Horizon Zero Dawn came to PC with a less-than-stellar port, and if Sony wants to bring more of its games to PC, then it needs to deliver better experiences.
Over the past console generation, Xbox released the majority of its first-party games on PC, giving players the choice of where they want to play. Wanting PlayStation to follow suit is an obvious thing to ask for, but it wouldn't just be beneficial to players. PlayStation has one of the deepest, most beloved histories in gaming and is home to some of the most prestigious modern developers out there--a first-party PlayStation game launch is always an event. Releasing its games on PC would make each PlayStation launch an even bigger deal, with a whole new audience and section of the internet to pore over every detail. However, if the company plans to go forward with more PC ports, then PlayStation needs to do a better job of introducing PC players to its esteemed worlds.
A strong first-party lineup has reinforced the company's image as the dominant console platform this generation. Its critically acclaimed releases garner a long-term affection that is rarely seen for single-player games--people are still playing and praising the five-year-old Bloodborne, for example. Even its less favourably received games are successful commercially, with Days Gone topping sales charts in the UK for weeks after its launch. And as of August 2019, it was the sixth highest-selling PS4 exclusive in the US, beating out Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Infamous: Second Son, and every MLB game.
Horizon Zero Dawn is the third highest-selling PS4 exclusive, and when it came to PC in early August, the 3-year-old game proved popular. SteamDB recorded an incredible all-time concurrent player count of 56,557 players, and that's not counting anyone on the Epic Games Store. That's a lot of people playing a single-player game at the same time on one platform, and it's not even a brand-new release. It's easy to imagine how Horizon Forbidden West or the Demon's Souls remake would be even more popular, especially with day-and-date releases.
Unfortunately, the players who did purchase Horizon Zero Dawn on PC were met with a myriad of issues, including crashes, poor performance, and bugs as well as graphical and audio issues. These issues can be fixed, as Horizon developer Guerrilla Studios has promised to do, but the PC gaming community is not one to accept a lesser version on a platform capable of so much more. As of this writing, Horizon sits at a "Mixed" user rating with more than 15,000 user reviews, many of the criticisms pointed toward the technical issues. This is a game that received near universal acclaim on its original PS4 release--it deserved better.
PlayStation benefitted from its association with Death Stranding. The Kojima-directed game received an incredible PC port, but it isn't actually a first-party game--it's developed by Kojima Productions and published on PC by 505 Games. Unfortunately, whatever goodwill PlayStation gained through osmosis was squandered with its poor PC port for Horizon Zero Dawn.
As PlayStation's main competitor, Xbox Game Studios has enjoyed a number of great PC launches, thanks to the Play Anywhere program it started in 2016. This allows players to swap between their Xbox One and PC with cross-buy and cross-save, and if you buy the digital version of a game on Xbox One, you get access to it on PC through the Windows 10 Store. It's also had great success with Xbox Game Pass for PC (included with Game Pass Ultimate), which gets you a huge library of PC games for a monthly cost.
Beating the flying pigs and homesick cows, Xbox has even started to release its games on Steam, something that was unexpected, yet has been met with great praise. Sea of Thieves is thriving on Valve's platform, with over 30,000 "Very Positive" user reviews. Halo: The Master Chief Collection also boasts a "Very Positive" rating with more than 90,000 user reviews. Xbox has openly accepted Steam's Early Access program, releasing Obsidian's kid-shrinking survival game, Grounded, to more than 5,000 user reviews and a "Very Positive" rating. Of course, Xbox has released games that were less favourably received than these, but when the company nails a PC port, players respond in kind.
That's what makes the Horizon Zero Dawn port so disappointing. While Xbox has embraced a number of different options for PC players, PlayStation has floundered its first, long-awaited attempt. It can easily turn things around, though, and a PC port can be fixed. One of the most infamous PC ports, Batman: Arkham Knight, launched to an incredible amount of backlash due to poor performance and even a lack of certain graphical features that were present on the PS4 and Xbox One--the game was also locked to 30 FPS on PC. Warner Bros. removed it from Steam, fixed the port, and re-listed it later that year, still offering full refunds to anyone who bought the game originally. After all that, it's now sitting pretty with a "Very Positive" user rating and over 30,000 reviews.
However, PC players still remember that initial port and likely won't forget it when Rocksteady's Suicide Squad game nears its release date. Actions speak louder than words, and Rocksteady and Warner Bros. will have to prove themselves to gain that launch-day trust back. PlayStation should remember this and not mistake its high PC player count as a 100% success. PlayStation would be wise to follow Xbox's suit and publish its games on PC alongside their PS5 release dates. But it still needs to prove that it can create PC ports that are worth players’ time and money. If it wants its games to be as desired and lauded as they are among console players, then it needs to help its impressive stable of developers create great PC ports.