PC gamers are made to wait for content

W ith the release of Assassins Creed: Brotherhood for the PC, the frustrating trend of publishers pushing PC release dates of games continues. It all started with Ubisoft's first Assassins Creed title in 2007. Released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 in early-to-mid November 2007, Assassins Creed was an award-winning stealth action/adventure game that won more than its fair share of awards. Gamers who owned consoles were able to enjoy it for a full six months before PC gamers could get their hands on it the following April. But to be fair to the developers, the game on the PC was an absolute gem, sporting better graphics than its console counterparts, thanks in no small part to full DirectX 10 support (remember Windows Vista?) and very generic DRM that wasn't intrusive. However, as a result of the simplistic copy protection system used, the game was pirated. A lot.

A couple of years passed and PC gamers everywhere were hoping to get a parallel release for the much-awaited sequel, aptly titled Assassins Creed II. The setting had changed from the primarily dull-grey-and-brown environments of the Middle East to a far more colourful Italy, and PC gamers wanted to experience it on their powerful machines. But this time, they weren't merely cheated out of a release date — the PC version of Assassins Creed II that ultimately ended up on shelves was a port of the console versions. The game looked visibly worse than its predecessor on the PC, lacking high-resolution textures or DirectX 10 support (DirectX 11 was out by then) and sported a DRM system that was wonderfully annoying. The new system required gamers to be online at all times while playing the game and if there were any interruptions to the Internet connection, players would not be able to save their game. They wouldn't even be able to launch their game unless they were connected to the Internet. The system was seemingly an effective anti-piracy measure but was received poorly by the gaming press and public alike. Fortunately, Ubisoft chose to abandon the absurd DRM for Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, a move that was welcomed by critics and gamers everywhere — they even included all downloadable content for free in the PC package. However, while the PC version of Brotherhood looked better than its console counterparts, it didn't feel like a title that was developed ground-up for the PC (the first Assassins Creed did).

It's not just Ubisoft that has adopted this model of releasing PC versions of games months after console releases. Rockstar Games have been doing this for a lot longer than Ubisoft, swearing by the model — ever since Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. In fact, the model of the six-month delayed release was created by Rockstar. It has since been adopted by a lot of publishers, including Ubisoft and Microsoft, with their ‘Fable' franchise — the latest Fable, Fable III, will be released in mid-may (the console version was released in October last year). Its effectiveness is evident in the commercial success of the titles mentioned here — GTA is one of the largest selling franchises of all time, Assassins Creed games have each sold over five million units and games from the Fable series have sold a minimum of three million units. It would seem that the best way to combat piracy is not copy-protection and absurd DRM — the best way, in fact, would be to simply delay it.