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We're not always online; games shouldn't be either

We're not always online; games shouldn't be either

Fri 15 Mar 2013 7:40am GMT / 3:40am EDT / 12:40am PDT
BusinessOnline

Companies promoting always-online need to understand the real world, says Rob Fahey

EA

"Defective by design". That's how opponents of strong DRM characterise the object of their ire; software systems which are deliberately created to restrict, undermine and generally break the functionality of the content to which they parasitically cling. DRM, at this extreme, is a direct assault on the rights of the consumer - rights which had been enshrined both in law and in common practice in the pre-digital age, but which are now subject to a land-grab by the grim-faced lawyers of media companies the world over.

Games, for all our occasional harping and moaning on this subject, have been fairly tame and sensible in their implementation of DRM for the most part. It probably helps that many senior figures in the games business are pretty technologically competent compared to their counterparts in music and film; it's hard to imagine games companies continuing to pour money into a ludicrous, abortive, hugely expensive abomination like the film industry's bewilderingly beloved Ultraviolet system, simply because for all their flaws, games companies are quite good at understanding and accepting when a technology has simply failed.

In games, a handful of "tough" DRM concepts have flared up briefly before being extinguished - either the technology didn't actually work, rendering it pointless, or the restrictions it imposed on legitimate consumers were so onerous that DRM actually ended up damaging the commercial potential of the game and its sequels. Again, credit where it's due - even those in the games industry who are most ideologically inclined towards DRM based solutions to piracy have generally been quick to accept facts ("this isn't working" or "this is screwing over our paying customers") and back down in such cases. Indeed, no matter what your view may be on microtransactions, paymium and F2P - and I maintain that we're going to have some very very tough years in the core gaming space as companies and designers repeatedly fail to apply microtransaction models sensibly for core consumers - it's still a great big gold star in gaming's copybook that the industry has actually gone out and thought about what a post-digital business model might look like, rather than just going crying to governments about how big nasty technology has come along and stolen everyone's lunch money with its "innovation" and its "progress".

"In games, a handful of "tough" DRM concepts have flared up briefly before being extinguished"

There is, however, one daft approach which the biggest and most generally sensible of games creators don't seem to be quite able to shake off. Creating always-online games - shoving a client-server model borrowed from MMORPGs and other multiplayer titles into the heart of your singleplayer games - seems to hold a siren call for developers, in spite of high-profile and humiliating failures. When Blizzard did it with Diablo 3, it was met with resistance and anger from players that unquestionably coloured the critical and commercial reaction to the game - now seen as a distinct low point for a company which could do almost no wrong for the previous 15 years or so. Now EA has stepped up to implement similar ideas in the new Sim City, in the process fomenting a backlash that has almost entirely eclipsed years of superb build-up and excitement around the resurrection of this beloved franchise.

The problems with demanding an internet connection for a single-player game are both severe and obvious. It is absolutely a question of making a game "defective by design"; it takes a game which has always been playable offline and suddenly tells players that no, they may not play it on the train, on the plane, while visiting relatives who don't have wi- fi, during the two weeks it takes to get ADSL installed in your new flat, in your bedroom where the wi-fi connection doesn't reach very well, or at any other time when an internet connection isn't to hand.

"Even if your own internet connection is working, you'll also be unable to play if the servers are experiencing a problem"

Moreover, even if your own internet connection is working, you'll also be unable to play if the servers are experiencing a problem. In the early weeks, they'll probably be massively overloaded (they were for Diablo and they have been for Sim City, and if Blizzard and EA are both utterly incapable of getting this right, I don't hold out a great deal of hope for anyone else), but even later on you may find that the couple of hours you've set aside to play will land in the middle of a server crash or scheduled maintenance. Your experience, as a fully paid-up legitimate consumer of a bloody expensive game, will be notably worse than it was back in the good old days when single- player games didn't feel the urge to run off to the Internet every five seconds like a rude teenager who can't put down his smartphone.

Of course, when we're playing MMORPGs or their likes, we accept such problems. We may not accept them without swearing or rolling our eyes, but when you start up World of Warcraft and it tells you that the servers or down - or when you go off to the wilderness for a couple of weeks and miss a few guild raids - you understand why that's happening, accept it and move on. You probably load up a singleplayer game that you've got on your laptop for such purposes to fill the time instead - because the understanding we have with singleplayer games, the social contract we have entered into with their creators, is a different one. We accept multiplayer games as a service, of sorts - sometimes the servers can't be contacted, sometimes we'll have to patch the game before we connect, and of course, if there's no internet connection there's no dice. Singleplayer games, however, are a private experience. They don't talk to the Internet unless we want them to. For that reason, they don't have compulsory patches, they don't stop working when the servers go down (whether that's down for a few hours, or down permanently at the end-of-life of the product in a few years' time) and they don't demand a network connection before letting you play. These aren't just technical differences, they're conceptual differences - fundamental differences in how players perceive the product they're buying and the agreement with the developer represented by that purchase.

The most basic and intractable problem with always-online games is that for a very large number of people, the Internet isn't an always-online service. We have to be careful about our own biases in this regard, because we're geeks (all of us, and yes that absolutely does include you). We know about Internet connections and their qualitative differences, at least on a high level, and we do things like picking Internet service providers that give good speeds and no caps, or mobile providers with healthy data allocations, or routers that provide a solid wi-fi signal around the house. This all seems natural and sensible to us, and it can be all too easy to assume that everyone else does likewise - or worse, that people who don't approach data services in such an educated way "have only themselves to blame", forgetting that these are customers we're trying to sell to.

"The most basic and intractable problem with always-online games is that for a very large number of people, the Internet isn't an always-online service"

The fact is that even in developed, advanced countries like those of Europe and North America, Internet services still suck for a large proportion of the population. For some people, there just isn't any option - I've spent the past week in a house where the best possible mobile internet signal is two bars of EDGE, and the only option for installing broadband would be half-megabit RADSL at a prohibitively high cost. Needless to say, I haven't been playing Sim City or Diablo 3 (although I have plugged a fair bit of time into rediscovering Civ 5). This is an extreme example, but not a unique one, and as you move closer to the centre of a theoretical spectrum of Internet access you still find tons of homes with only very limited access, or without Wi-Fi routers, or who simply took whatever broadband their TV provider or phone company offered, and live with low speeds, a very low cap (10GB is not uncommon) and surprisingly regular outages as a consequence.

Moreover, those people who can't play always-online games at home are only a small part of the equation. Far, far more consumers are concerned that even if they can play a game at home, they won't be able to play it anywhere else. Mobile internet coverage is even more imperfect than fixed-line internet - on trains, on the road and in many rural and even urban areas, you'll frequently lose data signal altogether. In Europe, where international travel is very common especially among young professionals, roaming data charges make playing an always-online game over mobile internet while travelling a completely ludicrous prospect.

"Even less appealing is the idea of paying a hotel €10 for Wi-Fi access so I can play a bit of Sim City while on the move"

Even less appealing is the idea of paying a hotel €10 for Wi-Fi access so I can play a bit of Sim City while on the move. Suddenly you're saying, "you can play Sim City on your laptop, but only at home - go elsewhere and it'll stop working". How is it any of EA's business where I choose to play their game? It isn't, of course, and that's not the purpose of always-online - but it is the impact of this decision, and it's not an impact that EA (or Blizzard) seem to have thought about in any depth or with any particular intelligence.

Always-online approaches to singleplayer have an extraordinary appeal for game creators, but they are a terrible idea, exemplifying all of the worst characteristics lambasted by the "defective by design" argument. This is only magnified when the approach is applied to a much-loved franchise like Diablo or Sim City, where players have a completely reasonable expectation of singleplayer functionality which the developer has rashly chosen to ignore. "This will be fine for the majority of players," I'm sure they thought - and they're right, but only in a narrow sense. I could play Sim City most of the time, certainly, so the always- online component should be fine for me - but at many times when I'd like to play it (trains, flights, hotel rooms, Christmas at home, etc.) I won't be able to, and that fact looms large on any purchase decision. I'm in the majority whom EA probably consider to be unaffected by their always-online strategy, but they're wrong; always-online means I won't buy their game, and sadly, it also means that what looks like a genuinely excellent update of the franchise is doomed to be remembered for its aggressive unpleasantness towards players

53 Comments

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

787 931 1.2
Don't think you'll be getting many arguments about this one. +10

Posted:A year ago

#1

Tom Pickard
Lead Environment Artist - Campaign Map

308 382 1.2
Popular Comment
I know Publishers hope people are just loud and bolshy about always online, but they really don't get the sentiments of the gamers, Hell Im a developer and I haven't bought Sim City out of principle, and I won't be buying any Diablo 3 DLC/Expansions after the joke of being lag killed on inferno... Stop punishing everyone else because a small percentage of pirate who wouldn't have spent their money anyways.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
On the other hand though demand often creates infrastructure. 10 years from now, when all games will require a connection to one degree or another, we will need to have the infrastructure in place to support that.

Some games right now have that already, and obviously there is some fallout from that. 10 years from now, nobody will think twice about it. Diablo 3 (and my guess woudl be SimCity as well) shift enough units. A few protest non-purchases won't hurt them.

Nobody thinks twice about games on mobile phones requiring always online. Facebook games, by their nature, require always online. There were rumors about next gen consoles being always online (and until the Durango is revealed who knows if it will be).

Obviously the issue with not being able to play the single player experience while offline is real. I have experienced this myself and it is frustrating. No argument there. But it's interesting to see both Blizzard and EA mentioned here. What about Steam? I experienced an issue where i could not launch the Unreal 3 editor (which came as part of the UT black edition) without being online. At the very least you need to be online to download and access content - and there could be more programs/games other than my experience with UE3 which require to be online at least to launch it.

In short i don't think it's going to go away. And, personally, i am not sure it's a problem, at least not to me as a consumer. Interestingly enough most of the people complaining about D3 and SimCity did so online. So my guess is they are connected at least part of the time :)

As for having online componets in single player, i think that is the way to go. Looking at gaming trends and how people consume games, i think it should be obvious that players enjoy playing with others, at least in some form. This comes in sharing content (Little Big Planet), competition (SSX etc.) and co-operation (ME3, Diablo 3). Not always in a straight up multiplayer environment, but also through asynchronous co-op or time shifted versus (ghost times of friends, presents or helpers left by or for friends in their single player world etc.). ME3 has shown how co-op can influence single player (not the best execution in my opinion, but still a good effort). Personally i believe EA is leading the way in integrating multiplayer and co-op with single player in quite a few games. Yep they will get a few wrong or have some issues - but at the same time they are innovating in that space and that is awesome.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 731 1.4
@Andreas - Indeed, I remember back in 2004 I still had dial-up internet access which was pay-per-minute, and I was absolutely furious when I couldn't play Half Life 2 until a good day and a half after receiving the disc from Amazon. Steam also made things more difficult than they had to be, too. I used to download patches and content for games at work on a decent connection and take it home on a memory stick. Steam wouldn't even allow that without some serious fiddling about.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Craig Burkey
Software Engineer

148 105 0.7
Great article, luv to see a reply from Blizzard and EA

Posted:A year ago

#5

Tom Pickard
Lead Environment Artist - Campaign Map

308 382 1.2
@Andreas - Your probably right that protest non purchaces will have no effect. But voting with your wallet is and has always been the best way to show dislike in somthing, games are a luxury product If I can't have them how I want, I can skip and find one that does come how I want (at least at present)

As for Infastructure being pushed forward by this? Im confused, Infastructure is a notriously slow moving beast that rarely gets pushed forward by anything short of government subsiduarys.. The "It's good enough" attitude of most ISP's/Network operators is astounding.

As for always online... I should clarify my position, Im fine with always online for an MMO, Im fine with always online to use social features, Im fine with mobile sending push notifications If i choose to allow a game to do so.. Im happy when a game gives me the option to drop offline and sit in my zone playing for a few hours of lag free entertainment.

What Im not fine with is a publisher telling me "the game requires always online because of the number of calculations done server side" only for the devs to turn around and say.. "err no the game runs on your PC, the always online is drm and cloud save", then add in the bodged launch which basically meant your punished for being excited about the games in question. Im not happy at playing a game that would run perfectly on my pc in offline mode in an inferior laggy mode because the publisher has decided not to include an offline mode because they want to push a Real money auction house as one of the pillars of their design. And that is where I think you might start to lose people If you keep pulling shit like that. Im probably wrong, and players desire to play the latest games will keep allowing publishers to just do what they want, but at least they won't get my money till they prove their services work properly.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Tom: Voting with your wallet is the way to go. I think in our world that is the only thing that gets noticed (not just in games).

I think infrastructure can be driven by demand. If enough people in one area demand better broadband or sign up for broadband etc. companies will see the financial benefit in supplying it. Those companies then lean on the government and infrastructure is created. Not in the short term, for sure, but in the long run - again profit (or potential profit) drives that.

Real Money Auction house is a debateable feature for sure. On the other hand i directly benefited from the D3 always online. I could not get past a boss, clicked one button and with a group breezed thruogh it. Got an awesome cinematic, went back to single player. The fact i was able to do that really made me go WOW! So that's why i feel there is huge potential for always online and online/multiplayer components even in single player games.

Posted:A year ago

#7
Fundamentally, we have seen the consumer game publisher rush to embrace a connected approach as an alternative to embracing DLC and fail at every turn- for whatever reason they decided to go down the path of charging full price and then deny ownership unless connected - and remember that is a additional price (connectivity) on top of the 'full' price paid.

Not Owned Content (NOC) is a stupid approach - when a "denial of service" situation happens like with SimCity the embarrassment and resentment only impedes the future of the business (the EA apology had better be more appropriate then their denial of refunds). The speed-bump of the Wii-U first day install and the backtrack over the original "always connected" aspirations; add to the Capcom locked DLC content fiasco, and the whole question regarding PS4 and XB720 online needs - all just souring the user base.

I know that once consumer gaming became a Billion Dollar business it would attract executives that are not interested in the game but just the revenue and bonus culture - seeing consumers as cash-cows to best to achieve their goals. But the idea they can charge full price, then a Online fee, then take away the game when they are done, will be a mistake that we all will pay for - and that could mean an end of the console business, as the independent microconsoles step in!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 15th March 2013 10:19am

Posted:A year ago

#8

Khash Firestorm
Senior Programmer

37 36 1.0
I have played all Simcity and diablo like games I could always find... but I have skipped latest Diablo 3 (for the sake of torchlight 2) and Simcity... I'm game developer but in my area there is only crappy interenet. Game should bring fun and "always online" would only make me angry. That would be the same reason why in next gen I will not choose Xbox if its true about their "always online" console.

Posted:A year ago

#9
@Khash, you are not the only one - a reason why Nin, Mic, and Son both dropped original plans for a full "always connected" approach for Gen'8 consoles. Now we have a half-way house that is hurting the industry.

I think it is the danger of legal action over the "denial of service" on SimCity that has shocked EA and others out of their complacency (while it was WARZ that shocked Steam out of theirs!) - I have also found it interesting that GI.biz seems to have avoided reporting the "Nintendo Wii-U Price Drop" stories - as Wii-U was the first of the Gen'8 consoles with a dedicated DRM approach!

Posted:A year ago

#10

Mary Hilton
Community Manager

35 17 0.5
Excellent and very valid points about the 'always on-line' demand-but I wonder if the problems with the companies that implement these rigid and incomprehensible strategies come from their locations-EA and other companies are usally located in the most highly connected area of the world-California (for an example), where internet usage is top of the line, steady, reliable and always broadband. Their access is instant and constant. They never have outages. They might have data caps, but that's not their concern. They pay their bills, why don't you?
They simply do not have the understanding of the world outside of that location, and do not comprehend that the rest of the world does not have constant on-line service, or spotty service at best. Dial up? What's that?
They work with a structure that is top of the line and current. They do not seem to realize that not all of their customers live in such an ideal connection area and refuse to believe it. So they make their games only from their viewpoint: "We have high-speed broadband 24/7, and you do too! Play our game! Pay us!"
I find that this is showing complete lack of empathy or understanding for their customers. It's all about the money, and keeping those dirty ol' pirates away from the game..even if they're the customers themselves. Someone opined somewhere else that the problem is that EA views all their customers as pirates.
Perhaps that is the total sum of their existence-"Never give a sucker an even break, and charge them for it!"

Posted:A year ago

#11
...Seeming to ram home the point:

"...Estimated sales of just 64,000 units in February have left Wii U facing up to the reality of being the worst selling new console in two generations." [MCV 15/3/13]

Posted:A year ago

#12

Daniel Hughes
Studying PhD Literary Modernism

410 455 1.1
@ Kevin, agreed on many of your points, but I don't remember there being any DRM issues with Wii U? Definite issues by where functionality like backwards compatibility needed to be downloaded over the internet on launch day (due to machines being manufactured in advance and Nintendo not having their arses in gear to ensure day one features were pre-installed), but does that count as a DRM issue?

Great stuff as usual Rob. Publishers obviously need to look out for their own interests--but that shouldn't come at the expense of what's best for their consumers.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

261 161 0.6
Real Money Auction house is a debateable feature for sure. On the other hand i directly benefited from the D3 always online. I could not get past a boss, clicked one button and with a group breezed thruogh it. Got an awesome cinematic, went back to single player. The fact i was able to do that really made me go WOW! So that's why i feel there is huge potential for always online and online/multiplayer components even in single player games.
@Andreas

While opening your game to the public is definitely a nice feature of Diablo 3 always online concept, it is also achievable in other ways. Torchlight 2, for example, allows you to use single player characters even on multiplayer games (or vice versa) which basically ends up with a similar result, you can get others to help you beat that boss and return to single player (online or offline).

While I am not talking about the polishing and general quality of the two games, nor about the fact it's extremely easy to cheat on Torchlight 2 by simply duplicating local save files which is another issue, this shows that it is possible to achieve similar advantages with a different game architecture.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 15th March 2013 11:50am

Posted:A year ago

#14

Matthew Bennett
Code Monkey

18 9 0.5
Agreed, Always online DRM hasn't succeeded yet. I am doubtful they will ever make it work unless infrastructures across the world develop to a point where the internet is available everywhere, without fail, all the time.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,205 817 0.7
Do we have to be always online to listen to music or watch movies? Why should it be that way with games? In the last 25 years games didnt need to be online. Why should they be online now. Some games require it because of their nature, but most of the games I play arent multiplayer games. I enjoyed franchises like Zelda, metal gear, mass Effect, Dragon Age, Mega Man, Castle Crashers, Crysis all while being offline. I enjoy them for the stories, characters and gameplay. I can enjoy a game like CRYSIS3 offline without an internet connection for those things. If I want to play with someone else then I go online. Thing is I got a choice and different ways to enjoy the game. Why does that have to change. Unless by design its required to be online, in the case of a multiplayer or MMO I really dont get why games have to be online. The only justification is to push on gamers a "Draconian DRM system".

We already have a decent enough infrastructure to provide meaningful multiplayer expiriences. But I dont think this is about piracy or even money. Its "control". Its about controlling everything the population see's, consumes and does. its about knowing exactly what everyone is doing at every moment to CONTROL. And what this will allow is for companies to find ways to exploit people for there money in different ways. I mean sure, they will say its for a good cause, such as gathering player stats and seeing gamers different tastes to know how to better develope a game. But i really doubt thats the reason they want games to always be online. Its like Iran claiming they are developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

I think developers should listen more to gamers. Developers think they know what gamers want. And if SONY's reveal of the playstation 4 went so well, its because everything they said in there conference was because they listened to alot of things that gamers and developers complained about. And I dont think that any gamer likes to play games on handcuffs, or always be online. I think games should provide gamers with more opportunities to play under different circumstances, and wether its online or off the fact that you can play under different scenarios is what players need. Not more restrictions. What now you cant play in the beach or in a hotel room? What if your on a plane and you travel? Portable devices such as 3DS is and VITA are great for that. It would suck if you took a vacation to Hawaii and was in a place without internet service and you couldnt play. Even mobile phone games can be played offline at the beach or in places without a signal or internet conection.

And look, all this stuff about mobile games always being online, and that people are used to it... Most people dont care or even realize it..... alot of games you just have to be online to download them the first time, that is it. Mobile phones have to always be connected to use the phone text and communication features, NOT play games.

I really dont think people want an always online requirment to play games unless they are multiplayer or MMO's. Its a Draconian form of DRM. And they can dress it up as nice as they want, at the end of the day its another method to control consumers. Its not about the making games better.

Seriously... there is nothing that will justify always online games, like capcom did with PS3 versions of Final Fight and Bionic Commando reArmed2. To me its just a load of bullshit and a draconian (harsh) form of DRM.

And my other gripe with always online games is how long will they be supported? Can i fire up a game 10 years later much like I would an old NES cartridge or dreamcast game? Can I go back and play a favorite of mine from the past?

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 15th March 2013 4:05pm

Posted:A year ago

#16

Brian Smith
Artist

193 77 0.4
Popular Comment
Great article although I'm surprised it didn't have much to say on the obligations of companies to keep the servers going longterm. My biggest problem with always online is that no one is stating how long they'll support their titles for. If I buy Sim city will it work for a year, 2 years, 10 years, there's no guide or commitment. I can still fire up games that I bought more than a decade ago. I suspect this won't be the case for these titles. At the moment I just won't buy any title like this regardless of whether it's something I want.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Stephen Richards
Game Deisgner

67 28 0.4
While I agree with the spirit of the article and all these comments, one point of contention is whether it's really in EA's financial interest not to use DRM. Obviously they can't remove it now or they'd get a piracy backlash of spore-like proportion. But the real question is whether people are willing to boycott a game when they can't pirate it. You gamesindustry readers may be principled individuals, but I suspect a lot of people have bought Sim City when they would have pirated it if they could. And all that matters to EA in the short term is their bottom line: whether they force more would-be piraters to pay than boycotters they produce in the process. Then there are long term effects to their reputation to consider, but I suppose they weren't planning for the servers to collapse...

Posted:A year ago

#18

Alexandros Gekas
Co- Founder, Editor

15 19 1.3
@ Andreas I feel that your approach of this issue is a bit myopic, in that it only takes into account the present. Yes, Diablo III and Simcity probably sold well enough that some boycotters will not matter. What about the future though? Do you think people will be just as quick to buy Diablo IV or SimCity2 in the future? Personally, I don't. You can only push customers so far before they start pushing back.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

542 528 1.0
@Alexandros:
It might well be myopic. But of course i'd like to think it's not :)

Diable 3 has sold over 10 million copies. It will take Blizzard at least 4 to 5 years before they do another full Diablo game (if they will do one at all). By that time internet connectivity will have increased. Those 10 million people who bought it and have played it, despite it being always online (a fact which was clearly advertised), obviously did not mind. In 4 to 5 years, more people will be connected with faster speeds and fewer people will mind, or even realize it, i feel. Personally i am constantly online. Though my mobile or tablet (linking my laptop in), at work and at home - this, i feel, will be the norm in 5 years time.

The majority of the D3 sales were digital copies as well. So 10 million sold, most of them digitally, thats a massive chunk of revenue, despite having a very controversial always online feature.

I am not a full supporter of always online, don't get me wrong. As i said, i have been frustrated by it on occassion and sometimes i wish i could just use things i purchase, without a constant need for the the product to check if i legally own it. But i am also not an opponent, and i think looking forward being always connected will be less and less of an issue. Instead i would be looking at how to embrace it and design mechanics that support a system like that - i.e. make the user benefit from being always online. So while there might be some frustration (by some), overall the experience is one where players embrace being online.

Posted:A year ago

#20
I disagree, that 10 million sales figure was in spite of always online feature. Without it, and all the chaos it caused, it is safe to say the game would of sold even more units. And to say that those 10 million customers who bought it had no problem with it, is kind of ridiculous, there was a firestorm, Diablo 3 has done a lot of damage to Blizzard/Activision rep IMHO, just as Simcity has EA/Maxis.

Also for the non US developers here, Fact is much of the US still has poor internet capability. The US lag behinds much of the world in the field of high speed internet. Just a fact you may not be aware of.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Tom Pickard
Lead Environment Artist - Campaign Map

308 382 1.2
@ Stephen - It might not be in their interests to remove it now, because as you say they will get a backlash... Which in itself they would argue was justification for the DRM in the first place.. But when Modders have already discovered how to play Sim city in Debug mode, My guess is a pirated version might not be far away If the pirates want it enough. If you look at games like Civ V something I'd say falls into a simillar vein of gaming, hardcare game with a slightly wider following than normally would be expected. It's sold tonnes, and It continues to sell. You can install it then disconnect from steam and it's good to go still. So to assume piracy will hurt you is a question of, what you expect to gain/lose and whether you think drm/always online is more valuable than making your paying customers lives easier, I personally think that if a pirated version is easier to aquire and doesn't need online some people would prefer that over paying for added hassle, It may not be right but its difficult to argue against as paying customers have a point when they say "why are you putting all these hurdles in front of us!!"

Posted:A year ago

#22

Bryan Robertson
Gameplay Programmer

86 209 2.4
Speaking personally,I don't think there's anything wrong in principle with creating a game where even the "single-player" needs you to be online, because there's a significant collaborative or competitive element. (i.e. games that aren't quite MMOs in the traditional sense, but straddle the line a bit, in that they kind of have single player, but not really)

If the multiplayer elements are clearly shoehorned in as an excuse to have always online DRM, then of course that's a very different proposition, but I think there are a lot of cool ideas that you could explore with that kind of game.

But obviously it goes without saying, that if you are going to go down that route, then it should just work, and players shouldn't be getting booted from games all the time due to server problems. Also, ideally if you need people to literally be always online to play the game, that should be because the features of the game just wouldn't work otherwise.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Steven Hodgson
Programmer

77 111 1.4
I was thinking the other day, the natural balance to all these always online drm games, will be a spike in the indie games. People create their own variants of these games that do not require to be always online.
However then the thought occurred to me, how long until these guys start pulling out their patents and copyrights.
It is what happened with mobile phones, one company uses its fan-base to sell an insane number of their product, other companies realise there is now a demand, and so build their own with changes, however now the original company pulls out patents to keep their profit high, rather than just trying satisfying their customers.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Steven Hodgson on 15th March 2013 4:08pm

Posted:A year ago

#24

Brian Lewis
Operations Manager

97 38 0.4
Hmm..
Voting with your wallet... ?
I do not think this means what you think it means.

Voting with your wallet allows the market to clearly indicate that they DO want.... not what they DON'T want. Withholding your money means that you don't vote.. and get no say. The only people that have any say are those that spend.. and the more they spend, the more say that they get.

Business will chase after the money. Wherever the money is, business will go, and try to bring the products to get some of that money. If you want to vote with your wallet, find something that you (and others) think is good, then throw lots of money at it. When business sees this, they will try to emulate, and you will have more of the same.

The only way to get better products is to encourage people to spend lots of money on products that are clearly superior (in one way or another) so that everyone else tries to emulate that success. Not buying inferior products is only effective if everyone does it, and if there are clearly superior products that are visibly making MORE money (i.e. if all current products are bad, then you will just get more of those, as they are the best examples available).

Posted:A year ago

#25

Michael Gunter
Monster Hunter

16 5 0.3
It's a nice article, but in light of its tone, it probably isn't fair to use a picture from Hawken, which exists solely as an online multiplayer shooter and is Free-to-Play. Just my personal opinion, but given the fact that no single player campaign exists for the game (yet?) and that the online functionality is absolutely crucial for the entire purpose of the game, it just doesn't fit in with all the arguments presented.

Posted:A year ago

#26

Eric Schittulli
European Customer Support Manager

8 3 0.4
@Brian : I understand your point of view and I find this valid for certain cases but not on the kind of games we are talking about. Non Spenders actually have a lot of power since those are the ones who the companies need to convince.

If your product got a bad rep or is from a bad quality, it will simply not sale or your marketing costs will skyrocket and that will be a one time shot only (understand that the customers won't get scamed twice by this means).

One of the complicated role of the publishers and the studios is to find the right balance between game polishing/QA/overall quality and the marketing costs.

If they lower one they have to increase the other and the other way around.

Some (rare) games combines both : Quality and heavy marketing (Skyrim, World of Warcraft, ...)
Some other games have a high quality and a low marketing (The 1st "The Witcher" is a very good example)

And some games (unfortunately more common) are lowering the quality and increasing the marketing cost and wondering why the game is not selling.

Non spenders definitely have a huge power and they should be listened to more often.
By not listening to them, the market gets saturated too much by a lack of renewal of players.

And if we would push the reasonning for the next 20 years, I would say it's pretty damn important to not over saturate the market because as a player gets older, he plays less (carreer, family, whatever) but on the other hands, almost all western countries demographics are sinking so the companies will have hard time to renew their spenders pool.

They don't need to (over)cherish the spenders, they need to convert new ones to get healthy on the long term.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Schittulli on 15th March 2013 5:37pm

Posted:A year ago

#27

Mariusz Szlanta
Producer

28 22 0.8
Stephen, I doubt there are any converted pirates buying Sim City or any other DRM game for that matter. It would happen only if all games and many other forms of entertaiment suddenly got unbreakable DRM.

I have yet to see any stats proving correlation between spike in sales thanks to DRM in game like Sim City and piracy.

----------------------------------

Andreas, I think you underestimate people's sentiment, habits and worldwide technological progress. There is quite clear halo effect on sales of new product based on previous installment. Both Diablo 4 and Sim City 6 marketing will have to put a good fight to overcome it.

It may not matter for another simple mobile game but it matters a lot for a game dedicated to well defined customer.

Last but not least, many people that bought D3 or Sim City are 25+/30+. They'll remember next time you ask them to spend almost 50 pounds. Unless (and that's really damaging effect these poor DRM techniques can have) they are cured from gaming for good.

Posted:A year ago

#28

Mike Engle
Senior Game Designer

17 11 0.6
I've always seen the pattern as:
* Diablo 3 DRM fails at launch -> Terrible customer experience, bad PR.
* Sim City CRM fails at launch -> Terrible customer experience, bad PR.
* Steam DRM works almost flawlessly with some offline tolerance -> Few critics; many open fans
* Starcraft 2 HotS DRM works flawlessly -> Few critics, general critical/commercial praise

Meaning it's 2013, internet is virtually universal. Almost no one's freaking out about DRM implementations which aren't broken.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mike Engle on 15th March 2013 10:07pm

Posted:A year ago

#29

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

261 161 0.6
Meaning it's 2013, internet is virtually universal. Nobody's freaking out about DRM implementations which aren't broken.
It is not only about DRM (as you mentioned steam which has an offline mode), it is about having to be connected to the internet when you are supposed to own a single-player game. DRM is one thing, having to be online (either because of constant DRM checks or because of the data being saved on some servers) is somehow a paradox when it comes to single-player. DRM is only a part of the issue, the issue being having to be connected to play a supposed to be single-player game.

Now of course it is up to the owner of an IP to redefine it as he wishes. Still disappointing for the fans of that IP to end up with something radically different in the concept.

As Diablo 3 was mentioned, I believe it is important to go back to Diablo 2 and remind that D2 was mostly played... online (Battlenet). While D2 had a single player mode, an access to both open Bnet (cheatland) and closed Bnet, it was mostly played on the closed Bnet (character saves on external server). Basically while there was freedom of choice (which was good) it is still the customers themselves who have shown the way, and shown the industry it could work like that.

On a personal note, I just regret that I cannot enjoy that freedom/possibility of playing offline anymore (for those franchises, while I still find some alternative games to play disconnected).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 15th March 2013 6:48pm

Posted:A year ago

#30

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
The title of the article says it all, really.

I play well over 99% of my games in single player OFFLINE and I find as a consumer with a shit connection that's not getting any better because I live in an area where everything needs to be bundled into way too expensive contract nonsense that includes crap I don't and never will use, I'm not at all happy with the enforced evolution going on. Nether are a great deal of others in my area who buy in and get hit with "or else" usage caps that end up LIMITING the time they do play online.

Anyway, games outside the strictly MMO space NEED offline play or people like me (and there are a lot of us, believe it or else) won't be buying in.

Posted:A year ago

#31

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

416 112 0.3
@Rick

+10 on all points.

Thank you for pointing this out this often missed bit too. Online DRM in mobile games is almost as bad as in PC games as it's so under-reported. I have at least 5 games that I cannot play when I'm not in my house or at work, 3 of them cost more that ú5, yet DRM says that I'm not as good as everyone on contract because I choose not to have an always active internetáconnection.

Posted:A year ago

#32

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

416 112 0.3
Mike

As a Zynga employee (who naturally built it's bread and butter on social and online games) you're view may be a tad biased. Sure, you can play games on your phone, but what about your laptop. Take trying to play Farmville on the train just to reference a product you would be well familiar with. Tethering is complex, battery draining and slow. Very VERY few laptops come out with 3G built in, and a 3G dongle is an expensive investment simply to be able to play. Put shortly, it is not simple to play Farmville on the train.

BUT, if I wanted to play Farmville no the train and couldn't I could logically understand why not. SimCity on the other hand, I cannot.

Disclaimer: I refused to buy SimCity because of the DRM and was not very interested in Diablo 3 in the first place, I tend to stay away from Dungeons and Dragons style magic games as a matter of my personal taste. If they manage to crack SimCity, I will buy it and run it cracked so I can use it offline at will, like I did with Anno 2070.

Posted:A year ago

#33

Sam Brown
Programmer

237 163 0.7
Mike Engle:
it's 2013, internet is virtually universal
Rob, from the article above:
I've spent the past week in a house where the best possible mobile internet signal is two bars of EDGE, and the only option for installing broadband would be half-megabit RADSL at a prohibitively high cost.

Posted:A year ago

#34

Mike Engle
Senior Game Designer

17 11 0.6
@Andrew: I'm unclear what part you thought was biased. Do you disagree with those examples?

I wasn't really expressing an opinion, merely describing my observations.
* The near-invisible DRM examples (Steam, Heart of the Swarm) received little to no criticism.
* The game-blocking-due-to-poor-scaling DRM examples (Diablo 3, Sim City) received massive criticism.

The edge case of not having internet is rare to start with, and offline tolerance eliminates the bad experience there. It's all about doing DRM right, and not botching it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mike Engle on 15th March 2013 9:50pm

Posted:A year ago

#35

Mike Engle
Senior Game Designer

17 11 0.6
@Sam: Not really sure what you're trying to imply there. Can't tell if you thought I said "universal" (not "virtually universal") or if you thought an example of the author having internet (albeit very poor internet) somehow conflicted with either statement. It's an edge case either way (if it wasn't there would be strong business reasons not to use online-requiring DRM, and businesses wouldn't be headed in that direction.)

@Eric: Yeah I generally agree with what you've said (although again, I don't think Sim City's online capabilities would be criticized in anything close to the same harshness if the game's DRM wasn't flubbed.)

Posted:A year ago

#36

Jason Alexander
QA - Senior Tester

20 15 0.8
SOPA, PIPA. Remember we as the public won that battle and online DRM...this is the response. Companies try things new (New Coke anyone). EA is just following model all digital media companies doing. The market is leaning towards..if you can buy the game and the PC to play it on you can afford the 49 buck for high-speed internet. As for consoles its a different story but almost the same ending.

15 years ago it was CD-keys...if I loose my key "then what" now loosing the key does not matter because it's stored online and now that is a problem. If the internet goes out your going to be complaining to CS about your internet not playing games. If you don't have internet you probably don't know about internet only games till you show up at the store and by it. See that most mag companies are going out business how are you finding out about games other than word of mouth, or walking into a store.

Skyrym on STEAM...no complaint there
Portal...No complaint there
XBOX Live...I have to pay to get on line...no complaint there (here is my money)
SC2
UBISOFT Games as of now

Posted:A year ago

#37

Tudor Nita
C++ Multiplayer Programmer

23 26 1.1
It's surprising to see so many people still believe good Internet access is ubiquitous when in fact it is more akin to a luxury item if at all available. Good internet access is still mostly restricted to high-density urban areas in the western world and the developed bits of Asia.

And, no, owning a pc or buying a piece of long-term entertainment does not mean one can afford a decent internet connection. A pc can still be considered an investment. Cheap in the long run, same as a game you can pick up and play for 300+ hours (exaggerated but not unheard of - D2, X series, etc ).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tudor Nita on 16th March 2013 1:08am

Posted:A year ago

#38

Sam Brown
Programmer

237 163 0.7
@Mike Engle: I meant that the internet isn't remotely universal, never mind virtually. For instance, I live in the third largest urban area in the UK and there are areas here where mobile data is non-existent and while you can pay for a broadband connection it's down half the time and intermittent the rest. Even a game that only checks on startup is a dicey proposition at best.

Posted:A year ago

#39

Nick Parker
Consultant

264 124 0.5
We seem to be arguing against ourselves again. The Internet is not universal unless you think where you live is the universe - FACT. I don't think that the Internet has to be universal though for a business, which is what publishers are, to be able to make a decent return. Some people with good enough connectivity will be able to enjoy always on games and others won't but it's the first group who are being targeted. Developers and Publishers target one or two consoles on an exclusive basis but do we claim that that's not fair for those who don't own those consoles? I'm a PC gamer and can't play Halo 4, do I berate 343 or Microsoft for not building a PC version? Always on games are here to stay as there are enough gamers who can enjoy them; that may suck for the rest but they will have their time in the sun eventually. It's the likes of EA and Blizzard who have made the mistakes, who, ironically, can afford to make those mistakes for lesser mortals to learn from.

Posted:A year ago

#40

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
@ Nick

Perhaps it wouldn't sting so much if EA and Blizzard actually came out and said that. Everyone knows Naughty Dog develop for the PS3, so no-one complains that Uncharted is PS3 only. The problem with EA/Maxis is that they continue to pretend that what they've done is not target a subset of consumers. As a business, they may have the right to pretend that, but it makes the consumer feel like they've been conned. When a company just reiterates the same thing over and over ( http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/03/16/simcity-bosss-straight-answers-seem-pretty-wiggly/ ) in the vain hope that this time the consumer will understand, it harms consumer confidence in the company, and raises the fear that other companies will do the same thing in the future.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th March 2013 11:02am

Posted:A year ago

#41

Saehoon Lee
Director - Gaming

59 40 0.7
I bought Simcity, not because I didn't know about all the issues, but I wanted to support Maxis despite all the issues. Because I felt if this version of Simcity didn't get enough support , there won't be next one. I am that much fan boy, but it doesn't mean I am happy with current Simcity. I am as mad as lots of other Simcity players. I really want to see some real changes / fixes to this game. And that is why I paid my money to Maxis. My money to FIX the game. Please!

Posted:A year ago

#42

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
Assuming what this article says is true (and RPS is pretty good for journalistic ethics), then giving your money to Maxis/EA is just... Well saying "a waste" just seems like an understatement. I really, honestly, wish there was more accountability for not only the developers, but the forum mod staff. PC games have been released that are broken before, and mod staff have acted beyond their power before, but very rarely have the two come together, and I don't think such actions have ever come from such a large publisher.

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/03/16/simcity-modder-tells-us-offline-regional-play-easily-done/

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th March 2013 1:00pm

Posted:A year ago

#43

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
Founder & Creative Director

357 181 0.5
hmmm... are you really not always online? because i sure as hell am! skype and other services are running 24/7 i receive and respond to email throughout the day, i play mmorpgs and online quite often and i am on facebook, twitter, linkedin, various gaming sites and communities, playing on my mobile which ALSO runs the majority of big games CONSTANTLY online etc etc etc, all day long! in fact the only time i am not actively online is probably when i fall asleep.

edit: so is the majority of gamers who would be aware of this game and own a PC that can play it!

It is a surprise to hear that so many industry people are not always online. i mean, DSL/cable runs 24/7 anyway! So how do you go about it? do you switch off your DSL or 3G connection at some point during the day?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Yiannis Koumoutzelis on 17th March 2013 4:03pm

Posted:A year ago

#44

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
Hahah...

Sorry, but what happens when you travel a lot and just want to play for a bit? Or when you move house and your new internet service takes a couple of weeks to set-up? Or your internet service is poor? (I've had a run of bad luck that meant that I had 4 disconnects in a 2 hour period, each solved only be restarting the router).

All of which is to say that, even if someone's internet connection is on all the time, it does not mean that they can access it all the time for the purposes of playing a game.

Posted:A year ago

#45

Sam Brown
Programmer

237 163 0.7
@Yiannis:
hmmm... are you really not always online?
That's about the size of it. To put what I said earlier into more detail, here in Manchester UK internet access varies wildly. There are areas of the city that have no fibre, only 5 meg connections, and those are down half the time partly because of rubbish support and partly because some gang of scrotes have either set the exchange box on fire or broken into it because they think there's copper to steal inside.

For another example, my Dad lives in an affluent commuter village about ten miles from the nearest urban centre. His broadband rarely tops a single meg, and dies after 6PM. My phone gets less than a bar when I visit him.

"Always-online" is a complete myth for most people and will probably remain so for a while yet. We need to stop pretending that we all live in a sea of connectivity and stop basing our business models on that belief.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 17th March 2013 6:35pm

Posted:A year ago

#46

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
Annnnnnnnd herein lies the funkin' problem, kids. It's turning into the "haves" in the industry and the "have-nots" outside of it. Sure, if you live in the perfect bubbly bubble of living and affording an always on speedy-Speed Racer connection and can access when you want when you want to with few annoying issues, why the hell would you EVEN consider the fact (not opinions) of other users NOT in that boat you're in?

I'd LOVE to see how some folks going on about this not being much of an issue do in a room (chat or otherwise) full of inconvenienced people who don't like the way things are. As long as there's that thick wall between the two camps, it'll always be post after post of "i don't see what the problem is" when all is needed is a look over a few fences... or better yet, maybe ask people outside the realm you're in what's the story on their end...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 18th March 2013 4:37am

Posted:A year ago

#47

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
Perhaps publishers could band together and print some "We value your opinion cards"? Questions could include:

Do you have internet access?
How fast is it?
Do you like or dislike DRM?
Would you rather have a CD in the drive, a one-time connection to the internet, or a continuous connection to the internet?

Posted:A year ago

#48

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
Founder & Creative Director

357 181 0.5
Always Online can only be a problem for people with dial up or ISDN connections. And even these people, really have a cost problem. Not a connectivity or speed problem. Today, even at my small hometown i have broadband on a usb stick. 16Mbps of mobile internet for 34 euros p/mo. 5Mbps connections? :D even 1Mbps is more than enough to play all MMORPGs. Not to mention that the people with ISDN and dial up connections in 2013 are not really your average consumer! We have been playing MMOs even on 56k/ISDN lines in late 90s. even on early 2K where not available.

And let me say this, people who are in the unfortunate situation no being able to afford 15 euros per month for an average DSL connection for them and their family, have far too many other serious worries in their head to care about DRM or not. This is a 1st world nagging issue! Not a social injustice issue!

The problem with the majority of arguments i read about always online features (in the majority of forums and communities i check out daily) is that they are pulling at straws in order to prove something else, for something that they simply have decided not to like. Also that the majority of people who argue online about their problem with "always online" comes from people who ARE always online! :D

Posted:A year ago

#49

Mike Engle
Senior Game Designer

17 11 0.6
@Sam Brown: With internet quality and availability being what they are in your area, are Steam Games and/or Heart of the Swarm bad gaming experiences for you?

Do you feel this impacts a large enough part of the game-buying world, badly enough, that it's a bad business move to use these better DRM implementations?

Posted:A year ago

#50

Sam Brown
Programmer

237 163 0.7
@Yiannis:
Always Online can only be a problem for people with dial up or ISDN connections. And even these people, really have a cost problem.
Please read the list of problems I specified again. The only sense that we have a cost problem here is that we can't afford to more somewhere where the internet connections are better.

@Mike Engle:
Steam is fine, beyond the time taken to download the games in the first place which is usually an overnight job (pre-loading is a Godsend, but as I recently ceased to trust any publisher enough to pre-order that is no longer an issue). But once that's over the offline mode makes everything fine.

Check-on-startup games (such as ME3's DLC) are a bit more of a pain and usually require several goes even if the connection is up (which it isn't half the time, meaning those games can't be played).

I stress again, here and now we have no other choice as to the quality of our connections. There is no better option than the ones we already have. That is a FACT, and me being a gamer does not improve the quality of the local internet infrastructure.

As to whether AO DRM is a bad business move? I would say SimCity suffers from having AO DRM more than Diablo 3 did simply because SimCity has a broader appeal. It's more likely to attract casual gamers and they're the ones who pay less attention to the quality of their internet connections (if they have the choice of better ones that is).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 18th March 2013 7:36pm

Posted:A year ago

#51

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
@Morville: You just became CEO of my fake always offline "ZZZ" games company. Your coffee or tea is in the mail. It's frozen, so it should arrive properly heated by sea mail...

Posted:A year ago

#52

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