Screen Critics Shaun discusses the increasingly prevalent third party launchers within PC gaming – asking if publishers need to back off.
PC gaming is as good as its ever been. With such quality in both the free-to-play space and the AAA arena, gamers who use a keyboard and mouse can make the experience their own. Yet increasingly, many publishers seem to tacking on awkward third-party launchers with little regard for the effect on the overall experience. Not all videogame launchers are born equally – and in some cases they can tank an entire experience.
It’s reaching the point where every publisher has its own peripheral launcher that needs to be installed, updated and managed away from Steam. This isn’t new and wouldn’t be a problem if the launchers were any good – but in almost all cases they’re just a load of trash. In their attempt to carve out a slice of the digital pie for themselves, developers are pushing out half-baked, awkwardly unworkable solutions.
Some are better than others, but really – are any of them essential? Ubisoft has Uplay. EA has Origin. Blizzard has Battle.net. Rockstar has the Rockstar Social Club and now Bethesda has the Bethesda Launcher. This excludes the countless other ones that exist within the PC gaming space, all designed as a way of getting a foothold into your PC space.
In Bethesda’s case in particular, it makes playing Quake Champions a cumbersome experience. The launcher is mandatory to get the game working – but half the time fails to work as advertised – not great when the BETA is designed to get people talking positively about the game. In some cases the launcher refuses to work as intended, crashing and causing the game to go with it. In others it outright refuses to work – facilitating a pointless trip to the Task Manger to close down all its operations and restart from the ground up. If that’s the user experience Bethesda wants me to have with their new multiplayer game – then mission accomplished.
But it’s not just me, Bethesda’s own forums are filled with people complaining about the experience. Users on sites like Reddit and Neogaf are actively sharing ways to get around using the launcher altogether. It’s a needless middle-man between gamer and the game, an awkward asterisk that puts off some while downgrading the experience for others. It’s existence is not for the benefit of the user, but designed as a way for Bethesda to gain a foothold on your computer.
I totally understand why publishers want this direct access. It’s a platform for Bethesda to sell their wares directly to the consumer, without competing against every other developer on Steam for precious front page advertising space.. It also means they don’t have to give a cut of any in-game sales to Valve – reportedly as high as 30%.
But there’s a reason gamers like using Steam. The reason gamers don’t mind Steam is because it doesn’t get in the way of playing the games. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn sight more useful than any of the third-party offerings. It centralizes the system and puts everything in one place. From friend lists through to content – the whole thing works as intended. When third-party clients require me to add friends and pointlessly faff around to get the experience I could get elsewhere – you know something’s gone horribly wrong. Worse still, sometimes it actively hides features that really shouldn’t be hidden – like community sharing and live streaming. If I pay for a game – I want the full game.
Take UPlay for example. For years it’s has been the butt of jokes among PC gamers, never escaping the view that it’s anything more than a nagging watcher to proceedings. It’s also encouraged Ubisoft to try some less than stellar ideas – with Ubisoft famously making Assassin’s Creed 2 an always-online title through their client. The client had to be running alongside the game – or you’d be ejected from the experience. Sure it combats piracy, but at the cost of how many potential sales?
In the defence of these clients, when they work they can arguably work better for gamers. EA’s Origin was a hot mess when it launched, yet now it excels in multiple areas. It has better customer service and it has a EA Access – arguably one of the better deals going in gaming subscription services right now.They can improve, but in some cases this never happens.
Ultimately though, there’s very little argument for these clients to exist. In trying to capture more sales and bring more eyes onto their services, developers and publishers are tying their games to services that underwhelm and essentially kill momentum for their products. No one wants their gaming experience interrupted by pointless padding – and these third-party applications are just that. If you must make them mandatory, have the courtesy to make sure it works as intended – rather than tanking gamers experience.
Consumers deserve better than being landed with bloatware that serves no end purpose. If it’s not fit for purpose, get rid of it. Or the likes of Quake Champions may never find an audience because of Bethesda’s desire to make more of a profit. Launchers are an increasingly frustrating side-effect of modern gaming culture – and it’s one that I hope doesn’t last.