ROUNDTABLE: Always-Online Gaming

SimCity data

The SW Magazine writers assemble to discuss what may just be a big part of gaming in the next generation: Always-Online DRM.

Willy:

It seems that Always-Online gaming is in our future, with big titles like Diablo 3 and SimCity sporting the DRM and future consoles like the next Xbox making it a requirement. Is gaming doomed?

Charizard:

SimCity's launch was a catastrophic failure, mostly because gamers couldn't even access the game they paid for.

SimCity’s launch was a catastrophic failure, mostly because gamers couldn’t even access the game they paid for. It would not have happened if the game didn’t require players to log in to a network to play.

Did Microsoft learn nothing from the debacles that were the Diablo 3 and SimCity launches? Did they learn nothing from Ubisoft’s failed experiments? Always online DRM just does not work. Plain and simple.

I am astonished at Microsoft’s nerve here: internet broadband connections are not yet at a level to support this kind of gaming (evidenced, in addition to the examples listed above, by the failure of cloud gaming). The only places in the world where they are at an acceptable level are in the East Asian countries… and guess what? That’s Microsoft’s weakest market! They might as well be non existent there!

Maybe we’re missing the bigger picture here. Maybe it’s more along the lines of ‘each game must be verified online before you can play it,’ in which case it is still abusive to the customer, but less than the alternative. But, if Microsoft really does decide to go through with this always online bullshit, then they can count me out. They’ve lost a customer. I am sure the majority of those 70 million+ Xbox owners will agree with me on this.

TheEroica:

Always online consoles are not… I repeat, NOT a bad idea for many aspects of our gaming future, but the arrival of this future before it is of sound quality has proven to not only risk the reputation and quality of games, but it has become the utter disdain of gamers across the globe… I want a faster, more streamlined experience in gaming like everyone else, but at what cost…?

If a product is reliant on the consistency of an internet connection then those making the product should consider balancing their ambition with reality… Does EVERYONE get the same experience? Even more pressing, do some people get NO experience at all? Gaming should not be a hobby based on location and internet speeds in my opinion. We saw the PS3 submarine for similar over reaching ambition and this is what shocks me most about Microsoft and the build up of rumors surrounding the Xbox720.

Will new technology automatically cut out a portion of your older base? Can it be avoided?

Will new technology automatically cut out a portion of your older base? Can it be avoided?

The PS3 launched with a BluRay drive inside of it… a fantastic piece of tech that has some pretty amazing potential in gaming… though HDTV’s were not the norm at the launch of the PS3, so in essence, people were buying a piece of hardware at a premium price that offered no benefit on a largely SDTV market (at the time). Where things get worse for Microsoft is that supposedly without an internet connection the console will not work at all… Over reaching ambition? You bet…. While I applaud the idea of moving gaming forward in new and inventive ways, I can’t possibly imagine a mass market of gamers embracing a piece of tech that for many offer a dice roll as to whether it will work or not.

The greatest slap in the face to gamers in an always online future is the question, “do I even own these games?”. Something I hope the gaming community gives thought to… If we “jump in” on the next xbox and it is indeed always online, what happens in 10 years when Microsoft chooses to flip the switch on support for this device? I can no longer play EVERY SINGLE GAME I purchased all generation long because it lacks the internet support from Microsoft. Call me old school, but no way is that a future I can get behind.

In closing, gamers consume this hobby different and whats good for one, may not be sound for another. The wizards behind our favorite hobby are always encouraged to wow us with their vision, but when the ability to actually play, trade, borrow and experience games on my terms is called into question, it is in our interest to stand behind our principles. We have the ability to shape gaming too…

Heil68:

Sure, I don’t approve of it, for two reasons:

1) That locks people out who have no internet.

2) If your internet goes down, you cant play games?

They need to have a offline option like Steam if this is something they want to do. I feel Microsoft will not do this as it does block out a whole segment of people who could buy their console that just happen to not have internet.

Mikey2K10:

Since the launch of SimCity, which was nothing short of disastrous, I am amazed how developers and manufacturers (if the new Xbox rumours prove true) still find always-online DRM feasible. The intent of cutting down on piracy is understandable, but it does little to make the game accessible to the player. If the rumours prove to be real, then it is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

If Sony is trying to make it easier to play games, why can't Microsoft do the same?

If Sony is trying to make it easier to play games, why can’t Microsoft do the same?

With the announcement and subsequent all-round buzz surrounding the PlayStation 4, many would have hoped (and expected) Microsoft to form a plan that would facilitate accessibility for the player (something Sony have done with the PS4 and its developers). However, particularly with recent reports of indie game devs, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The idea of always-connected play, even for single player, is downright crazy. I see no positive aspects in such a concept. Microsoft have shot themselves in the foot before their new console has been confirmed, it seems. Though technology (and connectivity) is evolving, there will still be many gamers who are without such luxuries and thus will be punished for something entirely out of their control.

I hope, for the sake of gamers, that the rumour of always-online functionality for the new Xbox isn’t true, as it would be not only a disastrous proposition for gamers, but it would also shed new (and admittedly admirable) technology in a negative light. Offline gaming MUST become a prioritized feature for the new console (and the future of always-online DRM as a whole).

RealKilla_789:

I’ll be quick about it. No, gaming is not doomed just because Microsoft will implement always-online gaming. Let’s be real here: the mass market probably won’t even know that the Xbox will be online only, assuming rumors are true. I think always online can work, given the right treatment. Diablo 3 and SimCity did not give their DRM good treatment. Microsoft is releasing a brand new console; they have to come correct with what they’re doing with the always-online. And I think they will do it. They’re a smart smart company and I’m sure they’ve thought of all the obstacles.

But as I’ve been saying over and over again. NOTHING IS OFFICIAL. We have no confirmation of any of the rumors, so people need to just calm down and wait for the console to be officially announced before they make a judgement.

Deadman:

I think it’s ridiculous, Microsoft is trying very hard at losing market share in the console war here. I mean do they really think this will work? In any way shape or form. The fact that they even thought about an “Always On” option makes me think Microsoft is digging its own grave. Internet connection isn’t always consistent nor 100% working all the time, it falls with bad weather, wiring failure or simply weak connection status, so if I can’t play a single player game because my internet connection for “X” reason isn’t working then I will not own a MS console. No thanks MS. And if SONY ever decides to do this too, then I can say goodbye to console gaming plain and simple.

DarkLink:

I’m of two minds about this, and before everyone loses their shit, let me explain why.

If we look at Diablo III and SimCity as recent examples of always online gaming, then there’s a pretty fair reason for everyone to be upset. Now, one could argue (and I have) that Blizzard had a fairly substantial number of reasons for making Diablo III an always online game. Diablo II suffered from a rather large amount of item duping, as well as a very large market in which players would buy and sell in-game items for real world money. To combat this, they introduced an always online requirement (Can’t dupe items while you’re connected to the Blizzard servers, now can ya?) and created a Real Money Auction House, so that those people (and there is a large market for this) who wanted to buy and sell items had a legal way to do so in-game.

Now you can argue whether or not this has been effective solution, and Blizzard themselves have come out saying the RMAH was a bad idea. Nevertheless, they had a real reason for doing it. It’s a lot harder to find a real reason for SimCity’s always online DRM other than their desire to push Origin (which no one wants), and their desire for complete control over their product. Say what you want about either of these games, but they’re still successful. I mean, Diablo III sold upwards of 10 million copies on a single platform. That’s insane. Then you the have complete and utter failures like Ubisoft’s always online DRM.

Which brings us to an always online future for consoles, and right now, we don’t really know what that means, especially in terms of what Microsoft may or may not be planning. Remember, all of this is being based on rumors.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say the rumors are true, and the next Xbox is “always online.” Does that mean you have to activate every game you purchase online, like StarCraft II? Does that mean that a constant internet connection is required to play all of your games, like Diablo III? Would such a requirement be only for games you’ve downloaded (which already exists to an extent on Xbox Live), or would that extend to games you own on a disc? Does that mean that you will no longer be able to play used games?

Right now, we simply don’t know, and Microsoft isn’t talking.

Discs are a thing of the past.

Discs are a thing of the past.

Now, the first option would be palatable. Let’s face it: digital distribution is the future of this medium. You only need to look at the success of Steam, the indie development community, PSN, XBL, and the Nintendo Network to see that. We may not like it, but it is coming, and the infrastructure is being built to support it. Publishers want it because it reduces their manufacturing costs. In a digital future, there’s no need to produce discs, cases, or instruction manuals, no need to ship games to a retail store and thus no need for retailers, who take a cut of their profits, there are no game shortages like Fire Emblem: Awakening, etc. On top of that, it effectively kills the second-hand market, which they believe (inaccurately, but I digress) costs them money. Console manufacturers want it because it makes their publishing partners happy, and they reap the same benefits for games they develop internally.

In time, this will happen. It is only a matter of when it is implemented and how it is implemented.

However, an always online future is extremely worrisome.

In a truly always online environment, we, as the consumers, lose an awful lot, which is something PC (and console) users can attest to, because we’ve already experienced some of the side effects already. We all have that game we purchased digitally and don’t like. For PC users, it’s worse. I have a copy of Dragon Age II I cannot get rid of. I bought it on disc, but it’s tied to my Origin account. Nearly every PC user will tell you that they have a folder full of games on Steam that they don’t want but cannot get rid of.

Now, console users have largely been immune to this. If you buy a game, and you don’t like it, you can get something for it. You can give it to a friend. You can sell it on eBay. You can trade it in for credit for another game, which helps the industry. In an always online future, all of that goes away. We’re stuck with every single game we buy. Forever. There are no refunds. I mean, try getting a refund on Steam. It’s basically impossible, unless you pre-ordered the game, and request the refund before the game releases. They may give you one for a game you played and didn’t like.

Now imagine that that’s everywhere.

On top of all that, there’s no more renting. No more lending. No more finding rare games second-hand, which is especially disturbing considering many games that were released this gen on consoles were never released digitally. In this case, you’d be out of luck. And what about games that get pulled from PSN and XBL? If you didn’t buy them beforehand, tough luck. They’re gone. For collectors, this is a nightmare.

There’s also no retail or second-hand market keeping prices at a reasonable rate over time. Everything will be controlled by the publishers and the console manufacturers. Imagine a future where every game holds its value as long as Nintendo titles do. That is a very real possibility in an always online world.

And what happens if a company goes out of business? What happens if Microsoft decides that one day, the 360 or Durango version of Xbox Live is no longer worth maintaining? They did it with the original incarnation of Xbox Live, so it’s not inconceivable to think it could happen again. That content on that version of Xbox Live is gone. You can’t get it anymore. There’s no way to play Halo 2 online anymore. There’s no way to download Halo 2’s downloadable maps. There’s no way to get the Hurricane Packs for Ninja Gaiden. That stuff probably still exists on a server somewhere, but if it’s inaccessible, what good is it?

When a company dies and there is no longer an internet service for the game, what happens then?

When a company dies and there is no longer an internet service for the game, what happens then?

What happens if that happens again? To PSN? To modern XBL? To the Nintendo Network? What happens to your games? What happens to your DLC? I worry about that now, when most of what I own is safe from such a thing. In a future where everything is tied to a service and an account, and requires an internet connection, the prospect is terrifying.

And of course, there’s the problem of playing your games should you not live in a place with access to a fast internet connection, or should your connection go down. Or worse still, should the company’s servers crash, which is the most annoying. Anyone else who’s played Dead Space 3, Diablo III, SimCity, etc on PC can attest to this. You simply get removed from the game.

Now, it should be pointed out that there are possible upsides to an always online solution as well. You’d always have access to your games, unless, as stated before, the company goes out of business and hasn’t made arrangements for that sort of thing. Cloud gaming would grow exponentially. There’d be no shortages, no having to rebuy titles with, say, a damaged disc. There’s the possibility of Steam-esque sales on every platform to compensate for the lack of retail and to move product. You’d never have to worry about finding an older game that went out of print.

All of those are very, very good things, and none of them are unreasonable assumptions, considering that many of them exist today.

The question is this: are those things worth it?

That’s a question all of us will have to answer for ourselves. But I know where I stand: any game console that has an always online requirement and does not allow used games does not have a place in my living room. These practices are anti-consumer. But luckily, we can fight them. Vote with your wallets. It’s that damn easy.

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2 responses to “ROUNDTABLE: Always-Online Gaming

  1. way too long to read, but what i did read suggest that just because something is “teh futurez” and “it’s coming” doesn’t mean we have to accept it. digital keys for 720 inst palatable, and diablo 3 was just blizzard stretching their always online they started with starcraft II. they came up with excuses and they were poor. who cares about duping? eh.

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