Why is Watch Dogs releasing on PC? "There's a lot of PC gamers," says senior producer

Yesterday, after a long string of complaints, Ubisoft announced that Tom Clancy's The Division will be released on PC after all. The PC version of Watch Dogs, however, was announced with much less fanfare just after the game was revealed at E3 2012. Earlier this month at Ubisoft Montreal, I asked Watch Dogs Senior Producer Dominic Guay why that is, and also discussed the PC features and hardware requirements we can expect, the potential for modding, and plans for post-release content.

Have a read of my hands-on impressions from the visit, too.

PC Gamer: A lot of companies, Ubisoft included, have bemoaned piracy on the PC, and low sales. So why make a PC version of Watch Dogs?

Dominic Guay: There's a lot of PC gamers. That's the main reason, I guess. There's a considerable amount of PC gamers who want to play games, and we want to give them games to play. And it's not rare, especially at the end of a long cycle of consoles, that we see that there are even more people playing on their PC. There's typically a cycle there, and we know the stats on that—it's not necessarily a surprising thing. So I think that's the core idea, and there's a big, big, big install base on PC.

And plus, the game looks great on PC.

Have the new consoles made it easier to work between all three systems?

Because we started working on the game four years ago, there were not even words of next-gen at that time. So because we were guessing that there would be, we said, 'OK, so let's start planning for it, let's start building the game with that in mind and the technology with that in mind,' but there was no hardware to work on, no consoles.

So, for us, we kind of built our own fake console target hardware that was a PC, and that's what we started working on. For years, that's what we were basing our technology, and pushing our technology on. So, we did most of our early R&D into next-gen on a PC anyway.

So, yes, when those consoles were finally announced, and we got information on them, it was good news because they were very close to what we had targeted in the first place, so we were able to move very quickly on them. So now, we're pretty much in a position where we're able to say that the core content we created is pretty much symetrical across those platforms.

Are there any PC-specific features, like control bindings, graphics options?

Yeah, obviously what you'd expect. So controls have to be specific, and interfaces also need control—if you're going to use a mouse and keyboard you don't want to have those huge buttons, you want to have something that's going to be more precise.

There's that, obviously, plus all the configuration options you need on there, not having fixed hardware.

I ask because sometimes there aren't any.

[Laughs] There aren't any?

Yeah, in some ports. But it's not really a port, is it? It was developed for PC hardware at first...

Yeah, maybe the last thing I'd say is that right now we're nailing down our configurations that we're going to support on the PC, and they're not totally finalized because—I always felt that it's also about being very honest with gamers about what we can expect with the hardware they have, so we don't want to pretend we can support a 486.

So that's what we're working towards now. What we want to do is—it's one thing to have configuration options, but we want to make sure that the range that we're going to support, we're going to support well. We're going to be very honest about that.

Do you see it as a controller experience? Or do you expect people to get on mouse and keyboard on PC?

That's a good question. My personal preference would be to play it with controller, mostly because of the driving. Our driving is physics based, so you know there's games where driving is almost like a go kart, that it's magical and it sticks. Ours is a bit more physics-based, it's a bit more the feeling you get from a real driving game. So in that sense, it's cool to have analog control sticks—if you only have the buttons, it might not be as deep. It's going to be fine, you're going to be able to play it, but I just like sometimes to drive for an hour in the city, and I'm not sure I'd find the same joy out of four keys.

One of the reasons GTA IV had such longevity on PC is the unsupported modding community. Will the Disrupt engine be at all moddable?

Not officially. I mean, we're not shipping with tools to mod the game in itself. I'm sure some crafty people might figure some things out, but no, it's not something that we're going for. We're a new IP, first iteration, so we have to pick our battles. So, we're not going to ship with a modding toolset.

Are there plans yet for post-release content?

Yeah, yeah, that's definitely something we're looking at. We're looking at two different things—we're interested, because we have built this huge, dense city with lots of things to do in it, and we've actually not been able to use every cool area in the city in this game. So, we figure there's possibilities to create cool new stories in that world. So that's something we're looking at—not necessarily working on, because we're dedicated to shipping this game—but it's something we think we could work on.

One other layer that we're interested in exploring is, 'What other types of gameplay could we do in that city?' So, kind of looking at ways we could provide additional gameplay experiences that are not just more missions, but really something different, reusing that big sandbox we created, and reusing that technology. So maybe more of a bite sized new chunk of gameplay that we're able to make available after the launch.

So, those are ideas we have right now, but I guess we'll just need to take vacations and then come back and see what we can do with this.

Are you all taking a long vacation after it ships?

Well, probably some of us—a well-deserved long vacation. [Laughs]

Has it been a really tough crunch?

Well, no, it varied through the whole production cycle. But obviously at this point, you know, this is crunch time. With a game, you're never done in the sense that you can always polish it more, you can always do something more. So we're trying to do everything we can before shipping to polish it up, so at this point it's always a little bit tiring.

And then you still have to do interviews.

[Laughs] And then there's everything coming together in terms of marketing, yeah.

Thanks for stepping away from the crunch to talk with us, Dominic.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.