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Why should video game publishers pay to do what fans will do for free?

by Ron Duwell | March 27, 2017March 27, 2017 10:00 am PDT

Just food for thought really quick, and I want to make it perfectly clear that everything here is just speculation and not factual regarding any mentioned publishers. However, this concerns a game that I’m really digging right now and a trend that has been occurring with more frequency recently.

PC ports have taken off over the last decade or so, and many games in question are able to meet the consistent performance or even exceed that of their console counterparts.

On the other hand, the last two or three years have seen some real stinkers which haven’t exactly been up to speed, and a dedicated modding scene can routinely be thanked for salvaging these ports and saving the companies’ reputations. These modders are able to dramatically improve the performance of these broken ports within a week of their launch, oftentimes to the point where even the publishers couldn’t get them to run as smoothly.

As these examples become more common, would it surprise anyone if these choppy ports are being released in this state on purpose to save budget?

NieR: Automata, which is a remarkable video game that deserves nothing but the best performance in the world, was released on Steam last week to a mixed reception from the PC gaming crowd because of framerate issues and a locked screen resolution of 900p.

Within a week, a single modder released a patch which fixed the game up perfectly. The mod in question boosts the screen resolution to 1080p, irons out the framerate to run at a smooth 60fps, and fixes all known lighting and graphical issues.

Just a week after launch! That’s all it took for a single modder to fix a broken PC launch.

You know who didn’t fix these issues? A Square Enix programmer who would require a paycheck and game testers that Square Enix would have to contract. Seriously, if I were Square Enix, who seems to have found out the secret of manipulating the mod scene to do its gritty programming work, I would never release a fully functioning product ever again.

NieR: Automata isn’t the company’s first example of these either! Square Enix also got the exact same help when fans fixed up the ports of Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels when they hit Steam.

I’m not calling out Square Enix for doing anything dishonest, nor is the company the only one that has offhandedly benefitted from this *wink wink* arrangement with the mod scene. Square Enix is just the company I see this happening with the most because it’s the company whose games I play the most. You only need to look through Steam’s mod database to find plenty of publishers that have sat back and watched the mod scene save them thousands of dollars, spare them countless hours of patch testing, and ultimately, get their games up and running probably better than their own people could have done.

Is there something wrong with this? I wouldn’t think so, unless it leads to situations that are beyond the reach of your average modders, like the server problems with SimCity or Battlefield 4. However, Server issues are one thing, but performance issues? Publishers only have to hope that their game is popular enough for a modder to notice and get inspired to develop a fix.

And Square Enix obviously doesn’t have that problem as one of the world’s premiere developers.

If the game ultimately runs better, publishers can save money and move onto the next project sooner, and modders don’t mind working for free, who’s to say that this unofficial arrangement hurts anyone?


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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