Recently, there has been a lot of talk about our “next gen” games and gaming consoles requiring a permanent online connection, in order for us users to access content or use the systems. Many of the larger companies like Microsoft, Blizzard and EA all seem to be on board with this idea, going so far as to begin implementing this into our current generation of games. Whether or not we like it, we might start seeing this practice used more and more in the next few years and that is a real shame for us gamers.
Why do a lot of gamers…including yours truly, have issues with this idea? Does it really matter in this day and age, when so many of us have constant connections to the net? Well, let’s take a look and see.
Let’s start with the basic fact that not everyone has the internet. Even in today’s technologically driven society, there are those of us, who do not have access to the net. Yes, it’s probably a small percentage in most large cities, but what about in more rural areas, where internet is nonexistent or extremely spotty at best? Unless they can obtain a reliable internet connection, any system or game that requires a persistent online connection, would be out of reach.
Those individuals should be able to play the console or game of their choosing. Why punish those potential gamers for circumstances beyond their control? Now, I’m no CEO, but aren’t customers and brand loyalty a good thing? How is “always online” helping win customers over? Simple… it’s not. It is far too restrictive.
To those of us living in the cities and towns with a net connection, this might not seem like a big deal. Who cares if I have to be online to play a game? Chances are, I’m online anyways. This might be true, but we need to look a little deeper. If I go out and buy a game for $60 dollars I’m going to want to play it, but on my own time, in my own fashion. However, it might not be that easy. In my experience, if the game requires an “always online” connection, one of two things can happen…
–Best case scenario, I get online right away, connect to their servers, download all the launch patches and bug fixes, maybe set up a user name and password for their service and THEN I can play the game. There are some extra steps involved and I might have to jump through a few hoops to get everything working, but I would eventually get in the game.
–Worst case scenario, their servers are overloaded and I can’t get on. That means I can’t download any patches, I can’t get into the game to set up any preferences and I definitely can’t play. Until they sort it all out, my new $60 game is useless. Titles like Diablo III and the new Sim City have become poster children for this exact scenario. When Sim City was released, it was virtually unplayable. Servers were severely impacted and wait times were hours longer then they should have been. Believe me, I’ve had this happen and it is VERY frustrating.
Gamers buy a game with the expectation that we can play it whenever we want, for as long as we want. Look at the NES, SNES, Genesis, PS1, Gamecube, Xbox and PS2 consoles. As long as they still work, I can play any of my old games. Games on the PS3 and 360 consoles are not 100% replayable, but the majority of the games will work, even after the “next gen” takes over. If these “next gen” games and consoles require internet and server connections to run, what happens when those server connections go away? Look at Sim City or Diablo III, what’s going to happen when EA or Blizzard stops supporting those games? Since you are required to be online AND connected to their servers to play them, if those servers are no longer there, you can say bye-bye to all of your hours of gameplay, your customized characters and all of your worlds. They will simply cease to exist. When the money drys up, so does the online support.
All of this makes me extremely angry. If this is allowed to happen, we can say farewell to our current idea of game ownership. We will no longer be buying games to keep, we will be buying a $60 online pass that lets us play the game, but only until the servers are taken offline. At that point, we are forced to move on. Our ability to play “always online” games after that point, would be contingent upon their parent company still being able to make a profit off of us. If not, they will move on to greener pastures and we gamers will loose that game and eventually the entire console.
Let’s face it, video games should NOT be reliant on an internet connection to play. This “always online” foolishness is simply a means to protect AAA companies and their intellectual and creative property, from pirates and piracy. I suspect that their PR and advertising machines are going to try and make these new features appealing to us gamers. I hope we don’t fall for their tricks. I for one, do not want to sign in EVERY TIME I want to play a game or turn on a console. This is especially true if the game is a single-player title with NO multi-player or co-op modes. The AAA’s can doctor it up and spin it any way they want, but it’s still all about the money. “Always online” is in THEIR best interest, not ours.
I have a feeling that difficult times are on their way and that we should expect the AAA game companies to raise prices for their “next gen” games, to help mitigate the increase in costs for servers and “always online” functionality. I hope I’m wrong, but the money has to come from somewhere.
Recently, Sony has assured gamers that their PS4 console will NOT require an “always online” connection. That is quite a relief, but Sony has a reputation for changing their minds, so I wouldn’t rule them out just yet. Despite a lot of rumors, Microsoft is still officially keeping quiet. However, unofficially some of Microsoft’s spokespersons have hinted that the new Xbox WILL require a persistent internet connection, if you want to use their system. That is a scarey thought. Ultimately, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I really hope that they all come to their senses and they keep the internet and gaming two separate, yet equal entities. Neither one should be reliant on the other.