Batman: Arkham Knight was supposed to be one of the best games of 2015, and according to reviews that came out with its release this week, it's right up there if you play it on your Xbox One or PlayStation 4. On PC, however, it was such a broken mess that last night publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment decided to pull it from Steam, the biggest digital PC games store.
Hopefully, having to essentially recall one of the biggest games of the year is a teachable moment for other developers and publishers, and the beginning of the end for this recent history of shipping completely busted games.
The decision to pull it from Steam is extreme. It's the kind of thing that up until now has been the domain of fly-by-night Kickstarters that abandon their projects, relativeley obscure cricket simulators, or amatuer developers who literally theratened to kill Valve's president Gabe Newell.
"We want to apologize to those of you who are experiencing performance issues with Batman: Arkham Knight on PC," Warner Bros. said. "We take these issues very seriously and have therefore decided to suspend future game sales of the PC version while we work to address these issues to satisfy our quality standards."
Also notable here is that Steam recently made it very easy for users to claim refunds, specifically for cases like this, and that the Warner Bros. statement directs its customers to this new policy.
It's hard to say what exactly led Warner Bros. to its drastic decision last night. The biggest difference between this launch disaster and previous launch disasters, however, is that the Steam refund policy made the company more accountable. Green Man Gaming, a competing digital PC games store, said that it will make a special offer and refund Arkham Knight buyersbuyers as well if the first patch didn't fix the game.
It's no tragedy that people will have to wait to play a power fantasy with a sufficiently wet Batman at 60 frames per second. But if you paid $60 for something that straight up didn't work you'd be pissed too
Technically, you can always request a refund from whatever retailer sold you a game, but it's not this easy.
So it's not a terrible idea for Warner Bros. to pull the game rather than watch many more players continue to buy it and return it. Whenever it fixes Arkham Knight, it can relaunch with a peace offering of free extra missions and start over.
The decision also diverts attention from players who are raging pretty hard right now, for various reasons.
First of all, Arkham Knight was supposed to be the best game of 2014 before it was supposed to be the best game of 2015, but it was delayed twice in order to insure fans were getting the finale they deserved.
"We're a developer that hates to make any compromises, so we are sorry to say this means it's going to be just a little bit longer until you can play the epic conclusion to the Arkham trilogy," the game's director Sefton Hill said in March.
It was mildly disappointing at the time, but ultimately comforting news because big budget games have developed such a terrible record of shipping in broken or semi-broken states ever since Microsoft and Sony released the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection multiplayer didn't work for months and Assassin's Creed: Unity melted the faces of its characters. Arkham Knight on the PC has become a comparable mess, with slow frame rates that make it nearly unplayable, despite the delays.
Another layer to this mess is that the PC version of the game is falling short of the console versions, which is striking at the core of PC gamers' superiority complex.
Nvidia, maker of the GeForce graphics cards, and which is currently helping Warner Bros. fix Arkham Knight's problems, used the game to promote its proprietary GameWorks technology that enables interactive fog and smoke, paper debris swirling in the wind, and enhanced rain.
In trying to help players who are experiencing problem yesterday, Warner Bros. suggested that player's turn off all of these fancy features, and more, making the game look not nearly as good as it can or should. This is not supposed to happen to the PC Master Race, as they are fond of calling themselves.
What is enhanced rain? According to Nvidia "the new visual effect spawns additional rain particles with simulated velocity when Batman's cape opens for flight," but how much does it matter that droplets don't shoot off Batman's cape when he spreads his wings?
Like, how offended are you by the difference between these two wet Batmans in this supposedly condemning picture, meant to illustrate the criminal superiority of the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which has rain textures, and PC version, which doesn't?
A recently assembled gaming PC for the kind of person who's comparing wet Batmans on Reddit is most definitely more powerful than a PlayStation 4, so Arkham Knight should look way better there.
I mean look at the dynamic smoke and swirling paper money in this GameWorks promotional video featuring Arkham Knight:
Is that cool or what? Answer: Yes, it is very cool, and the reason I'm jealous of people who pay $1,500+ for a PC.
Now they're very upset. It's not a tragedy that a bunch of people with enviable amounts of disposable income will have to wait a little longer before they play through a power fantasy featuring a sufficiently wet Batman at 60 frames per second, and not 30 frames per second, where the game is currently capped, but if you paid $60 (or $1,500+ counting the PC) for anything and it straight up didn't work out of the box you'd be pissed too.
It seems like all this anger, and the fact that these players now have an easy way to get their money back has prompted a big publisher to take a real step instead of just issuing an apology. Hopefully, other publishers are watching this new dynamic, and are coming to the conclusion that it's crucial to avoid launching a broken game in the first place.