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PC Gaming Alliance plans March launch for certification program
PC Gaming Alliance plans March launch for certification program Exclusive
December 2, 2013 | By Kris Graft

December 2, 2013 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Production, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

The PC Gaming Alliance is putting the finishing touches on a PC game certification program.

Announced earlier this year, the program is already live following a "soft launch" early adopters program, though PCGA president Matt Ployhar is looking to March 2014 for an official launch with finalized specs, he tells Gamasutra.

The program, which is opt-in and OS-agnostic, is in part an attempt to achieve standardization across games within the open PC market, hopefully encouraging more consumer confidence and as a result, more sales for developers.

Details of the certification program are yet to be 100 percent finalized, but the PCGA's goal is to introduce a quality bar for PC games so customers know better what to expect from PC game purchases. The group is looking for more developers to partake in the program.

The PCGA would charge developers for certification, though at a rate substantially lower than what you'll see with console certification programs. The cost for non-PCGA members is $500 per title if applicants test the game themselves, or $2500 if they want the PCGA to help test it.

PCGA-certified games would sport an official logo showing compliance with the standards, with PCGA members using the logo at no extra charge, as long as they meet the requirements. Logos are designed to be used on physical retail and digital products.

Some of the main issues when talking about PC games and certification programs is the cost to partake in such programs, as well as the restrictions that turn out to be more of a hassle than they're worth. Ployhar, who has direct experience with video game certification programs, says he's keeping those issues in mind when crafting PCGA's requirements.

"We don't need to have it completely locked down and so restrictive," says Ployhar. "We don't need to tell people, 'This is your minimum configuration.' But, you still need to hit a certain quality bar." For example, games would need to hit 720p resolutions on medium settings, 30 frames per second and controller support if there's an equivalent console SKU.

Aside from a better user experience for players, Ployhar argues that another benefit of adhering to PCGA's standards would be a reduction in product support services calls for publishers and developers, which tends to be an issue in the PC game space, he says.

There was another notable attempt at PC game certification that didn't work out -- Microsoft's Games for Windows, which was eventually discontinued. Ployhar expects that the platform-agnostic nature of PCGA's program is one aspect that will help make his system more viable.

"As various gaming cert programs come and go, we future-proofed this one by accommodating the flux and future directions of OSes and form-factors that comprise the spectrum of the PC ecosystem," he says.

The PCGA will have more details to share regarding the certification program in the coming months. If you're a developer interested in finding out more, you can email Ployhar directly at matt dot ployhar at intel dot com. More information is available here.

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Matt Ployhar
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Odd to be the first person to comment; however, I already recieved my first email on this. So need to make sure I need to make some quick clarifications.

1) The biggest why for the program? It's mostly about improving game quality in the PC Gaming Ecosystem. This is just as applicable to a AAA Devs as it is for Indies. Ironically some AAA Devs over the past few years have released some very broken PC Ports. This program is aimed more at them than the Indies trying to make the next Angry Birds or MineCraft; especially given the high stakes & costs for other constiuents in the ecosystem. I would probably even go so far as trying to talk an Indie out of participating until they get on their feet. You should contact us about our upcoming 'Boot Strap' Program designed to bring Indies on board the PCGA at no cost.
2) This program is "Opt In". The PCGA also manages the older EMA ("Legacy") PC Logo as well. That's free to everyone to use. However; it's not free for the PCGA to manage. We have to pay an agency to manage the costs associated with both logo's - the old an the new. Tracking, Processing, and doing Web Updates for everyone adds up very quickly. The new 'Self Tested' costs assoc with the new Certified Logo are at best break even.
3) PC's are evolving/branching into other form factors. Just as I & several others predicted. From a PCGA perspective - we really don't care what OS or Form Factor your PC looks like in the future. We're not here to pick winners between Windows, MacOS X, SteamOS and so forth. Let alone pick if what your PC will look like be it a Tablet or SmartPhone, or SmartTV, or a Pink Furry Bunny. Unlike other Cert Programs which lock you in onto a proprietary platform, their eggregious terms/conditions/costs - ours doesn't. YOU the Game ISV are given far more control in this program. Definitely encourage those interested to read the white-paper. There's tons of things to consider and unpack in that.

Thanks everyone & to Kris for covering this story.

Roman Uhlig
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You mention that the biggest "Why" is improving game quality on the PC. But that is a why as in "Why would it be good if such a label existed and was generally accepted". I think the more important question, to get this off the ground, is "Why should I care as a developer".

I know a lot of people who read every review and watch every video they can get their hands on before they buy a game. I know people who only buy what friends have recommended. And I even know some that buy games just because the box art is pretty. But I can't think of anyone who buys any media based on labels. Most people I know don't even care about the age restrictions of games they buy for their kids.

So from my experience I'd say consumers do not care for labels. At all. And if consumers don't even look at them, it would be hard for a developer to recommend the investment, which is most importantly time for bigger developers and most importantly money for smaller developers.

The question has been posed before whether EA would send in Battlefield for verification if it was optional. Well, would anyone choose to not buy Battlefield because of this? I doubt it. Either they have already read the reviews and know about any problems that may exist, or they do not care. But they will not interpret a missing label as problem, or even search for it.

So, long story short, am I missing the point or maybe misjudging consumer behavior? Is this even aimed at consumers or is it more of an industry-insider thing for now?

Mark Chandler
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First Post!

Matt Ployhar
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Too funny - Hi Mark!

Dane MacMahon
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We must ask ourselves: how many console developers would opt-in to Microsoft and Sony certification if it was optional?

I bet the answer is: not many.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Actually, somewhere on my office PC I have a draft document listing the test cases that a Steam build must pass in order to be accepted by our QA. It reads very much like Sony and Microsoft lists, except for the absence of "proprietary" requirements, such as the requirement to have a leaderboard and a quick match option for multiplayer mode.
There's no certification on Steam, but for the sake of quality we prented it's there and test accordingly.

My only question to PCGA is "what took you so long?".

Dane MacMahon
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Not sure how that's a reply to my point. People meet Steam requirements because they want to sell on Steam, not because they're eager to opt-in to certification processes.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Steam doesn't make formal requirements in the same way Sony and Microsoft do. Steam certification is the ultimate opt in mechanism in that it doesn't exist at all. You have to invent it and impose it upon yourself. In spite of that at least our company does something like this as part of our QA service. So that's a direct answer to your question, which was "how many people would do it if it was optional".

These days certification doubles as a tool for enforcing a specific format of entertainment, but its other purpose is to implement a standard of technical quality, such as "this game doesn't crash very often", "this game won't trap you in an unwinnable situation" or "this game runs at 60 FPS using these hardware specs". Now, you can do that on your own, but it's costly, and it means nothing to your customers unless you're released many games and they know they can trust you. A certification body is much more credible, particularly in such a fragmented market as the PC indie scene.

Dane MacMahon
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I'm not talking about testing, I am talking about a certification process. Of course people opt-in to testing, but I don't see why they would opt-in to some random other group of people passing or failing them.

I'll repeat my question with a specific example. If Microsoft made certification entirely optional, do you really think EA would send Battlefield 4 in to them for certification?

Samuel Molina
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Looks like PCGA is finally trying something, besides the annual press release, about time!
Although starting a certification program with such costs doesn't sound smart to me. I think it would be way better to start a free certification program for the first titles and not charge anyone until the certification program proves to be useful and interesting enough.

PC gaming needs marketing, this is obvious, and to achieve a marketing campaign as good as the console ones branding is very important, and for that, money is essential, that's why I hope this certification program can be successful, but I still don't trust PCGA... they haven't done anything relevant so far.

Matt Ployhar
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Hi Samuel -

Painfully aware of stuff like this. It's a Catch 22 right now. The agency (GSG) that covers our Web Admin costs, logistics, marketing etc, still costs us $. The current costs are painfully low as is. Hence why we opted a Self Cert option.

As for trusting us.... Well... read my blogs perhaps? : ) I'm pretty scathing when it comes to the proprietary ecosystems. I've got a ton of scars in doing everything humanly possible to be transparent & benevolent via the PCGA. Our biggest goal in the PCGA is to strive in keeping the PC 'open'. Not easy to do when everyone is trying disrupt or lock things down as of late.

As for relevance - bear in mind that's a B2B Org (501 not for profit) only. We'll be expanding that to be more inclusive of the PC gaming consumers in the near future. As a B2B though.... yeah... you won't see 99% of what's going on behind the scenes.

Good comments.. thx.

Dave Hoskins
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This smells like a money making scheme. With badged membership and paid for approval logos.
It's just disguised advertising.
What happened to the old days of releasing a demo so everyone can find out for themselves how crap your game is!

John Paduch
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Seriously? You need to ask that? You need a lesson in time management and budget concerns for PC game development if you think that crafting, polishing and releasing a demo is feasible for all devs.

Ease off the hate-eraid, sir.

KJ Seitz
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What brought questions to me is the fact that there is "requirement for controller support", but there is no mention of optimizing the controls for mouse and keyboard, that are the stock "controller" of PC. As said, I have seen and played many games that have been ported to PC with the notification that "it is best played by controller". In other words they are saying that "they did not bother to optimize it for PC".

Also, it NEEDS to be specified that X-Box controller is NOT a standard controller. The PC "standard controller" has the left stick as X and Y, and the right stick as Z and Z-rot, X-Box controller, however uses the Z for the triggers, and has the "third and fourth axis", that makes is unstandard for PC gamers. If the X-Box controller is recodnized as a "standard PC controller", it is giving one company too much of a word in the matter, as the first controllers that used Z and Z-rot axis for PC, I believe, was the joysticks designed for the PC flying simulators, and later on adapted by "mock up" gamepads. Now, for this standard Z,Z-rot to sustain as a PC standard is important for the privilidge of choise; as some may prefer the design of the X-Box -controller, some do not see that as comfortable controller, and would prefer to use different type of dual sticks. And for "what is better", it has been voted back in the days when teh X-Box controller first were introduced, I remember the PS2 controller winning many of the debates on the matter. Now, as people have started with X-Box controller, it is more comfortable for them, but as is, it is a matter of HABIT rather than any of the designs being better. That said, those who do not prefer to use the Microsoft standard X-Box -controller, are left with no choise.

Also the optimization of the "native PC controllers" should be accounted, as for exampe in such big game of the day as the Dead Space, the mouse controlling scheme were made uncomfortable due to the method of it "imitating" the controller, and therefore were not as pleasant to play, even though the game was otherwise made with quality. The game on PC should be opted to play with it's native controllers, where as COULD also provide optimized play with any other compatible controller scheme.

The controller part of the certificate should be cut down to "not supported", "Microsoft standard" and "PC standard", where the PC standard would support the modification of input axis as well as button reconfiguration. Of course, since we are talking about PC, should the input hints be not be refered to Microsoft of Sony icon standard, but to Joy1, Joy2 etc. or to the keyboard controllers, if the input controller is not the standard of the mentioned standards. This is to make the gaming experience less "lacking" when the control scheme has been modified (for in example, Bioshock2 forced me to kill the Little sisters, due to the inconsistency of the onscreen button hints and my own control layout). This of course it could also be indicated if the game does, or does not, provide on screen information based on the customized control layout.

What is to be said about the "Console wars", the issue is that consoles are a great platform, but the fact is that the modern day consoles seem to be trying to be as much as PC as possible, with added restrictions ofcourse. It is a truth that PC is the promised platform of FPS and RTS genres, due to the fact that the controlling scheme is far more intuitively done on them: Mouse has more space to move and therefore has more space for simultanous accuracy and fast movements, as where the consoles, relying on the controllers, need to make compromizes. The controller modern, however, is far more intuitive for example pointing directions. The dual-stick shooter genre is therefore much more enjoyable of the consoles, than it is for PC, that in such games may even lack the precision IF NOT OPTED FOR SUCH. This also applies for the platformer genre, that at best may feel awkward to play on PC. The unfortunate fact, however, seems to be that the games designed for the consoles are those that are natively better played on PC, but optimized by force to consoles, making the games less than they could be on either platform.

The second matter that is very important when it comes to PC gaming is the choise of choise. PC gamers are perhaps by majority of "the old breed", that used to tweak and optimize, not only their gameplay experience, but also the operating system. Some are even from the Dos era. This brings up the issue that games that are designed for consoles, and then shoveled to PC, tend to assume that the player would want to optimize their mindset to the games controls. This is NOT the case, as the PC gamers tend to have different configuration preferences. Some wish to play WASD games with QWES, and some wish to disable all, or some, post procesing effects for various reasons. This is something that should be certified. The games should have certain level of "optimization rating", meaning that if you can affect everything from controls to the different channels of audio and controls (to the point you can separate two actions that on console would be bound to one key), you would get the highest rating, and if the options would only allow the modification of the sound volume, the optimization raring would be zero. This would encourage the PC gamers to buy the new games that allow the optimization to the game to the preferences of the players, and avoid consuming money on the products that are clearly NOT designed for PC to begin with. Also, this kind of "Rating certificate" would encourage the developers to optimize the games for PC, as well as rise the trust of the consumer (and therefore give more weight on the certificate).

The certificate type, of course, which I'm talking about has very little to do with the hardware requirements, but that is something the PC gamers know already. There is always the "recommended" and the "minimum" provided, and most of the PC gamers know how to read this. As said, many of those who prefer to play "console games" on PC seem to demand BETTER quality over consoles (1080p, 60fps with full setup). Those who would not prefer such will probably already know the limitations of their PC and avoids buying games that could be perhaps sold with the information that it just is a quality port (ie. does not require you to play with a controller). One of the examples that, I believe, did not sell as good on PC as it did on consoles (or had potential to sell on PC) regardles of the demand of the fans, was the Dark Souls. It perhaps is a good game, but the way it was ported was under the required quality demand of PC players. Therefore the certificate of the hardware requirements seem trivial over the fact that PC gamers demand DIFFERENT things from the design of the game, than what console gamers do. The PC gamers are aware of the requirements, not of the content. PC gamers require different kind of quality from the developement choises, than what console developers offer, and that is why PC gaming is seen in somewaht dying breed (although the PC DRM choises also reduce the attractivenes of PC games. I myself, like may others, prefer not to buy from EA or Ubisoft due the fact that the Steam is enough of the bloat for me).

Carson McGorry
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You hit a lot of nails on their heads.

The requirements for the "need to hit 720p resolutions on medium settings, 30 frames per second and controller support" is all fine and dandy, but it's not what a lot of PC gamers are primarily concerned about. Most know the limitations of their system, even if they aren't primarily a PC gamer. There's an expectation for a reasonable amount of performance optimization such that you avoid situations like Metro 2033's depth of field or - more dramatically - Crysis 2's cable physics sapping framerates, but hardware, software, and firmware are far too diverse to have a "you have to hit this framerate on these settings" standard.

PC gamers are far more concerned with feel and usability. They want to be able to configure the game to conform to their preferences - not to configure their preferences to the game - and they want everything to work properly. An example of a "real and true" PC game is Blacklight: Retribution. There are dozens of settings not just for the graphics and keybinds, but also for how the game controls and behaves for the player (should the game automatically reset the crosshairs to where they were before recoil kicked in after they stop firing or let the player compensate for it how they wish? Should crouching, aiming down the sights, and/or activating the Hyper-Reality Visor be done by holding a button or by toggling?), configure the crosshairs, (shape, color in different contexts, size, rotation, you name it), and hundreds more in the configuration files. The user can even create their own custom HUD by modifying the config files, all sanctioned by Zombie Studios.

If you get hung up on controller support and framerates, what would you do comparing games like Wings of Prey (either a combat flight sim or an arcade warplane game depending on how you set it up) or Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (a racing game)? The genres for both are relatively unfriendly to a keyboard and mouse. Wings of Prey has a mountain of configurable gameplay and graphics settings for a wide variety of users and machines, but gamepad support is less than stellar. It works alright, but it's very unclear what does what if the user wants to change anything and the UI does not reflect that a controller is being used, making the tutorial difficult. Need for Speed, on the other hand, runs well enough but has very limited graphic settings (and doesn't even have antialiasing - thank you, Nvidia control panel). Meanwhile, it does have both stellar controller support and works about as well with a keyboard/mouse as you would expect a racing game to. Every part of the UI and game is easily operable with both a gamepad and a KB&M, and the moment a button on either is pressed, the game seamlessly changes to that input (i.e., if I'm using a controller and press a keyboard key, the "X button" on the UI will instantly change to a picture of the "Enter" key). All of the controls are configurable easily, clearly, and separately for the KB&M and the controller. By the standards mentioned in the article, which game is a better PC title?

I hope they're considering these kinds of things as they "finalize their specs" for March.

Kujel s
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I'm with Dane on this one I suppect few will opt-in for this program.

Stephen Etheridge
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What I think might gain the PCGA more buy-in from developers would be a freely available list of released games that have been retrospectively rated against these specifications (ideally the boxed copy with no zero-day updates applied where possible). Essentially proof that the specifications are well thought out and can be proven to correlate to higher player satisfaction and critical reception.

Do that first and then developers might be willing to pay a premium for an opt-in bumper sticker, and consumers would be more likely to attribute credibility to said sticker. I do suspect, though, that certain requirements mentioned in the article would not prove out to be what the consumer really cares about, which would beg the question over exactly what agenda drove them to become certification requirements in the first place (a cynic might draw attention to the number of hardware manufacturers versus game developers that make up the board).

Benjamin Quintero
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The idea is nice but the direction seems flawed. Get the hardware people to conform before you try to ring in the software. Drivers are the source of most bad PC experiences, not the applications. Consoles work because the platform is fixed. PC works through brute strength, a paper clip, and some chewing gum to keep it together.