Bad Console-to-PC Ports: Why Bother?

Any PC gamer who’s been around for the last several years knows the pain of the bad Console-to-PC port.  It started as a slow, creeping sort of death, with the universally bad Final Fantasy ports, but has gained speed as the industry shifts from PC to console as the primary gaming platform.

These ports usually are so terribly done that their sales fall through the floor.  It’s exceedingly rare to see a game in the Top-10 NPD PC Game Sales list that was ported from the console.  Sure there are exceptions like Grand Theft Auto, but for every GTA there are 10 Halo 2 for Windows Vistas released.


My question is, why does anyone bother to invest the development resources in creating a port that will never sell well?  In some cases, I imagine it’s an almost negligible cost increase because the code for the console is so close to the PC code (i.e. any Xbox 360 game) that turning out a port is a simple matter.  But what about cases like Halo PC, Halo 2 Vista?  Or Resident Evil 4?  These are both titles that underwent long development cycles independent of the console version.  In the case of Halo games, several years of intense work by third party developers.

When a publisher puts out a bad port, it hurts the game brand, tarnishes the reputation of the original developer (even if they didn’t do the port) and hurts the potential for future PC titles from the same publisher.  Why do they bother?

My guess is that the decision is reached via one of two paths:

  1. Accounting types with no knowledge of the audience make the decision based on a spreadsheet
  2. Publishers are actively looking to kill the PC platform and want to use "poor sales" as the justification for abandoning it.

The first is very likely for console games that sold ridiculously well on their native platform, such as RE4, and the Halo titles, and a mathematical case can easily be made that even if a % of the console customers purchased or got a friend to purchase the PC version, it would pay off (1% of 1,000,000 copies sold is still 10k units, and at $40 a pop, you’re looking at $400,000 in revenue off a project that will cost a fraction of the original dev budget).

Next we have the conspiracy theory, that publishers (and some developers) are sick and tired of supporting the PC platform.  The PC is plagued by impossibly complex hardware combinations, piracy, and an ever-dwindling customer base.  However just making the switch to drop the PC would still be an extremely unpopular one, and hurt any publisher who does it without "good" reason.  So you have games like Halo 2 Vista, a game that was only playable by an extremely small % of the PC gamer base, and that was almost 3 years too late, looked bad and performed worse.  Microsoft can turn around and go "Well, why would we make any Halo games for the PC first?  Our previous attempts failed.  There just isn’t demand to justify it!  Now, go buy an Xbox."

Of course, it’s always pure conjecture as to why these terrible games come to be.  And no publisher or developer would ever give a straight, honest answer to the question.  So for now, the puzzle continues. 

Why bother with bad console-to-PC ports?