Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of my favourite games of all time. It’s a rollicking adventure through a post-apocalyptic world full of robots and mystery, with rich gameplay, stunning presentation, and one of the most engrossing and heartbreaking science fiction stories I’ve experienced in the medium. I put many hours into it back when it came out, scandalously naming it the game of its year over even Zelda: Breath of the Wild, due to the intense personal connection I developed with its story. I still think about it, and its unique blend of doomsaying and optimism, often.
Three years later, the game’s PS4 exclusivity window is finally coming to a close, meaning those among us without a PlayStation 4 will be able to play it. After considerable rumour and speculation, developer Guerrilla Games announced yesterday that Horizon: Zero Dawn would be coming to PC. It’s up for pre-order via Steam, and will by default include its quite-good expansion as part of the package.
This is great news. The more people who get to enjoy Zero Dawn, the better. Those of us who played it on PS4 three years ago tended to have a terrific time doing so, and now that experience is open to a much wider audience. For the developers, it’s a chance to share their pride and joy with a wider audience; for that audience, it’s a chance to finally see what PS4 players were crowing about back in 2017; PS4 players get to revisit the experience vicariously through their friends. Everybody wins.
Everybody except, of course, the handful of PlayStation obsessives who have been acting downright apoplectic at the news. Though one widely-shared video of a smashed PlayStation was proven to be a hoax, there are plenty of people out there earnestly angry about the PC port, including some firing attacks at Guerrilla Games developers for their supposed "betrayal". These PlayStation "loyalists" had an exclusive thing that nobody else could have (unless they bought a PS4); now that other people can have that thing, they’re furious - even though they probably finished, uninstalled, and resold their copy years ago. Caring more about the platform a game is on than the game itself, and being upset that more people get to play a game, is bizarre. It discounts the work put in by developers and reduces to pure product a medium desperate to be considered art by the mainstream. But this attitude isn't new in the gaming world, and it's not accidental either.
The gaming world's weird sense of platform loyalty and superiority really exploded in the 1990s, when professional and economic rivalry between Nintendo and Sega became ingrained into the marketing for their respective consoles and games. “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t,” and so on. Back then, building fervent brand loyalty was almost a necessary tactic to claw out market share in a young industry patronised by impressionable audiences. But so impressionable were those audiences that the sense that one must remain loyal to one's platform continued even into the present age.
Gaming is an enormous industry now. Market share still matters, of course, but it's not a matter of life or death, and the five major gaming ecosystems (PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, and mobile) coexist comparatively happily. Aside from the occasional E3 barb, whose significance is usually overblown in the media, little public catfighting goes on between platform-holders; honestly, keeping titles exclusive isn’t absolutely vital outside the first couple years of a game’s life. Think of it like the movie industry: at a certain point, everyone who’s going to see any given movie at the cinema has done so, so it makes sense to release that movie to video, finding a new revenue source in the process. If you paid to see the movie at the theatre, great! The fact it becomes available to stream six months later doesn't invalidate your enjoyment or the money you spent.
In Zero Dawn’s case, the PC port not even going to take away from PlayStation's market position, as many obsessives seem to fear. In fact, far from being a betrayal of Sony, the game is being put out on PC by PlayStation itself. PlayStation Worldwide Studios head Hermen Hulst even confirmed via the company blog that the move was designed to “introduce more people to PlayStation, and show people maybe what they’ve been missing out on." Presumably, the same goes for fellow PS4 exclusive Death Stranding, which will see a PC release later this year. Given that this year's impending PS5 launch renders PS4 exclusives second-class citizens business-wise anyway, I have to assume that PS4-crib-throwers simply want everyone else to, as Hulst puts it, "miss out." Otherwise, how can they possibly justify the money they spent for the hours of enjoyment they received?
Look, I get it - I used to be a giant Apple fanboy before I grew up (back when Apple was an underdog and not the biggest company in the world). But I grew up, and I realised that the brand upon which I had staked my identity simply did not care about me. The same is true of PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, Valve, and the rest: however valued you might feel, you are a customer, not a family member. I don’t know what it is about the gaming industry (and the wider entertainment industry) that makes its fans feel so personally connected to mega-corporations, but the tribalistic fervor on display over the logos on a box is often disturbing.
Horizon: Zero Dawn launches on PC this summer. Please do yourself a favour and pick it up, if you're into games and haven’t played it already. I cried a lot while playing it, and I smiled to hear more people would get to. And I don't give a damn whether you play it on your TV or a monitor; controller or mouse and keyboard. It's a fucking fantastic game either way.