The 33-year-old Amiga game with a pay-to-win plan

Critics of the modern game industry tend to look back fondly to the olden days, where all the cost of a game was upfront. You bought the darn thing, brought it home, and you didn’t have to worry about micro-transactions or content that was carved out for DLC. Your only concern was if the game would even run on your PC or home computer.

Time changes many things, however. When we first reviewed Ports of Call here on this website, we did so through the independent Steam version. For 4 euros you get a Windows port of the Amiga classic. It runs without protest on modern systems, it works smoothly with Remote Play Together, it’s a fantastic deal. However, the game is also sold on the Ports of Call website where you are offered a very different package:

Now what is all of this? Instead of giving the developer money and getting their game, you need to buy one of their tiered licenses. It’s not unheard of nowadays, but instead of different bits of DLC, each different license gets you completely different games, on top of a bizarre headstart in POC Classic, the port of the Amiga game.

And what are these other games? Well, I’d love to know as well. The development of Ports of Call is so convoluted it’s almost unbelievable. Take a look at the following, official timeline:

Note that pocsim3d is listed as exclusive to platinum while earlier it was listed for gold.

Three neat boxes seem like they should sum up what is and isn’t in each bundle, but what are these games? What is POCXXL and why are there 3 versions of it across 20 years? Why is it linked to whatever pocsim3d is when that isn’t even in the same license? Why is there a POC 2008 Deluxe Edition not available in any bundle when there is also a POCXXL in 2008 that is included?

This table and graph combined conjure forth more questions than they answered, putting customers in the difficult position where they aren’t sure what they are even buying. Let’s first dissect what all these names and abbreviations even mean…

POC Classic, represented in the timeline by the grey block, is the original Amiga game and its various ports, one of which is currently available on Steam. It’s the original Ports of Call and still supported to this day.

POC XXL is a remake that somehow went unrecorded by time, neither possessing a Wikipedia page or a Mobygames entry. It’s an upgraded version of the Amiga game with expanded mechanics that’s compatible up to Windows Vista, but its an unstable game with many technical issues that you have to sort out yourself. The developer is working on migrating this version of the game to Python, though the last update on that was from May 2019. Confusingly, the game is sold physically under the title Haven Tycoon: Ports of Call, but is also referred to as Ports of Call Classic Edition and Harbour Tycoon.

Pocsim3D is a semi-standalone expansion for POC XXL that is a full, 3D version of the game’s various arcade sequences. If you have the platinum license, then you can integrate the two and POC XXL will fire up Pocsim3D with the correct scenario anytime it would otherwise load in a 2D arcade sequence. Without platinum, its really just a mini simulator where you can move a boat around in different preset scenarios. Annoyingly, the two pieces of software don’t have the same technical specs or capabilities, so Pocsim3D supports higher resolutions and newer operating systems than POC XXL. If you buy Haven Tycoon physically, you also get the equivalent of the Gold license by default and thus can’t integrate.

POC 2008, also known as Ports of Call Deluxe, is another remake. I don’t have much information on it, as the game isn’t sold online and seems to have had a limited run in physical format. The reason for its obscurity may be due to development being outsourced to German game developer Astrogon Software, which then went on to develop a competing game series called TransOcean.

POC XXL / Haven Tycoon / Harbour Tycoon

When you break it down like that it’s not impossible to figure out, but understanding this system is only half the problem. The second step is asking why it even exists. Why can’t you just buy the game you want for a reasonable price? Why are players tempted with in-game money for an Amiga title if they fork over 10 euros for a janky, unsupported PC game that hasn’t been meaningfully updated in over a decade? Why does it cost 40 euros just to make the 10 euro package actually work together.

The practice is very anti-consumer, regardless of whether it’s done deliberately or due to unfamiliarity with selling video games. It poorly lays out what you are actually getting in each package and bundles together unrelated products and features to entice people into buying more than they should. It preys on the fear of missing out; maybe you will one day play that old game and those extra millions will be a neat boost. Maybe you will try out that 3D integration some time after suffering through the multi-layered troubleshooting needed to make it work.

You probably won’t and I hope that the unreasonable prices would deter people from falling for it anyway. 10 euros for an unsupported game is steep, but 40 bucks for the whole package? That’s extortionate beyond reason. And you know, I could have seen this work out. People could maybe be convinced to donate money like that to a Kickstarter or Patreon to get that Python-based remake of the game out the door. But asking 40 euros, up front, for a bunch of random old tat players gotta fix up themselves? That’s a big NO from me.

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