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For many of us, gaming is a form of escape from the struggles of real life. That being said, when we come across games that haven’t been properly optimized, let’s just say they only add up to our daily frustrations and anger issues.

With so many triple-A (AAA) titles being released every year, we expect a certain level of polish that comes with them. So, why are new PC games still badly optimized, bridled with bugs and choppy frame rates at launch?

In my opinion, PC games are badly optimized because developers are actively crunching their video game development timelines to satisfy short-term financial targets, likely due to publishers’/ investors’ involvement and pressure.

We’ve seen highly-anticipated games, like Gotham Knights and Cyberpunk 2077, being launched in disappointing states on release, and this might be a recurring industry-wide problem for the foreseeable future.

Some have speculated that our chosen installation drive plays a part in a game’s bad state, but that has not been proven true thus far. A game’s sluggish performance is usually caused by deeper underlying issues like coding or graphics engine utilization, making it harder for us to enjoy our games on PC.

PC games that have been ‘left in the oven for longer’ usually come out in more refined conditions. Recent games, such as Atomic Heart, prove that gamers genuinely prefer playing games that are lag-free and better optimized instead of hot messes like Fallout 76 (it’s been improved significantly now).

We might have more luck finding enjoyable experiences in indie games too, though I do hope more developers decide to implement split-screen support into their games as well, which is a rare occurrence these days.

What are the Signs of a Badly-Optimized PC Game?

How can we tell if a PC game is poorly optimized?

Well, an un-optimized PC game suffers from multiple frame rate drops, screen stutters, in-game bugs/ glitches, and other problems that hamper our playing enjoyment and experience.

Do take note, these can still happen to perfectly playable games if our computers do not meet their minimum system requirements. However, if our PCs exceed all the specs recommended, then the only plausible explanation is that the games themselves have not been adequately optimized.

Not every game needs a gaming PC to run smoothly. Take Project Zomboid, for example; the 2013 zombie-survival game can be played on many old-gen computers with minimal hiccups, leading to its strong, dedicated community that continues to grow to this very day.

This proves that visual fidelity isn’t everything when it comes to video games. Instead, it’s their game design, content updates, and performance optimizations that ensure PC players, like me, stick around for longer.

Sometimes, if our games look ugly and glitchy on the screen, the problem might not be the game itself. Our chosen display can be the culprit too, explaining why PC games don’t look nice on TVs (instead of actual gaming monitors).

Are Ported PC Games Always Un-optimized?

Subpar game optimization seems like a major problem for PC gamers today, but does this always happen to PC-ported console games too?

No, console games that are ported to PC aren’t always poor and un-optimized. Games like Days Gone and Monster Hunter: World are testaments to this, running significantly faster on many high-end gaming rigs, and boasting clearer textures and graphics as well.

That being said, since not every game is developed for PCs, porting console games to a different system takes up even more development time and resources, both incurring additional expenses on developers and publishers alike.

Hence, some companies, like Nintendo, focus on releasing their games on specific gaming platforms instead. This way, they make sure their products are sufficiently optimized for everyone’s fun and excitement. 

This isn’t to say that PC gaming is slowly dying, though, because it’s quite the opposite. New gaming technologies, like ray tracing and 4K image display, are becoming mainstream now, and gaming PCs can be upgraded with the latest hardware at any time, any day.

How Do I Play Un-optimized Games on PC?

Although un-optimized games make it harder for us to play our favorite PC masterpieces, it’s not always doom and gloom. 

There are a few ways for us to minimize gameplay issues plaguing our gaming experiences. Here are a few examples:

  • Tone down the graphics settings
  • Upgrade existing hardware
  • Update PC drivers
  • Install community-created mods

These might not solve every problem outright, but they can help reduce the frequency of them popping up in our games. Consider these as short-term ‘bandages’, at the very least, until official patches or updates are rolled out by the developers themselves.

That’s why, whenever new PC games are released (especially console ports), some gamers prefer renting the games instead. This way, not only do they save their money from purchasing the games entirely, but they can also return the games if they are deemed poorly optimized, getting refunds in return.

These are great practices that continue to be exercised today, and with more games going digital, we don’t have to worry about rebuying them from physical stores again if we lose their installation discs, most notably the defective ones.

Is it Hard to Optimize PC Games?

When we’re frustrated, it’s easy to blame the developers for failing to optimize their games correctly. After all, they’re professionals, so what’s so hard about it?

Well, truth is, it’s extremely hard and time-consuming. During development, video games are created using specific, chosen 3D engines and programming infrastructures that usually suit the developers’ preferred workstations and computers.

While the games may function perfectly on the developers’ end, they still need to go through meticulous debugging and testing to accommodate various potential PC configurations that players might have. This is where most of the optimization process is done, rectifying coding issues or programming conflicts that might happen due to the hundreds of distinct hardware specs that gamers might possess.

This explains why console games are usually more optimized and run smoother than PC games, because the respective platforms – e.g. PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S – already have specific, predetermined hardware configurations to follow. On the other hand, there can be an indefinite amount of possible PC setups out there, so it’s more difficult for developers to manage the much broader range, although it isn’t impossible.

It just takes more time and resources to be done, prompting certain decision-making processes to be evaluated by upper management. This is where the publishers or private investors come into play, and many developers are just doing their jobs by following whatever decisions their superiors make at the end of the day.

Still, PCs have beefier gaming hardware, such as the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card, affirming that PCs can also handle next-gen games with ease. However, because of the endless hardware options available on the market, PC gamers can build their own computers according to their acceptable budget, which might include compromising visual integrity for cheaper components, leading to lower-spec computer builds.

Understandably, many console gamers argue that investing money in building a gaming PC is a total waste, but both consoles and PC have their own merits, each benefitting from specific pros and cons that identify with many different players around the world. As a PC gamer myself, I’m partially biased, especially when we can only get good real-time strategy (RTS) games on PC, so I prefer having the freedom to modify my gaming rig whenever I want.

As long as we get to play our beloved games at acceptable frame rates and in-game performances – whether they’re optimized or not – then all’s fine and dandy, right?

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