CliffyB: "Technology doesn't advance by worrying about the edge case"

The former Epic designer says an always online future is coming

In another post on his blog, former Epic Games designer Cliff Bleszinski defended the idea of an always-online console as the future of gaming. Bleszinski's post was partially about the internet reaction to former Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth's comments about always-online devices, and Orth's subsequent departure from the company. Bleszinski asserts that online features push game adoption by consumers, despite vocal outcries to the contrary.

"My gut is telling me that an always online future is probably coming," he wrote. "It's coming fast, and possibly to the majority of the devices you enjoy. SimCity, with all of its troubles on launch, seems to be selling briskly. Diablo 3, the poster child of a messy launch, is estimated to be at 12 million units. I would bet money that without the always online elements of Diablo 3 that it would have sold half of that."

Bleszinski believes that early adopters will be always-online anyway, and situations where a connection isn't available will become less common in the future or only comprise an almost-negligible number of edge cases.

"Sooner or later our government, or Google, or any number of providers are going to get their shit together and we'll have universally fast internet for the majority of the first world," he wrote. "I'd be willing to say that any early adopter for any new piece of technology is probably going to have some sort of solid internet connection. If you're on a forum raging about Adam's comments there's a whole new generation of kids who are growing up always online who won't really give a shit."

"My wife and I were discussing these issues this afternoon and she mentioned the example of 'Hey what if I'm a gamer who wants to go to a cabin in the woods for a week and I don't have online access there?' That's the edge case...the week-long vacation to the cabin is only 30 hours of not playing a game or a device that's built for much more," he added. "Technology doesn't advance by worrying about the edge case."

In the end, Cliffy B believes that consumers will support always-online if the featureset is enticing enough.

"If the ecosystem of an always-connected device is fantastic then suddenly people don't really seem to notice any more. When electricity came along and people had to have meters attached to their house they didn't mind because they loved the idea of light bulbs, electric ranges, and refrigeration," he explained.

"If we don't have devices that aren't fully always online you can bet your ass that we'll have devices that encourage you to return to the online ecosystem in order to 'check in' and make sure everything on the system is legit. Could you hack/jailbreak such a device? Sure, but that crowd will almost always be the die hard/enthusiast crowd that's not the average user and makes up a small percentage of the potential sales."

The full post can be found at Clifford Unchained, Bleszinski's personal blog.

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Latest comments (27)

Paul Smith Dev 5 years ago
I would bet money that without the always online elements of Diablo 3 that it would have sold half of that
"Always online" offers NOTHING to the customer absolutely nothing, i'll happily take that bet! The only reason EA and such are pushing always online is so they can push crappy dlc and ads onto the players and of course so they can shut down the game when the new yearly version has been released.

oh and say good bye to used games to.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Smith on 12th April 2013 2:34am

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DeShaun Zollicoffer Editorial Director, Geek Revolt5 years ago
The problem with always online is that it doesn't make any sense. The console shouldn't need it to boot up. It just sounds like Microsoft is trying to force features down our throats and spy on us.

Computers don't even need an Internet connection. Sure, a computer is basically useless without Internet, but it still works. The same is true for smartphones. It works without an internet connection and phone service. You can't do much, but at least you can listen to music, launch apps, and look through your contacts. Once again -- it doesn't make any sense.

Also some gamers are worried about servers going down. It's not just about our connections or the fact that we're already always online (this is by choice). The SimCity stuff has everyone paranoid. No one wants to walk over to their console and see an error message, "The servers are experiencing problems. Please try again later. Your console will shut off now"

This would really suck if you could only play games after getting off work. Imagine coming home from a long day at the office and seeing that. Why buy a console if you can't use it whenever you want to?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by DeShaun Zollicoffer on 12th April 2013 2:31am

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 5 years ago
there's a whole new generation of kids who are growing up always online who won't really give a shit."
Very true. Even my 360, PS3 and original Xbox are always online because they are hooked up to my wireless network. And many people can say the same thing about their phones. laptops, tablets, etc. So I see where he's coming from. I personally wouldn't have that much of a problem with "always-online" if there was some kind of built-in offline mode for those "just in case" scenarios.

I definitely have a good internet connection but that doesn't mean my internet doesn't sporatically go out every now and then on a nice sunny day for no reason. And thats the thing that would annoy me the most, if my internet(not power) goes down for a few hours when I'm in the middle of playing something.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 12th April 2013 3:26am

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Show all comments (27)
Those that have been lucky enough to sit through the "always connected" business summary that EA, MS and Sony have been peddling to visitors will be aware that the original plan aimed for a "Always available, not always on" model! - allowing wiggle room round complaints concerning 'constantly connected' (CC). Like the Wii-U it needs to "check-in" (updates) periodically, but is not always on!

The jumping of the gun regarding leaks and rumors on XB720 has forced the hand to have to defend the business plan, and also play fast and loose with the reality that will hoist this on a not so happy audience. Media keen to be not blacklisted from the launches have kept quiet, leaving the manufacturers to put their case through a series of B-lister executives defending CC.

Fundamentally, the battle for the living room has reverted to the battle for the pipe into the house, controlling and monetizing content in, and also linking this to a subscription model with micro-payments with added value services (and selling data mining). What had been previously touted as "two tier" internet, has reverted to "smart boxes"

It is just a shame that the consumer games market has been so hard headed and immature that it will miss out over the control of the market they spent so long to build-up. I wonder what the disillusioned developers will go off and do when the reality sets in that there will be a decimation in new releases with Gen-8, and there will be no place at the table for the majority of developers?
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 5 years ago
@DeShaun Zollicoffer
"Sure, a computer is basically useless without Internet, but it still works."


I don't know which century you were born in DeShaun but my PC does 99% of everythiing I do even when it's offline. :) Whether that's playing games, office applications and photo/image-editing programmes.... My internet application may be used a lot because "it's there" but it's only a very small feature out of the whole set of a PC.
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Enrique Hervas Co-Founder, Designer & Programmer, Join2 Games5 years ago
The important thing to take into account here is what does the "always online" feature for the target user. It is not like electricity as CliffyB says. I agree that in the future, everything could be always connected, but It doesn't mean everything has to be. If there is not a clear advantage for the user it is not a good idea to make it obligatory.

I think the best thing to do here is to make it an option for developers, to use it in their games. I see it as a cute logo "Always On" on the boxes of some EA or Ubisoft games, meaning that it is necessary for a concrete game (whatever the reason). But some other developer maybe don't want to use it. Maybe this developer want his game to be played everywhere with no connection restrictions. This could make sense for the cosumer and the developer.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus5 years ago
I'd like to hear the justification that Diablo III would have sold half of what it did if it had a single player mode. What, would hte other 6m have gone "yay, let's pirate it now!"? I sincerely doubt that.

Just another developer with a self-interest in someone else pushing the case so he doesn't have to, much like Andreas two posts up, but it's CliffyB, so I guess we have to give a shit.
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Stephan Schwabe Multichannelmanagement, Telefonica5 years ago
When i read anything about Cliff Bleszinski i have the feeling he gets payd for it..
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve5 years ago
Oh man, this felt like I just got trolled. Diablo III only sold well because it was always online? I can't believe anyone would say that without wanting to ignite some fires so I'll leave it there.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd5 years ago
I always found it silly when mobile phones didn't work without sim cards, I just wanted to play snakes!

The question that they really want to answer right now is whether they can get away with always-on and be more profitable (well that's a no brainer). I'd say go ahead and try it. Maybe the 2010's can be the decade where the always-on media-hub battles it out with the consoles.

And in all honesty he is right about not worrying about fringe cases. You can't roll out sky and cable everywhere. I remember being 200m from one of the central videotron hubs in London (I think it was) and not having access to cable for over a decade. My current house has no access to cable either and only recently have we had access to fibre optic broadband (via BT).

Perhaps the product just needs to be marketed as a separate product as a competitor and not a replacement for consoles, which again brings me to my idea of the grand duel.
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Khash Firestorm Senior Programmer, MuHa Games5 years ago
Always Online helped in sales? Haha! Nice. I know at least 10 players which like me resigned from buying long awaited diablo and Simcity vs 2 who decided to buy it and they regret. Simply because we live in area where internet comes and goes "as it feels fit".
I had Xbox360 but I will not buy any new console which enforces online status to play games for the same reason.

At the moment real 99.9% guaranteed internet can be available mostly only in 4-5Km around exchanges even in UK. Think about how many worse cases you get all over the world and then make your bet as I'm ready to put money on it. Those games will sell far better without enforced online state and I doubt they will lose any of those players because "they don't force you to be online".

You may say its piracy which will take part of their cake... but I bet piracy accelerates sales far more than most of those "anti piracy! go go DRM" think. DRM kills sales, mostly because its usually done wrong. aslways online kills sales because world doesn't offer stable enough connection everywhere. In few years though I think we could go for it, just not yet.
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Taylan Kay Designer / Lead Programmer at Black Gate Studios, Nerd Corps Entertainment5 years ago
As Paul said at the top, CliffyB's argument is flawed as he does not distinguish between advancing technology and advancing consumer value. MS XBox division is not some research center pushing the boundaries of science for its own sake, they are a producer of consumer goods. They are a business, and as a business their reason of existence is to provide value to the consumer.

To be clear, I too think that the future is online and we will get there eventually. It's inevitable. But we will get there not for advancing technology for its own sake, but only when someone figures out how to create genuine value out of it for the consumer. It's technology entrepreneurship 101 really. OnLive had a good shot at that; you had to be online but at the same time you could play on any old pc as a benefit. Their value proposition was much better than a needlessly always online XBox. We know how that ended.
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Patrick Heyer Story Contributor 5 years ago
What might be an "edge case" in the US is anything but elsewhere. "The industry" should stop what they're doing for a second and consider that the US isn't what the rest of the world is like (and even then I'd say that internet access in "rural" europe is a lot better than in the US, but Europe has its fair share of blind spots as well).

Forcing a console to be always online does nothing for the consumer. It makes things worse for him. It has no upside for him. It breaks with expectations of what a gaming device still based on physical media (and this includes an HDD) should work like. It is incompatible with the reality of a lot of people not working in our (or a comparable) industry.

These consumers don't work in the tech industry. They expect to be able to take their xbox to the cabin and play there. Because they purchased a device. And they purchased a disc. And from their point of view, you just put the disc into the device and play that game.

An Xbox is not an iPhone. A home console is not a tablet. We should stop forcing them to be what they can't (and shouldn't) be. Mobile phones can(!) get away with it, as their sole purpose is to be connected with some kind of network (be it for doing calls or accessing the internet).

But maybe that's exactly where we're all wrong: The Xbox won't be a home console. The writing's been on the wall for some time now: Microsoft seems to consider games just being one part of the bigger living room experience. So they'll try and tell us that we don't want to be disconnected and that we don't want to use the Xbox like a home console as it's so much more now!

All we can do is wait and see, because anything else would be - in the words of Stephen Colbert - "impotent rage".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Patrick Heyer on 12th April 2013 5:21pm

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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 5 years ago
@ Taylan

Nicely put. Though I'm pretty sure there's an MBA in a corner office somewhere saying, "The reason business exists is to make money and provide maximum return on investment." </sigh>

I don't doubt that a genuinely universally available Internet, anywhere, anytime, anything, will eventually happen. Leaving aside thorny philosophical questions like whether or not it should, the big question is, as you say, what value there is for the consumer. If it was a case of "always available" as opposed to "always on," I imagine people would find it more acceptable. Sometimes, we just want to unplug from the world. We don't want to deal with dudebros teabagging us in Halo. We don't want to read friends' feeds on Facebook or Twitter. We just want a little solitude, a little "me" time, even in our games. Everybody may be connected, literally or figuratively, but sometimes, we need to block the connections for our own good, just for a little while.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus5 years ago
@Andreas - My larger point being that people "inside" the industry - designers, programmers, etc. - are all in favour of something like always-online DRM, despite - or even considering - the fact that none of this brings any advantage to consumers. Zero advantage. None. What is the average gamer gaining from having his game end when his connection drops? What, have they had it too good lately?

I will never be in favour of anti-consumer policies that exist only to make some suits happy, no matter how many developers are behind it out of a sense of self-preservation. I will always think - and write - from the perspective of the consumer.
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John Baynton 3D Artist 5 years ago
Quick note for the author:

"Bleszinski believes that early adopters will be always-online anyways" <-- ANYWAYS is a non-standard form of "anyway". I know people like Adam Sandler use it but it has no place in a written article, at least not if you take your writing seriously. Just my two cents.

Moving on...

This whole concept is interesting. My 360 and PS3 are both ALWAYS ONLINE currently, so this doesn't really change a thing for me. I think the most important thing will be making sure we have clear, accurate, and easily accessible privacy settings. If I don't want to be seen online, I would want to be able to play offline (although still technically connected to the servers). I definitely see the complication if one wanted to play somewhere without internet access.

In the end, they have to show how the consumer benefits from this constant connection. I think Christopher and Patrick hit the nail on the head.
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Anthony Chan5 years ago
@Christopher ... and all other hardcore gamers on this board....
Get out of your momma's basement. Gaming has been online for the past 2 decades, and what many developers are saying is online is not only a great feature in gaming (in terms of actually taking a socially unacceptable concept, a geek/nerd fest, or any other derogatory term associated with the culture) and turned into a social networking medium.

Always-on has always been looked to as something the developers, the hardware designers, and of course the big corp and shareholders view as a simply a money-maker. What CliffyB and Andreas above is just pointing to is that online is not going to be simply a future, but a requirement for the future of gaming.

Several things in the history of gaming have turned simple nerd-gasms into something as actually cool and socially acceptable. Competitive gameplay (requiring multiplayer), the realignment of gaming content to involve girls (and thus dissolving the gender barrier), and the marketing of gaming to the general demographic (instead of the fat boy in his momma's basement) has lead to the success of MMO, mobile gaming via social networks, and the whole idea of achievements (just to name a few).

Without online, none of the above would have worked. Always online should be seen (if done correctly) as advancement in gaming, a revolution in terms of culture. And hopefully this destroy this whole hardcore gamer (the ever so vocal minority) versus the general gamer. The hardcore gamer always speak about their history of single player gaming and what not... But the actual marketing fact is that single player truly is dead... For every game to be revered, there has to be something that allows the player to connect to the world, even if it is as simple as achievements. Hardcore nerds will moan and groan at this. But bringing up examples of the GOAT single player games does not change the fact, that popular culture is not focused on these games.

Popular culture, and hence the general majority are happier trying to beat each other's score in candy crush, destroy each other's egos in CoD, or just plain comparing achievements in the latest "single player" game. Gaming is about human interaction now, not just human interacting with the machine.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Anthony Chan on 12th April 2013 7:01pm

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Anthony Chan5 years ago
AND @ Christopher... I really wanted to let it go... but
I will always think - and write - from the perspective of the consumer.
No... no you don't. You write from the perspective of the gamer, and a hardcore gamer, or the ultimate nerd for that matter. Which is far from the perspective of the consumer (extremely generic isn't it). Please differentiate and do not misrepresent.
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Patrick Heyer Story Contributor 5 years ago
Maybe I'm mistaken, but nobody here said that online is a bad thing. Online features are great. Multiplayer gaming is great. MMOs are great. But you choose to partake in them. You choose to either play something online or you choose to do something that isn't. So you aren't a big fan of choice then?

I won't give the "get out of your momma's basement" retort the benefit of a rebuttal, but as someone who really gets out of his "basement" regularly, you would know that the more you get out, the less connected you can become. Ever tried playing Diablo 3 on the train? On a plane? Ever tried doing that with the limited data plans of most mobile providers?

Yes, multiplayer games need internet access. But not every game is multiplayer enabled. Not every game needs to have every moment spammed to twitter or facebook. Not every game needs to phone home every 2 minutes to be played. No game or console needs to be always online. Execs want it to be. Want. Not "need". That's all there is to it. No sugarcoating necessary.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Patrick Heyer on 12th April 2013 8:05pm

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Anthony Chan5 years ago
The "get out of your momma's basement" is geared more at Christopher's consistent "give a shit" tone towards "celebrity" developers, designers, and of course the "suits".... so no rebuttal needed. The "momma" comment against the immaturity that represents hardcore gamers and what I view again as a syndrome this small group has. They are fixated with how they think gaming should be, and they dictate that developers and designers should listen. Hence, I am trying to tell them grow up, and get outside. At the end of the day, we can talk about how companies making games are in it for the money and not for the game. But also as the "MBA in the corner office" type, I completely can understand that. Making games requires money to make them. It requires money to sell them. So of course it only makes sense that companies care about the best revenue generating strategies.

At the same time, there is no need for the hate, anger and despise for online only products. You gave good examples where single player does benefit... where there is no connection essentially. However, in a world as we continue to advance networking technology and internet speeds do keep increasing, gaming should be one of the entertainment types that is at the front leading the charge!

Also, in my opinion, games are more fun with friends; whether they are friends I already know, or they are friends who meet in game. You are right. Games DO NOT NEED to be online. Games DO NOT NEED to be multiplayer. But as we move forward with a technological ideal where the internet can connect people around the world in ways that would not have been imagined when pong came out, gaming should definitely keep pace. The new Xbox shares this ideal (maybe I am naive).

Gaming for the future should not be limited to single player experiences. The future of gaming being able to be enjoyed by all ages, gender, demographics, and wealth classes depends on it being a social activity. Online is the only way this is possible....

So I apologize for my tirade earlier... but Christopher in this post and last posts does pull heart strings with his contempt for the companies that dominate this industry. It is sad and frustrating to see that the shenanigans complaining about big corp as experienced on the D3 forums make it here to a message board meant for industry subject matter experts.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
Gaming for the future should not be limited to single player experiences
No, but neither should it exclude them, as your "Single player is dead," comment in an earlier post suggested. Skyrim, Dishonoured, the Witcher, Bioshock Infinite, Deus ex Human Revolution. All these games show a lot of people like single player, I'm pretty sure few people bought GTA IV or RDR predominantly for the online modes, even if they do play them. Requiring a connection for these adds no benifit, even if for someone with a stable connection there is little disadvantage. At least until the server is shut off. Clearly online games or features need online, and no one is suggesting they shouldn't.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
That and the Torment, Wasteland and other hugely successful SP Kickstarters would want a few words with Mr. chan...
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Zaky German Developer, HumanGNA5 years ago
The always-on and F2P debates both share the common fact that those features only benefit the developer, not the consumer. The player can only get a lesser experience from those two things. I'm not arguing against multiplayer, or even online features in SP games (Demon's Soul / Dark Souls for example), I'm talking about forcing them on the consumer. Every suggestion that those things benefit the player is false.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus5 years ago
@Anthony: A "momma's basement" reference, eh? Go fuck yourself.

I'll say one more thing: as a consumer, being told to "deal with" something being foisted upon me is never a good way to make me purchase your product. If that's going to be the case, sure; I have more than enough games from this, and other, generations to keep me busy for decades.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 13th April 2013 6:57pm

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David Serrano Freelancer 5 years ago
@Christopher Bowen

"My larger point being that people "inside" the industry - designers, programmers, etc. - are all in favour of something like always-online DRM, despite - or even considering - the fact that none of this brings any advantage to consumers. Zero advantage. None."

Exactly. The industry's push for always-on also highlights a much larger problem which applies to all corporations in all industries. Which is that corporate board members and senior executives now refuse to reconcile their fiduciary duty (and desire to increase their personal wealth) with their ethical and moral responsibilities to act in the best interests of their employees, consumers and their country. So implementing always-on is simply about increasing corporate and shareholder profits, and executive compensation. It is not about better serving consumers or providing them with added value.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 14th April 2013 7:07pm

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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
As someone working in the industry i am obviously not a big fan of the second hand games market
I can see where you're coming from as an individual but not from an industry perspective. I don't see it as a general consensus that we're better off without the used market. I think people should have just as much right to buy and sell used games as they do cars or other item they have, I know plenty of others who agree as well as disagree.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd5 years ago
If people are selling their games during the key sales window I'd imagine the game was just not fulfilling enough.

I never trade my games because they are THAT awesome, even the promo ones that aren't so awesome because I quite like the look of my beautiful cascading collection of games. Makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something in a contest nobody knows about!

I'm just curious. I want to see an always on machine that has some awesome feature that isn't possible with consoles. I want to see a different product, maybe some innovation on controls, interaction or something that doesn't yet have an inteligible description because it is so innovative.

I want something new. Damn it I just want to be surprised, amazed and challenged.
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