get the same one as you or you have to hope that the game you are wanting to play together ends up coming out for both consoles. This causes a large rift between gamers because it is hard to justify buying an entire gaming console, plus a copy of the game, just to play with a friend.

Even when a game does come out on more than one console, that does not necessarily mean that the different platforms are able to play with one another. For an example of a game that has this problem, take a look at Defiance. It has versions out on the Xbox 360, Playstation and PC, but each of these platforms is only able to play with other people playing on the same one. For example, if you are playing on the PC and your friend is playing on the Xbox 360, you are segregated and will not be able to play together unless you both move to the same medium. This is also something that really is not clarified enough prior to purchasing the game, so many people assume that all of the platforms can play on the same servers with one another. What makes this even more odd is that the game feels like it is designed for a console, so there really is no benefit to playing on a PC over the consoles and therefore there are no problems with it being “unfair” to put these players all in the same grouping. Regardless, this is how the game is run and it is a problem.

The Issue With Development

Each platform has a different development path it has to go through, and they are all written in different languages. As a result, just because something is knocked out in a week on, say a PC, does not mean that it will also be just as easy to port over to the Playstation 3. All of these are using different architecture, and therefore any changes that are made to the game need to be adapted for the specific system it is going to be played on. This slows down development considerably, as there is now not just one game that is being created, but multiple (multiplied by the number of different platforms are being developed for). As you can guess, with a lot of online games this causes a big rift because it means either all the games have to be slowed down on their patch schedule, or some players will be getting new features and fixes before the others. On top of this, when a patch is rolled out, it is possible (and this often happens) that there will be bugs present on one system that are not on the others.

The result of all of this is that there is a very clear distinction between the updating schedules of games that are out on multiple platforms and those that are not. There are just way too many variables to keep everything in check all the time, which keeps leading to one issue after another.

The Cost of Patches

On top of the already present issues of the game development on different platforms, there is another thing that holds back the developers: the cost that is incurred when releasing patches. As far as I know Sony does not charge for their game updates, but the Xbox 360's fee is estimated at forty thousand dollars per patch. Now, consider the average online role playing game. We are looking at a patch every week, with major updates leading to multiple patches in a week to fix any issues that arise from the new changes. At a whopping forty thousand dollars each time, the company is bleeding out money. Were the patch costs to not be so massive, companies could afford to release patches more often, much like what we see on PC games.

The patches and their costs end up leading in to an even worse delay of updates, because then they need to be tested even more before they come out. Rather than letting a few things slip through the cracks because they can be fixed a little later, it is important to ensure that every bug possible, regardless of how big or small it is, is knocked out as soon as possible to avoid having to pay to fix it later. Now you are not only paying the development costs and the quality assurance, but the patches as well.

Unfairness Between Platforms

This is more prevalent in some games than it is others. For example, first person shooters are notorious for being easier on the PC than consoles (although some players that are very experienced with consoles and not with PC's will usually try to dispute this). Because of this, does it really make sense to match these groups up against one another? For all intents and purposes, the console players will have a handicap because they are not going to be able to react as fast, and PC's allow a lot more tools for game play than the console players are able to get their hands on. Because of all of this, the games turn in to more of a battle of platform rather than a battle of skills. In these cases, it is pretty easy to understand why the players would be segregated based on their platform, although I would argue that all console players should be together: I do not see any problems with putting the Playstation 3 players with Xbox 360 players when it comes to first person shooters. They all have access to essentially the same things, so it should really be a fair fight. The Wii fits in here, to a point, although it is a little more tricky because of how the controls are handled in these games (it is a lot harder to make quick, yet precise movements with the Wii controllers).

If we look at another genre, though, like racing, all of the platforms should be the same again. Each of these can get racing wheels, regardless as to your platform, which puts them all on an equal level. While the controllers you get with each system by default are different, you still have the same options available to you, so it is hard to argue against the equality here. All in all, racing, whether you are on a console or PC, should be about the same feeling and the same level of difficulty.

Role playing games fit in the same category as the racing. Most role playing games are pretty simple to play whether you are using a controller or a keyboard and mouse. There are very few cases where the mouse and keyboard combination actually nets you any bonuses, and in those games they are usually for the PC only anyways. Past this, a ton of people that play role playing games on the PC hook up their Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 controllers to their PC to use, as they feel that they are much more intuitive and easy to learn with. I have a hard time with this part, but if it works for people, that is great; the more options everyone has, the better off we are.

Costs to Play Online

This is another big part that hurts hybrid platform games. Let us say that you are going to play a PC game online. What all do you need to pay for to do this? Generally, your Internet connection and your computer. With the Playstation 3 what do you need? Your Internet connection and your Playstation 3. But when we move on to the Xbox 360, what do you need? Your Internet, your Xbox 360, and now another thing: Xbox Live. This adds yet another fee to your gaming if you choose to play online with the Xbox 360, which is not present on any of the other consoles. Each game may choose its own fees, such as with online role playing games, but even in this case the Xbox 360 is getting nailed with a fee separate from the others; their own fee. Sure, it might not be very expensive (it is around fifty five dollars a year) but the fact is that it really is not equal. If you only got the system to play that one game, you are now spending half a hundred dollars a year, about what the game cost to begin with, just so you can play it online. And this is on top of the system's cost and your Internet costs.

While I do not believe that a good solution is for all providers to start charging to play their games online, I do think that adding a fee on one system and not on the rest is unfair. This is actually the biggest thing holding me back from getting an Xbox 360; I have trouble justifying why I should spend extra money every month or year for the same access that I can get off any of the other consoles, or off of a PC, without having to pay a cent. From a consumer stand point, it really just does not make any sense. Add on their massive fees for game developers releasing patches, and it is a wonder why anyone still develops any major games through their platform.

Conclusion

I think we need some really big changes to how consoles handle their games. We need to make it easier for people to port them back and forth (which I can understand that each console developer does not like because it means the chances are bigger that the games will be released on the other systems and they will not get a cut of the money). If nothing else, it should be done to make things easier on the consumer. Forming some kind of alliance between the three major console manufacturers could be a good thing as well, being that each one focuses on a different aspect of gaming. Wii is known for its family games, the Xbox 360 is known for its first person shooters, and the Playstation 3 is known for its racing games and role playing games. Each of these is in its own category, and they could work together to help out each other, as well as the consumers, in being able to enjoy our gaming experience more.

If nothing else, I hope that with the next Xbox, the Xbox One, Microsoft does not have its large patch fees any more. This has been hurting Defiance, and I know it is turning a lot of people off from the game, although it really is not the developer's fault; it is Microsoft's. Along with the fee, my understanding is there is also a pretty large lag time with the Xbox 360 updates, whereas the Playstation 3's can be released fairly quick and the PC ones can be released as soon as they are ready.

Until these problems between platforms are resolved, we will never have a truly immersive gaming experience, and players will not be able to truly enjoy all of their games with their friends. If not for the fan boy situation, the current battle between the console creators is an issue.

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