The Shitstorm of Always Online Gaming

So this morning I was treated to this ‘tasty’ article regarding one developer’s idea of the real world. Now this may easily be dismissed as one person’s rambling, but this is a man who has made a name for himself in the industry, particularly one who has worked on what could be considered AAA-range IP’s. But this is a near-perfect example of how alienated and how closed-minded those working in the industry can be. In Manveer Heir’s defense, he did attempt to cool the situation post-argument and make amends, but that doesn’t stop the Reddit army from attacking the Creative Director’s comments as ignorant – which, for the large part, they are.

“A dear friend of mine @adam_orth is getting a lot of flak, some unfairly. Let me say he’s one of the good guys and cut him some slack please” -Manveer Heir, Senior Gameplay Designer (BioWare) (Source)

It would cerainly depend on what audience the company are targetting. If they are going for the more influential areas which are close to the exchange point for the internet and have BT or whoever already throwing in hyperspeed broadband for anyone willing to pay the price, they probably have the energy and the bank to spare for a product that would require not only internet connectivity but also consistently high speeds of internet that can deal with game content and other internet use around the household. Anyone below that, it’s a hit-or-miss game and anyone in backwater places struggling to get by will need some heavy convincing to invest into this kind of future that he sees.

The problem is threefold: Firstly, there is no customer confidence in always online content or DRM. Between threats of security to both Microsoft and Sony offices, the issues with Diablo 3 and the more publicly lambasted SimCity and the current nestled fear of their content suddenly becoming unavailable because of a DDoS attack or someone simply pulling the plug, consumers are not stretching out their wallets for something that has been proven, to date, to be variably unreliable. And this may also translate into investor interests declining and it becoming a whole minefield of corrections that would cost a company more than it’s worth, so the fear needs to be cleansed before even considering releasing a console on this level.

Secondly, it’s an unrealistic view of the world. Nothing is “always on”, even in this day and age. Sometimes websites, game servers…heck, even entire networks have to go down for maintenance. And even beyond the server-side influence, there’s client-side. There could be telephone repairs one day, or maybe the router breaks down and internet is restricted to dongles. And they’re asking for a lot if they expect a console to be kept on 24/7. A refrigerator, a freezer, an alarm clock, sure. They are almost essential in this modern age to maintain a standard of living that most people these days take for granted. But a gaming console? I barely know anyone who keeps their PC on 24/7, let alone a gaming platform that’s even less essential to everyday living.

Thirdly, there’s the commitment required to it. Even the most smooth-operating servers require maintenance, protection from intrusion and viruses, perhaps even replacement components once they burn out a few years down the line, and these will be servers monitoring the purchases, the use and the fundamental operations of a console that could be thousands of miles away. And if the purchases of the latest AAA titles on the current Xbox console are anything to go by, they will be monitoring more users in total than World of Warcraft had to manage at their peak. And there has never been a smooth launch of anything that is popular and online from day one, which is another minefield for all concerned. Buy too many servers for the need, you’ll find yourself overburdened with inactive servers that still have to be maintained. Buy too few, you get an overload on the servers and it becomes inoperable until a repair and diagnostic can be run.

While the man’s words in itself may seem bigoted and self-centered (and they are, generally – when you look at his history in games, he has no experience in anything that’s always online and while the titles he worked on were high-end, the only lead role has been a PS2 title which was only a little higher rated than The Force Unleashed 2, which the article reports he worked on but it only got an average score of 61), it does show a glimpse of where developers want to be in gaming: A constant feed to their audience to provide the services the consumer wants in a real-time, always connected environment where it can be the equivalent of a second world over the internet. And while that may be a dream for consumers and developers alike, it’s currently an unrealistic dream that cannot be realised with the current state of the economy and the industry in the current state it is.

That is the reality of the situation. It is just saddening to see that there are some among the industry leads who fail to see reality and prefer to see the ideal. The problem with seeing the ideal is that once the reality hits you, it’s often too late and the consequences of aiming for the ideal are already in progress before you even take notice. Blizzard made the same mistake once, aiming to surpass their 11 million subscriber base with the release of Cataclysm and bookmark themselves as THE unrivalled MMORPG, aiming for the new players. But their greed caused them to alienate their existing users and…well, the rest is history, as they say. The merger with Activision likely meant they weathered the blow better than most could, but I doubt the same could be said for any company that suffers a loss of base consumers the way they had.

And it will be a sad day for any company in this console war to jump the gun in this contest.

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