Always-online consoles

With both the PS4 and new Xbox consoles being rumoured to require an always-on Internet connection, what does that mean for your games in a few years?

Personally, I'll be pretty depressed if all games go to an always-only DRM model. I feel like it will be the apocalypse for future historical-gaming hobbyists.

Having backed a lot of games on Kickstarter related to the games of my youth (eg. DoubleFine's Broken Age), and seeing the rumours of the next generation of Playstation and Xbox consoles requiring an always-on Internet connection in order to play games.

Games are also going in the same direction. The new Sim City from EA had some very public issues when their servers couldn't keep up with demand, and so did Bizzard's Diablo III when it was released. Both games have a single-player game but cannot be played offline, and their predecessors all had the possibility to play offline.

The guys on Tech News Today have discussed the topic a bit, both at the time of the Sim City issues as well as the coming console releases. They mainly talk about the DRM side of things, but didn't really seem to disagree too strongly, with the comments seeming to boil down to everyone having an internet connection anyway, so what's the big deal, and other comments similar to "the games are so integrated to the servers now, of course they need a connection", even if they dislike the DRM side of things. I worry about the future though.

Counter-Strike, and other Valve games have a very high online gaming factor, yet they can be played without an Internet connection, since Valve provide the server software within Steam, not just the clients. That's how it's been with Valve games ever since the early days of Half-Life, and other past games have had similar support, or 'hacked' support thanks to a community keen to keep them alive (eg. EA's Ultima Online). Going back a bit further to Doom, Quake, Diablo II, et al, the games could be played over a good ol' NetBIOS or IPX/SPX network, and when TCP/IP came along they allowed a larger number of player and followed with online multi-player.

I grew up playing Acorn Electron and Commodore 64 games, and thankfully our parents still have those computers as well as hundreds of game tapes, and if the tapes haven't deteriorated beyond use and we can find a compatible TV, we would be able able to hook it up to the TV and play those same old games, even if the companies/developers that made them aren't in business any more.

Having backed the From Bedrooms to Billions Kickstarter project and watched a few of their teaser videos, I've had some tears in my eyes thinking back to the feeling of accomplishment at getting the games running when friends brought their computers around, and I'm looking forward to showing my future kids some of the history of computers and gaming, but I think there's going to be a bit of a gap in their education when it comes to the 2010-present time frame.

So, to my point, after all that rambling. Even multi-player games (including MMOs) don't really require a connection, they force a connection to fulfil their business goals. People will find a way, but people who want to stay legit will have to jump through hoops to be able to play their games in a few short years time when servers are turned off... they're only penalising the their loyal customers, which sounds like a bad way to keep them loyal.

To add insult to injury, some companies think it's acceptable to release selected games from their archives wrapped in custom emulators as games on Xbox Live Arcade Android/iOS stores, and charge multiple times as much as the original tape would have cost, while again, people who don't care too much about being legit have been playing all of the games using emulators built by enthusiasts.

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About the author

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On weekdays I'm a Technical Lead at Comparethemarket.com, having previously been a Solution Architect at Nokia & Nokia Siemens Networks, creating creative software solutions for mobile operators around the world.

In my spare time I'm an avid new technology fan, and constantly strive to find innovative uses for the new gadgets I manage to get my hands on. Most recently I've been investigating Mobile Codes, RFID and Home automation (mainly Z-Wave). With a keen eye for usability I'm attempting to create some cost-effective, DIY technology solutions which would rival even high-end retail products. The software I develop is usually released as Open Source.

I have a Finnish geek partner, so have begun the difficult task of learning Finnish.


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