Why Always-Online isn’t the future

Always-on: Progress or Useless?

By PKKHaseo, Posted 19 Apr 2013

With Simcity’s launch fiasco caused by its always-on DRM and rumors of the next Xbox being an always-on console, it is due time we had a serious talk and see if the concept of “always-online” is good for the gaming industry. This concept translates into a persistent online authentication system that requires the user to connect and stay connected to a server, even for exclusively single-player games.

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Always-online games experience downtime on a regular basis. Server maintenance is one form of downtime. Whenever you have a game that requires constant connection to a server, performing maintenance on those servers will be needed periodically. Until a few years ago this was reserved to online multiplayer games. Unfortunately, ever since the always-on DRM came along we’ve been seeing this issue appear in single-player focused games too, where it makes no sense and it’s totally unnecessary. Simply put, whenever maintenance is being performed, you won’t be able to play your games (or use your console, if we’re speaking of an always-on console), which is a terrible thing to do to your customers. Instead of providing a better experience to them, it ends up subtracting from it.

Another form of downtime is server overload. This is the most frustrating, because unlike server maintenance that has a certain schedule and usually takes a predetermined amount of time, overloads take an undefined amount time. Depending on the severity of the overload, you will either have to wait in a queue that can take a few hours in order to relief server stress or, worst case scenario, nobody will be able to connect if the server fails completely.

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When it comes to servers, there’s another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration and that is them shutting down. As of now, when a publisher decides to stop supporting one of its games, it just means that its social features and multiplayer will become unavailable, but you will still be able the single-player for as long as you want. An always-on future, however, would mean that once the publisher decides to close a game’s server, the game will be dead and nobody will be able to play it again. This would give the publishers a huge, unbalanced, and unhealthy amount of control, forcing consumers to buy new titles by shutting down support for older ones. If we are to talk about an always-on console, things get even worse, because once the developer stops supporting it, your entire library that you bought along the years will become obsolete and unplayable. In a future like this you wouldn’t own your games or consoles anymore, but instead rent them at the price of buying them.

One of the biggest flaws with always-online is its dependency on the user’s internet connection. Internet access might sound like an omnipresent thing to a lot of us, but reality begs to differ. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has estimated that in 2013 only 41% of households in the world actually have internet access at home, dropping to 28% in developing countries. At the current rate of growth of internet access, it would take another 20 years for everyone in the world to adapt. And this is just one face of the coin. If we were to take that into consideration the quality of the connection, a lot of people have really spotty connections that frequently drop or lag, making it a nightmare to play any game requiring a connection to a server. Seeing as consoles are meant to be a readily accessible way of gaming, making a console that relies on a quality internet connection defeats the purpose. The always-on concept simply comes across as being an unnecessary barrier between the potential consumer and the games.

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With all this against it, the obvious question is why the concept of always-on is being pushed upon the market, especially considering this equates to companies having extra costs from maintaining the servers. A company will never take on extra costs unless there’s a benefit to be had from that. The only logical conclusion is always-on is design to bring more money, basically being a way of milking the consumer. Simply put they want to make games into an online platform, an e-shop for their micro-transactions; which has no place in a fully priced single-player game; and DLC. In and of itself this wouldn’t be such a big issue, but, considering companies have proven their greediness time and time again, it becomes a huge problem. We cannot trust companies to have the best of intentions towards their customers when promoting controversial concepts like always-online. So, no, always-on isn’t and won’t be the future of gaming for a long while. The only way I see this becoming the near future is if companies keep pushing it and we the gamers decide not to react.


Cirstoiu Alexandru, NoobFeed

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