Rockstar needs to sing a different tune to ensure its future

Rockstar needs to sing a different tune to ensure its future


At 12 bucks and change, Rockstar's Max Payne 3's sale on Steam last weekend looked too good to pass up, but all it did was show me Rockstar's total lack of understanding of what makes a game work on PC.

At 12 bucks and change, Rockstar’s Max Payne 3’s sale on Steam last weekend looked too good to pass up. I had chosen to leave it sitting on the shelves when it first came out back in June; not because I thought it would suck, but because I refused to buy another Rockstar developed game.

I know, there is a contradiction in there. I am a gamer and love gaming enough to spend my precious time writing about the topic for a gaming mag. So why refuse to buy a good game simply because it was developed by Rockstar, perhaps the most revered game developer today?

The answer lies as much in Rockstar’s appalling treatment of the PC as a gaming platform as it does in their utter lack of insight in how different gaming on PCs is from gaming on consoles.

Did I step on your toes just there? Hold on to your horses and let me explain.


As a PC gamer, I know I’m a little sensitive when a developer with overnight success on PCs, ditches the platform in favor of consoles. Rockstar’s hallmark franchise Grand Theft Auto originated on the PC and while I don’t mind ‘equally sharing’ the experience with consoles (in an ideal world, games would be platform agnostic, leaving the choice to gamers) but PC gamers getting GTA a year later than their console brethren is simply infuriating. And when it finally came out, it was little more than a competent but lazy port with disappointing graphics and barely adequate controls.

Which brings me to my second point: Rockstar’s blatant inability to create a fulfilling PC experience.

Not understanding PC gaming

Truth be told, I experienced a moderate sense of excitement as Steam downloaded Max Payne 3 to my machine. I liked the original games and the many glowing reviews on Metacritic suggested that Rockstar had done a great job continuing the series. Perhaps, then, the PC version of Max Payne 3 wasn’t just a lazy port like GTA?

Like the Spring sun working away at a late snow, my excitement melted away in the hours that followed when I started playing the game. At first, I was annoyed that I needed to register a Rockstar account. You have my information, I got the game from Steam. The game then wanted to link my Steam account with my new Rockstar account, and failed. I spent half an hour on forums trying to find a fix.

When I did, the game dropped me back to the desktop during every (poorly rendered) cutscene and when it didn’t, it simply froze the screen while continuing with the audio. Do you know how many cutscenes there are in Max Payne 3? The game is almost all cutscene! I spent another hour troubleshooting this issue. In both cases the official support channels were useless but there were plenty of complainers who experienced exactly what I did. Both problems were resolved by helpful gamers who had spent hour upon hour trying to figure out what was going on, and both could have been dealt with by releasing a simple patch.

With the technical difficulties behind me, I could finally play the game. While enjoyable, the somewhat sluggish controls started bothering me after a while. Not because the graphics were sluggish, far from it, but because controlling a game with mouse and keyboard requires a different flow, a different rhythm than a gamepad, but this had not been taken into account. In addition, the preset default keyboard layout was ridiculous but fortunately this could be changed.

My annoyance flared up even more by odd, glitchy graphics that turned out to be part of the game rather than faulty video drivers (they depict Max’s permanent state of drunkenness). For a short while, I felt they were fun and quirky and made the game stand apart from other shooters, but then the headache set in. Dear Rockstar, PC gamers sit – much – closer to their screens than console gamers, and we’re often in a dark room away from other light sources. Your game is an infinite source of headache! Switching the lights in the room to full, I was able to continue playing the game.

Once again Rockstar proved that PC gaming was beyond their ability to understand.

It will bite them in the ass

Judging the long list of problems reported on Steam and on the official forums, I feel confident saying that I’m not the only one with yet another bad PC experience with a Rockstar game. Only recently, Rockstar once again stated that they have currently no plans to bring [I]GTA 5[/I] to the PC. Initially, I got a little upset at that, as it felt like just another shot in the back for PC gamers. Now, however, I think we’re better off without it.

For Rockstar, the writing is on the wall. The next console cycle will likely be the last and if the rumors are true, Microsoft is already shifting their focus towards a more casual gaming future with a “Xbox Light” that targets a different demographic than core gamers. While we may still get an Xbox for core gamers this time around, it’s unlikely that the one after will be servicing the core demographic. Similarly, rumors are that Sony considered not making a Playstation 4 at all.

Which leaves PC as the only viable core gaming platform. The platform’s death has been heralded for years but it is more alive than ever before. There is no doubt Rockstar needs to shape up and start working on their PC skills if they still want to be a company 10 years from now. But from the mindset that they display today, I think they are in for a rocky ride.