With the amount of cross pollution between console and computer gaming we’ve seen during these last ten years plus, it’s not wonder it sometimes seems that things have almost flipped around. With the further advent of Steam and its competitors like GOG, combined with the ever-furthering PC gamification of the consoles, consumers do move towards the PC and its digital consoles.
The cross-pollination has also become increasingly more and more evident with the Japanese developers porting their titles to Steam due to having to deal less bullshit from Valve’s end to certain extent, and not having to care about other licensing issues or having to give a second thought about physical media. This is essentially the cheap option, when you don’t have money to release a full physical release. The recent Kickastarter for Arcana Heart 3 Love Max Six Stars!!!!!! (yes, with six goddamn exclamations) basically had no chance of seeing further ports if it hadn’t been for Steam. Depending how the title will see success after it’s been launched at whatever date in the far-flung future, the possibility of convincing execs to further port the game for other platforms is possible.
That’s probably the main reason why Japanese companies have begun to see Steam as a valid option; costs. Much like with Muv-Luv‘s Kickstarter, Japanese game developing execs have to be convinced with data and analysis. And tradition, can’t forget that. It’s the corporate culture. To keep using the aforementioned Arcana Heart as an example, the cost of developing a port of an arcade game that never saw major success on consoles and never would stand out from obscurity is just tad too high. The main problems with this isn’t just paying the workers to port the game, but the ad campaigning and licensing costs to console companies too. Pressing the physical media isn’t as expensive as people would think, but the logistics and rising material costs do add up pretty fast, especially if you’re intending to do region specific releases, which nowadays is absolutely stupid thing to do. Just throw in a language selection in the menu and be done with it.
Steam publishing removes quite a lot of logistic headaches in this regard, and in Arcana Heart‘s case may not require too much porting depending on the arcade hardware it’s running on. Which seems to be Taito Type X2 Hardware, which means it’s Windows XP driven. Easy as shit to port to Steam and other similar hardware to be honest and shouldn’t cost much anything. Hell, I think there’s a version out there on the Internet that’s essentially just the arcade executable, that runs just fine on Win7, but I remember that could ruin Window’s core folder structure or something else. Anyway, due to the lack of sales with Arcana Heart means that whatever way to save money and have it out there at the lowest expense possible means that it might make some money.
It’s no wonder Japanese companies have begun to aim to release games on Steam as well. Steam may not have the installation base in Japan that it has in Europe and US of A, but if they want to tap that digital sales market they better rip their preconceptions out and strike when the iron is still hot. This is evident with all the digital services Japan has for its own indie scene with the likes of DMM and DLsite, which work more as online shops for digital content than dedicated clients. These have been popular for number of years before Japanese developers begun to move their software to Steam. Once the ice was broken, even the smaller success software would bring in data to show that Westerners indeed would purchase their titles in digital form. Make no mistake, all Japanese titles that have seen success on Steam is all thanks to Western consumers.
The old argument for cross-pollination is that it offers the consumer choices, that the consumer can play a game on whichever platform they choose to. This is only a good argument on the surface. If you had all the titles on all platforms, the concept of having different platforms makes no more sense. The PC would always come out on the top. Not because it’s superior, but because everyone needs a goddamn computer of some sort nowadays. People hate buying new console hardware, but if it’s on PC, might as well skip purchasing that new Sony console. Steam’s model as a digital console steps in just fine, thought their UI has a terrible design, it functions quick and easy. It might seem awkward, but having multiple different systems with different games would further encourage software and hardware developers to hit different niches and expand the market. Nintendo’s consoles won’t disappear as long as Nintendo keeps making exclusive games that people want to play. Uniqueness in library content after all is the lifeline of a console. The more unique a library is, the more contest the console can tackle. Take that uniqueness away, and you’ll effectively get Steam, a system everybody wants to pick up because it’s the cheapest option.
Not even joking about that. One of Steam’s main point is that it’s cheap both to the consumer and developer. Most games don’t even require a high-end PC anymore because consoles have become dumbed down PCs to the point that Steam is getting ports from consoles and they’re for all intents and purposes identical. Hell, cross-play between console and PC versions has become a completely viable option. It’s no wonder console gamers who are sick and tired of seeing developers screwing them over and seeing support being dropped in favour for the upcoming systems and moving to PC, where they have no real need to concern themselves over that.
All platforms shouldn’t offer the same experience. The cross-pollination however will go to the point where consumers will have a choice to just select one and have everything on it, damn the quality and competition. Valve and Steam will keep themselves relevant while both Sony and Microsoft will cannibalise each other. Nintendo will most likely keep themselves relevant by hitting the market consensus by innovating and expanding the market. All this is really a change we just have to live with.