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Why Must Everything Be Online?

Piracy and Gameplay

Regarding software, this usually isn’t for the benefit of anyone, save those peddling online-activation and copy-protection schemes to software firms whose executives are panicked at the boogeyman of software piracy.  Not that the problem’s not real, but the response is something akin to swatting a mosquito with a howitzer.  Especially regarding collateral damage; it’s also quite true that with increasing awareness of PC security, people are more and more wary about installing security software that incorporates rootkits.  On the other hand, it’s not a secret that a theory has been winding around the Labs that many recent MMORPGs have at their core a compelling single-player or nonmassively-multiplayer game element that has been scaled up to a Massive game.  Our inner cynics are convinced that this is the result of a realization on the part of PHBs that MMOs can’t really be pirated.  And while we can’t prove the theory, you can’t disprove it either.  My inner cynic is also telling me that as soon as you see Blizzard’s steady revenue stream from six billion WoW subscribers, you’ll want to develop an MMO also.  This behavior is blatant moneyhatting, and is  diverting creative talent away from producing games you might want to play,  or sleeper hits, or cult classics toward making cut-rate MMOs that – while they may have a delightful charm that is only recognized 20 years from now, will never be experienced again once the servers go down.

Another problem dates back to the venerable and groundbreaking Quake 3 Arena:  the lack of single player modes in games.  This is more a lament than a specific technical complaint; multiplayer-only games that don’t require any actual writing, or sprawling levels for the player to traverse are simply cheaper to produce than equivalent single-player titles like Bioshock.  Even top-shelf titles like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead suffer – when your modem’s on the fritz, when you’re trying to frag at a mile and a half up on a long flight, or when you’ve lucked out and none of your friends are online and all your pickup games so far have been made of fail and stupid.  I’m not sure how feasible it would be to tack single-player campaigns onto games designed for multiplayer – though without a doubt, it varies.  To take my two previous examples, Left 4 Dead already has bot-code for allies, and a proper single player mode (one designed from the get-go for only one human player, presumably not relying heavily on AI teammates) could probably be easily hacked together using Valve’s newly released authoring tools.  On the other hand, Team Fortress is class-based deathmatch, CTF, and territory domination.  There is effectively no way to shoehorn this gametype into a single-player game mode.  My goal here is to remind developers, modders, et cetera that singleplayer is not dead yet and you should not assume that your entire potential customer base has unlimited access to quality broadband.  As an aside, many otherwise good games from foreign publishers, S4 League and Ragnarok Online spring to mind, are hamstrung by being designed for nations where fiber-to-the-router is commonplace and cheaper than dialup.  Trying to play these games online in America is a bag of hurt – mostly consisted of being headshotted while lagging.  Coders, please have a look at your netcode and make it fail gracefully if the network connection is less than perfect, especially if LAN play involves talking to a master server.  The only thing worse than games that can only be played online is games that are unplayable outside university networks.  Come to think of it, LAN play is not dead yet, eitherBlizzard, I’m looking at you.  People still do gather together en masse to share a bottle of Bawls and a case full of plasma grenades.

TL;DR:  MMOs can’t be pirated, so otherwise good games are becoming subscription services; double whammy.  Other games are dropping serious features or just suck when the Internet is taken out of the picture.

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2 Comments... What's your say?

  1. Dan, thanks for your post.

    Regarding the Eye-Fi Card, when you set it up to send photos just to your local computer, the pictures don’t leave your local wireless network (unless you specifically set up “relayed uploads”). This feature is available across all the Eye-Fi cards, not just the Eye-Fi Pro.

    • Randhir,

      This is true, for most people, the photos never technically leave your local area network. However most people don’t know how to properly secure their network, and even those that do know how easy it is to hack. It may not be online readily available for the world to see, but it is online enough that if someone wants it, they can get it…

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