How PC gaming can improve in 2017

2016 was a banner year for PC gaming, but there's lots of room for our favorite hobby to improve. As we return to PC Gamer HQ today with a clean calendar in front of us, I asked our team to have a think about how they'd like to see PC gaming get better in 2017.

Stop releasing broken-ass games

It's an unhappy refrain at this point, but major games continue to arrive on PC with significant technical issues. Among the worst offenders in 2016: Mafia 3, Dishonored 2, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Forza Horizon 3, and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. My personal worst technical issue came with one of my favorite games of the year, XCOM 2. Graphical performance in the final mission degraded as I pushed forward, eventually running at 15 fps. Just as I thought the pain was about to end, I hit a bug that corrupted my save, preventing me from loading. I had to wait for a patch to beat the game.

PC developers have to account for countless different different hardware configurations, OSes, and other variables, but those studios with the most resources and the most experience making games for the platform have little excuse, at this point, for releasing something that doesn't work for nearly everyone at launch. —Evan Lahti

Restore the reputation of Early Access

Like most things in life, even pancakes, Early Access can be good, but it can also be bad. Good, because many studios use it as a way to build ambitious projects with the helpful feedback of a community. Bad, because some devs don’t use it right, and some users don’t approach it correctly. As for the former, the proliferation of Early Access periods for games that barely have a community to begin with, seems to point to a larger problem: that the initiative seems to represent a means for games that aren’t finished to get onto the marketplace. In other words, we’re in a situation where there are too many Early Access games, not enough certainty that any project will be meaningfully supported, and this toxic combo negatively affects the studios who really want to make it work (see Rust, The Long Dark).

In 2017, it’d be great to hear less of failed or poorly supported Early Access projects, but this requires vigilance from players, from us (the media) and from developers. Most PC Gamer readers will be well-aware of what Early Access means, but I think the way we report “promises” and “features” needs to come with huge caveats. We need to stop reporting them as inevitable, because nothing in games development is inevitable. I think our team is good at doing this already, but if all outlets approached Early Access with the caution it requires, then we might shake off its negative connotations. Early Access needs to work on its image, in other words: it needs to reassert itself as a way for players to observe and interact with the development process. We need to be reminded that Early Access isn’t, simply, getting early access to a playable game. It’s a different beast, and a very valuable one, when approached correctly. —Shaun Prescott

Support Steam's competitors 

Steam, with 125 million active accounts at Valve's last reported count, is by far the biggest distributor of PC games, but it often gets treated like Steam is the platform rather than a part of it. Unlike our console compatriots, we're fortunate to have access to a bunch of different digital stores on PC. We benefit from the competition between Origin, GOG,, Green Man Gaming, Amazon, and others. 

Buying games directly from a developer's website is one of the best things you can do if you're passionate about their work. But otherwise, I think most of us could do more to patronize other online retailers, many of which give out Steam codes anyway. We're doing our part by regularly pointing you to the Humble Store, which supports charities. —Evan Lahti

Stop toying with exclusivity/platform wars

One of my favorite parts of PC gaming is that we don’t have to deal with “platform wars.” Sure, some games only release for Windows, but if they eventually become playable on Linux and Mac it’s good news for PC gaming as whole, regardless of your personal OS. The openness of the PC as a platform is incredibly unique in gaming, where it doesn’t matter what’s inside your case as long as it can physically run the game. But we saw the boundaries of that openness tested in 2016, and it scares the crap out of me. 

Suddenly PC gamers are facing a platform war of their own between the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, the latter of which has been using timed exclusives to tempt players to its side. But worse than that, VR shooter Arizona Sunshine briefly locked two game modes so they were only playable if you owned an Intel Core i7 CPU. Although those modes were planned to unlock for everyone in March—and the outcry about them caused developer Vertigo Games to quickly remove the limitation—this is the first time we’ve seen in-game content or playability tied to specific hardware exclusivity, and I desperately hope it’s not a sign of things to come. 

Running, quickly, in the opposite direction of all this bullshit isn’t exactly a way PC gaming should “improve” this year, but it’s absolutely a way it should stay the same. —Tom Marks

Open UWAs to modders

Microsoft’s Universal Windows Applications aren’t open to modding in the traditional sense of the word. Modding expert Durante says UWAs are packaged in such a way that API calls can’t be intercepted, which is what “UWP specifically sets out to eliminate.” It’s doubtful that Microsoft will double back on their initiative and revert their ongoing app structures to resemble something similar to Win32 programs, but at the very least, I’m hoping for a slow drip of tools that let us unpack and poke around UWAs more. I’ll even take a proprietary mod marketplace for now. We just want to breathe life into stagnating games (and replace every texture with Nic Cage).

Without modding, game ecosystems depend entirely on developer output, but development is expensive and games are often left by the wayside as soon as they stop making money. One I’m particularly worried about is Gears of War 4.

It’s an excellent port, both scalable and gorgeous, but without player created maps and tweaks I fear it will struggle to keep up with the demands of players who can turn to an endless font of creative, niche mods available in other games. When I want a game to come to the PC, it’s not just a matter of convenience—I’ll gladly play it on a console if it’s more comfortable there. But a PC release implies making use of the platform’s greatest strengths: graphical power and openness. —James Davenport

Learn to love those thankless roles

"Get on the payload" is a meme in the Overwatch community in that it's-funny-but-I'm-actually-crying way: in a tale as old as time, some players blissfully ignore the game objective in the hunt for more kills. It reminds me of playing Halo on PC a decade ago: I'd often be the only member of my team sitting back at base in a CTF match, waiting to defend the flag from the enemy team. Offense is more fun than babysitting the flag. Getting kills is more fun than babysitting the payload. Not much has changed, but I'm still hopeful that better players, and smarter game design, can improve the frequency of good team cooperation.

I think Blizzard did a great job in Overwatch encouraging people to play the support roles like Mercy and Lucio. They made support fun and active and downplayed the importance of your kill/death ratio. I'd like to see more developers work new ideas into their multiplayer designs that encourage playing the objective and making those thankless roles more exciting for everyone. I want to see the most diehard Battlefield snipers and Overwatch Reapers try a new way to play and think Huh. This is fun. Why haven't I tried this before? And lo, the dream of true online multiplayer gaming teamwork was reborn. —Wes Fenlon

Find better ways to preserve dying games with online features 

PlanetSide was shut down by Daybreak Games last year after 13 years of service. In just a few weeks, Lineage’s western servers will be getting the same treatment. And just like that, years of crucial PC gaming history will disappear, the scraps left to be salvaged by passionate hackers looking to, as is the case with PlanetSide, build private server emulators. Videogames have a preservation problem, and it’s only going to be getting worse.

As more games are built upon online-only foundations, more and more blind spots in gaming’s history will begin to form. While that old Diablo 2 disc will always be there, ready for a trip down nostalgia lane, Diablo 3 most likely will not—unless Blizzard allows for offline play or hackers circumvent it. It’s a sad time when internet historians like Jason Scott tell developers that “workplace theft is the future of videogame history.” But he’s not wrong, unless companies start doing more to preserve their games, that history will continually be in the hands of thieves and hackers.

In 2017, I’d love to see publishers and developers doing more to make sure their games can be enjoyed forever—even if they stopped making money eons ago. Daybreak Games made a wonderful first step by sanctioning Everquest private server Project 1999 in 2015, but there’s so much more that could be done. I’m not suggesting that developers simply toss a game’s source code up online after it’s shut down, but find more creative ways to make sure everyone benefits. The developers of Wurm Online did just that in 2015, for example, by releasing their MMO on Steam as an independent, stand-alone release for players to make their own private servers. There’s no reason why more older MMOs and other online-only games shouldn’t follow suit so that future generations can appreciate how far videogames continue to go. —Steven Messner

More same-screen co-op

Here's a selfish request: give us more local co-op games on PC. Most PC gamers probably don't own two gamepads, but after binging on Overcooked last year we're hungry for more of this genre. As it stands, the Steam category is mostly populated by a few different top-down shooters and various Lego games. —Evan Lahti

Treat workers better 

Big game publishers love contractors. They can pay them less than employees, they don't have to give them benefits, and they can fire them with ease when the contract's up. As this Polygon story details, a contractor might put in as much work as any employee, and be expected to do all the things employees are, but without the benefits of a stable job. And those who do find full-time work can suffer from a well-documented culture that promotes excessive unpaid overtime. Rather than realistic budgets and deadlines, salaried employees can be expected to work 12 or more hours a day during crunches. 

Thanks to the strong unions in the film and television industries, the performance side of game development is taking a stand. I find it ridiculous that Electronic Arts pulls in billions of dollars, and yet along with several other major publishers won’t agree to give striking SAG-AFTRA performers secondary payments for games which sell over 2 million copies, or even for secondary payments to exist as an option. The companies instead offered a 9% wage increase and a one-time bonus of up to $950 for performers who do multiple sessions, but still won’t budge on the idea of paying residuals to the performers in their best-selling games. If my face and voice were sold 2 million times, I’d expect a bonus. (But those 2 million people would be weird for buying a game with my face in it.)

I suspect, as SAG-AFTRA does, that EA, Activision, and the other corporations involved don't want any of their other employees getting ideas about what part of the billions they're owed. Paying residuals "opens up a can of worms of sharing prosperity,” said union representative and actor Jennifer Hale, who was quoted in this LA Times story.

I want the games we celebrate to reward the people who made them, because when we give out our Game of the Year Awards, we're not giving them to investors and CEOs. It's the contracted animator who was let go after production finished and won't see another cent that I care about. The industry will be better, and make better games, if the people making them are given a fairer deal. —Tyler Wilde 

PC Gamer

The collective PC Gamer editorial team worked together to write this article. PC Gamer is the global authority on PC games—starting in 1993 with the magazine, and then in 2010 with this website you're currently reading. We have writers across the US, UK and Australia, who you can read about here.