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The Stability of Online Only Games

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June 13, 2015 | Written By: Nathaniel Hohl


Tags: opinion, op-ed, online only, drm, battlefield, online gaming, titanfall, blizzard, turtle rock,

Opinion: Are game developers jumping the online gun?

If there’s one common attribute shared by most (if not all) game developers, it’s optimism. Developers are constantly striving to push the envelope and break through the boundaries of not only what kinds of games they can create but also what those games are capable of. In a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on high-speed internet and the many perks it brings, games have become a great way for players to connect and play with each other from across millions of miles right from the comfort of their own home. However, the advent of online gaming hasn’t been without its growing pains and too often developers seem so enthusiastically focused on the perceived advantages that they overlook the pitfalls that can affect their game’s players. While I do support the idea of online gaming, I would also argue that developers need to be aware of certain realities when it comes to developing games with online components.

Always Online Is More Bad Than Good

Some game developers have become so enamored by the burgeoning world of online gaming that they’ve created games in which an online connection isn’t merely a gateway to extra content, it’s a mandatory requirement. Much to the chagrin of its fanbase, Blizzard decided to make even the single-player modes of Diablo III require a constant online connection and Respawn Entertainment certainly made waves when it revealed that its inaugural title, the shooter Titanfall, would have no offline modes at all. Publishers like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts have also gotten in hot water for attaching pesky digital rights management (or DRM) restrictions to their games, forcing players to connect to a publisher’s respective online service if they want to play the game at all (whether it’s online or not).

While these caveats aren’t such a big deal for gamers who have ready access to a stable and strong internet connection, the sad truth is that reliable internet isn’t something that every gamer can access or afford. Until a day comes when all gamers can enjoy reliable internet access regardless of their income and/or location, developers should make the extra effort to include some form of offline play for their games. Fortunately, there are a few developers that are already taking the above caveats into consideration. Turtle Rock’s recent asymmetrical shooter Evolve includes a fully-fledged offline mode that allows players to recreate a typical online match using A.I.-controlled hunters and monsters. DICE is also promising a full suite of offline options for its upcoming multiplayer-focused shooter Star Wars Battlefront (now if only they’d offer similar options for the multiplayer in the Battlefield series…)

It can be thrilling to team up with and do battle against players from all over but ensuring even players with less-reliable internet can enjoy a particular game is a win/win for everyone; more people can play the game and, as a direct result of that increased accessibility, the game sells more copies which makes both the developer and publisher happy.

Social Alienation

Locking players with weaker internet connections out isn’t the only pitfall of online-centric games. If your game relies on the presence of a healthy community of players, even if it has offline single-player offerings, then you’re just purposefully cutting into the game’s total shelf life. NetherRealm made this mistake with its DC-centric brawler Injustice: Gods Among Us. While the game did have a fair amount of offline content to enjoy, the real meat of the game’s longevity (including a fully-fledged progression system, daily challenges, and special unlockable rewards) could only be accessed by going online and directly competing against other players. This meant that more casual players or those with bad internet connections were unable to enjoy such features and their interest in the game likely drained away much more quickly as a result (I know mine did).

NetherRealm made a similar mistake with Mortal Kombat X’s online Faction Wars mode. Sure, it’s neat getting to join a faction and contribute to it with all of your in-game activities (both online and off) but NetherRealm failed to prepare for what would happen if a majority of the playerbase joined a single faction (which they did). Now any player who isn’t part of the majority faction probably won’t even bother trying to compete and pretty soon every new player will just join the same faction in order to reap the guaranteed benefits. Any player that wants to play the game a few months from now (such as those holding out for the game’s eventual GOTY edition) won’t be able to enjoy any of the fun competitive elements of Faction Wars since it will just be a lopsided system in which everyone is part of the same single faction.

Using online functionality to enhance a game can be fun but if said functionality isn’t implemented in the right way or, worse, if the game’s longevity *relies* on that functionality, developers are just asking for trouble.

Patience Is a Virtue

As it currently stands, the infrastructure of the internet is constantly trying to catch up with the demands put on it by new developments within the gaming industry. In an ideal world, all gamers would be able to enjoy online games to their fullest but the reality is that such a world is likely still many years away. I’m not trying to argue that every single game should have an offline component but I do think that developers working within certain game genres should carefully consider their potential audience (and the resources said audience has access to) and develop their games accordingly. We should all be able to enjoy the games we buy no matter the quality of our internet and hopefully more developers will show restraint and patience in the near future when it comes to determining how much of their game relies on a steady, constant internet connection.

 



 

Nathaniel has been an avid gamer ever since he was old enough to hold a Game Boy and has been writing about games ever since he graduated from college in 2011. In addition to playing games of both the video and board varieties, Nate also enjoys watching and writing about movies, hunkering down with a good book, studying both medieval and ancient greek history, and practicing martial arts.

 




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