Internet Connectivity in Gaming: a Blessing and a Curse

posted by on 28th June 2012, at 5:24am

Who doesn’t love online gaming? The feeling of being able to go into a game online and play with people from all over the world is amazing. It’s a part of how our world is getting smaller and smaller, and much to our benefit. Who doesn’t love not having to go to a game store to pick up the latest title, and instead grabbing it via Steam, Gamefly, Onlive, Games on Demand, or any of those other online service.
Streaming shows via Netflix or Hulu (for those in the states or a proxy in the US) or game feeds via Twitch TV is amazing. Youtube loading in a flash and being able to hit play just a few seconds after clicking the link to load the page is fantastic. More and more games are building online services straight into their code, allowing you to share your progress with friends via facebook or twitter, or download patches that can fix anything from as minor as a graphical bug or texture error; or a critical patch that fixes a potentially game-breaking glitch that would make the game uncompletable.
DLC (downloadable content) whether done well (kudos to Bethesda, Rockstar and VALVe for Fallout and Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, and Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead 2, respectively) or poorly (I’m looking at you, Capcom and EA) is still a really cool concept. The idea that once you’ve either finished the game or are still in the middle of it, you can buy and download even more awesomeness to add to your game is really really cool.
Yet there’s still a major problem here. There are plenty of people that don’t have either fast or reliable internet connectivity. When my brother-in-law was going to go install Mass Effect 3, having purchased a physical copy of the game, initially EA wanted him do download the twelve gigabytes of game files that he already had on the discs. For perspective, that type of download at the speed he’s working at, would have taken him about a week and a half, if not two weeks, at > 40 KB/sec, fluctuating depending on the demand being placed on network at any particular time of day. The good news is, after a little bit of internet searching, we were able to find a way to override the automatic (and extremely redundant) download.
Games seem to be more and more glitchy at launch than ever before. Yes, games are much more complex than they once were. That’s clearly evident. So essentially, there are many more opportunities and possible places where lazy programming, QA oversights and just plain human error can cause bugs and glitches, a surprising number get caught by testers, and a surprising number that don’t. These glitches (understandably so) push developers toward more internet-connected games that require patches before being able to launch.
DRM is also a major culprit for making games that require internet connections. Obviously developers want to try (90% of the time fruitlessly) to make sure that people aren’t pirating their game, which is understandable (though relatively futile). In trying to lock people that would rather steal (or “steal” depending on how you view the different types of piracy) the game than buy it out right, certain developers… *cough cough cough*blizzard*cough cough*diablo 3*cough cough*… (sorry, had something in my throat for about 14 years that I just got out) lock their games to only work when there’s a constant internet connection present. Of course, some of them have almost legitimate reasons for having that functionality (like being able to invite friends or the world at large to join in your game), but still, they’re majorly crippling to those that don’t have the connection.
In the end, developers are essentially shooting themselves in the foot on many occasions. Sure, there will still be plenty of people that will buy the game; that have the constant internet connection or the bandwidth to be able to download many gigabytes in a reasonable time; but heaven forbid that they ever want to play the game on the go, or in the airport, or in a place where internet connectivity costs by the hour or by the megabyte downloaded at ridiculously inflated prices (e.g. ≥$5/hour).
So, here’s what I’d like to ask game developers and publishers: “Please please please make your games more accessible to those of us that don’t have great internet connections. Please make patches smaller. I know that QA is expensive and that keeping games in that phase for an extended period will cost a lot of money. But please, for the sake of everyone that really wants to buy and play your games without having to constantly have an internet connection, don’t fall into the trap that internet connectivity makes everything better in the same way that most of you seem to believe that multiplayer, no matter how tacked on or irrelevant it is, will make games more popular. Thank you.”

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