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Always Offline: How the Gaming Industry is Short-Sighted

Gaming has changed. It's no longer about art, expression, or fun. Games development, and its consumption of our cash, has become a well-oiled machine. Gaming has changed. ID tag gamers play ID tag games on ID tag consoles, use ID tag controllers. Everything is monitored, and kept under control. Gaming has changed. The age of games as art has become the age of control, all in the name of averting catastrophe from pirating and used games sales. and he who controls video games, controls the living room. Gaming has changed, when your console is under total control, gaming becomes routine.....

Hey all, it's me again. I thought I'd talk a bit about my fears for the future of the video game industry, and how the recent Xbox One unveiling has rekindled those fears. In fact, Microsoft has done a pretty excellent job of taking every gamer's worst fears and turning them into a reality. This is hardly a problem exclusive to Microsoft, however. As short-sighted corporations compromise the artistic integrity of developers and gouge their games to make a quick buck, it's the consumer who will have to pay in a few years down the line.

Put a cartridge into your old SNES or N64. You might have to blow on it a bit, but odds are, if you've been taking care of your console, it's still working. When you boot it up, you aren't greeted with a message saying "sorry, our servers are busy, try again". You just get in and play your game, the one you own. It's as simple as that. Right down to the durable hardware, these games were built to last. 

Compare this to the wonders of modern-day gaming. AAA releases almost always ship with several special editions, meaning you could end up blocked off from certain in-game content unless you buy from multiple major retailers at once. Entire portions of our games are being sectioned off and sold to us separately in the form of day-one DLC and online passes. Some games have content that a lot of players will never experience, because they did the smart thing and chose not to pre-order. Sadly, things only get worse from there. In order to better monitor their customers and control their products post-purchase, publishers have adopted the idea of forcing you to be online... to play offline. 

Some simply shrug off Microsoft's Internet requirement because they think everyone has Internet. Truthfully, not everyone does. It's not fair to completely disregard that demographic entirely by saying they don't deserve to use the console at all simply because it isn't connected to the Internet all the time. When I first got my PS3, I couldn't connect to the Internet with my set-up at the time. I eventually got Internet, but had my console been incapable of performing its primary function without it, I wouldn't have bought it.

To further elaborate on "always online", I think most people have this misconception wherein they believe simply having an Internet connection is enough. Sadly, there's two sides to this problem. We're still at the whim of our Internet provider. Your Internet will go down, and when it does, you can't play. Sometimes this will only be for a few hours, sometimes for a day or two, but when that happens, you're not allowed to use your property. As the SimCity launch and PSN Outage has shown us, their servers won't always be up either. You know, if there's one good thing I can say about the PSN Outage, It'd be that my console wasn't rendered inoperable for the entire duration of that fiasco. We are at the whim of both Microsoft and our Internet provider. Essentially, you only play your games when they say it's okay. That's not right.

Another problem this poses is that it puts up another barricade between the player and their games. When you buy a new game, you have to input a code if you want to play online. Then, you have to install a patch (or patches) of varying length, because it's become acceptable to ship games in a near-broken condition. These things are annoying, and do require an Internet connection, but without one, you can simply forgo those things and enjoy your single player game. Now Microsoft has come in and made this worse. Now you'll have to log in and register your game, just to make sure you aren't a filthy pirate or worse... borrowing the game from a friend. The first two things are annoying, but negligible. This new thing however, locks you out of the game entirely.

Apologists might cite multiplayer games and MMO’s as examples of why an always-online policy is perfectly acceptable, but this logic is severely flawed. Those games are multiplayer. When the servers shut down, it's a shame, but there's no way around that. The problem we face is different. When the servers for the original Xbox went down, it was a real shame that people couldn't frag and teabag each other in the first two Halo games. Of course, they are both great games, and one can still enjoy the campaign to this day. Now imagine if they took the single player along with it. Not only would that suck, it'd be unjustified. Multiplayer servers are shut down because they can't justify keeping them up with small user bases. A single player game doesn't (or should I say, shouldn't) need a connection, and thus can be played on your own terms, until the end of time, for all they care. The inherent difference here is that the parts of the games that needed a connection, whereas single player games do not. Let me give you an example of a game made better by multiplayer that isn't forced on you: Dark Souls. Despite being a single player game, there are multiplayer aspects seamlessly woven in. These features being present don't hinder the single player at all, and if you aren't connected at the time, those features are obviously inaccessible, as they need an Internet connection by their nature. However, single player doesn't need Internet, and it never will. The Xbox One wants to take the industry a step back by imposing an all-or-nothing restriction on all their games.

Consider this. Since Microsoft wants to control what I can do with my games and when I can play them, shouldn't we have the right to tell Microsoft how and when to spend the money we gave them? No, because the transaction is over. We own the product, they get our money. That’s how it works. This isn't a loan.

This does not enhance the console. In fact, instead of creating a console With potential, Microsoft has decided to take the low road and create a console with more restrictions than features. Kinect could have been a cool addition, but that's overshadowed by the fact that you aren't allowed to play your games without it. Notice I didn't say you couldn't. You aren't allowed, because Microsoft put that arbitrary limitation there. This is a console held back not by technological limitations, but greed. Internet access is great for enhancing your experience, but again, forcing it only causes your console to become weaker. Give us innovative online features, but at the same time, understand that Internet access isn't a guaranteed constant, so requiring it will only weaken your console in the long run.

Contrary to common belief, not everyone has Internet readily available to their console. Shrugging it off by saying “everyone has Internet” displays an egregious amount of wilful ignorance that is simply unfair to those people. Ask yourself: what do we as consumers gain from this, and does it really merit excluding a sizeable portion of the fanbase and punishing the rest?

Simply “having” online isn't enough. When your Internet goes down (and it will, trust me), you shouldn't be forbidden from using your property. When Microsoft’s servers go down (and they will, trust me), the consumer shouldn't be the one getting punished. When Microsoft’s fails to hold up their end of the bargain, we have to suffer another “Error 37”, only this time, on a console-wide scale.

An always online console would mean that console would essentially become dead in matter of years. Once they have your money, they don’t need to remove this needless restriction. Why should they? They clearly don’t care about their fans or their public reception, so I see no reason for them to remove this. Of course, this is long-term, so buying this console means putting a ridiculous amount of faith into an amoral corporation that treats you like a criminal instead of a customer. Why put trust in Microsoft, when they don’t trust you enough to play your own games without asking their permission first on a daily basis? Something to think about.
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About Kenneth Cummingsone of us since 5:17 AM on 03.22.2013

My name is Ken. I have a deep passion for art and storytelling, video games in particular. You can follow me on Twitter here: