It’s hard to believe, but online play for consoles has been a thing for almost 20 years, even more if you want to go back to things like the Satellaview and Xband. I remember the first time I was able to play online: it was Quake IIII on the Dreamcast, and let me say that was a hot mess. Think about it, you’re playing an FPS over dial up, no dedicated servers, no matchmaking, no friends list, chat was done with a on screen keyboard, and to top it off you’re trying to control it with the Dreamcast pad. At least Phantasy Star Online alleviated some of these issues.
My point is online gaming has come a long way since the early 2000’s. The groundwork was laid by Sega, later Microsoft would bring a lot of the refinements we enjoy today, Sony followed suit eventually matching them, and Nintendo brought up the rear bringing their own unique take to the idea. Today, online play is as much a part of gaming as controllers and TV’s.
So, with all these refinements and the incredible ease to jumping into a quick match, why would I avoid it? The truth is, I find it generally a terrible experience, and I’m not sure it’s something that publishers and developers can completely fix. Let’s dissect these prevailing issues, shall we?
This is an easy one to explain and I feel like most of you can see where I’m coming from. I hate the idea of paying $60 for the privilege of being able to play online. I purchased the console, I paid my internet bill and I purchased the game, the developers (not the platform holders) pay for the servers with that money, so what exactly am I paying for? Some say it’s the upkeep on Sony Microsoft, or Nintendo’s end, but I have to call bullocks on that. Why is it that PC and mobile have free online?
It’s frustrating from my standpoint, because on occasion, I do like to play online. By “on occasion” I mean, around 5-10 hours a year. Why should I have to pony up for servers I almost never need? I get that it would be impractical to set up a plan for something like that, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. It really feels like the online isn’t the real cost, it’s just a way to get people to cover the other costs associated with supporting a console. While I do pay for Xbox live, it’s for the sales and free games, but even then, I’m ready to let my subscription lapse.
The Skill Level
There are some people out there who have a natural talent at games, I am not one of those people. I often find myself frustrated with challenging games, so I have to brace myself for frustration if I want to play online. Call of Duty is a notoriously frustrating game to play online, if you want to win you have to have lighting fast reflexes, fantastic perception, know the maps inside and out, and of course, invest the time to unlock all the perks and guns. Frankly, I’m not willing to do this when I’m not enjoying myself as is.
While not all games have such a high skill ceiling, it’s a known thing in gaming that people online tend to be highly skilled. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: if you think you’re good at a game, play it online. There’s not many games I feel like I’m proficient at and this is largely because I move from game to game rather quickly. I get bored easily and tend to tend to wander. I realize this isn’t the developer’s fault, but it does contribute to the problem.
The Other Players
Okay, what about co-op? I actually rather enjoy co-op. The best online experience I’ve ever had was when Gears of War 2 was out, I was playing horde mode almost every night, I even made some friends. In hindsight, I’m not sure how I even got started on that, I rarely try out an online component of a game and if I do, I never use a mic.
The fact is there are a lot of different kinds of people who play online, but it seems I always get matched up with the most annoying ones. You have people playing music in the background, people singing, arguments between players, homophobia, racism, sexism and trash talking. Sometimes I want to get on the mic and scream, STFUAJPG!
Beyond all that is the biggest problem: anxiety. You might not think so by how much I comment and write blogs, but when talking to actual people in a social setting, is just awkward and difficult. Typing out my thoughts online is easy, I can take my time and word things the way I want. In a real-life setting, you have to just do everything on the spot. People are always judging you for what you say, and if you add games to the mix, they judge your performance.
Part of my life philosophy is to not be a burden to others. I feel like when I play a co-op game, I can be an annoyance to others if I can’t play as well as they would like me to. Gaming should be about having fun, and when I’m playing online, I’m too self-conscience to be able to do that.
I love fighting games, but I have to ask how in the world do you guys play them online? We’re not even getting into people using cheap tactics, but the latency between button presses can absolutely destroy a match. If you win a match like that it’s a hollow victory, and if you lose you feel like you go the shaft.
Less than ideal online conditions effects games in all sorts of ways. I’ve seen people go through walls, endlessly running in place, teleporting ahead (especially in racing games), all sorts of weird things. Basically, with the right music, an online match with a poor connection could easily make a great creepypasta.
Superiority of Local Play
You might think I just hate multiplayer in general, but honestly, I love local play. In fact, I have LAN parties once or twice a year. People bring over their consoles and TV’s and we just play. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a 16-player match of Halo contained entirely within 2 rooms. There’s no lag, no annoying people (usually!), and we can set up matches exactly how we want. Granted, the setup is a pain, but it’s the best way to play matches. In my mind, online is only a substitute for when you can’t have friends over.
Unfortunately, online has become so prevalent that it’s encroached into other aspects of games. Suddenly, you have multiplayer games with no local play to speak of. Halo 5 infamously took out all local play. Not that it was all that great to begin with, but that alone basically means I won’t be coming back to it to play with friends. Most people probably hadn’t noticed, but most racing games haven’t had local play in years. Next thing you know Bomberman will be online only.
Nintendo is one of the few publishers that still cares about local multiplayer. I can’t think of a single game they’ve made that has an online multiplayer without a local. Even the Switch is set up to be able to link 8 consoles wirelessly, and 2 more spectating. That’s highly commendable in my book.
I'd be down for this...
Overall, online play can be a frustrating mess. Between the people and lag and all the other issues that are associated with it, I just tend to stick to single player experiences. I can play as long as I want, restart, act like an idiot and not worry about anyone saying anything.
So, what do you guys think? Do you play online every night, or is it something you only do when there’s nobody to play with? I’d like to hear how other people like to game, sound off it the comments below.