Always Online and Why We're Not Ready For It
With rumors swirling in the recent months about the next Xbox possibly requiring an always online connection, it got me to thinking. Are we ready for home consoles to require a constant internet connection? I mean it seems that we are always connected to the internet anyway. So having a system with a constant internet connection wouldn't be a big deal, right? Wrong.
I feel as though we in North America are not ready for consoles to have an always online requirement. Sure, I do believe that one day it will happen. In fact, I believe it’s inevitable but I think there are several issues we can point to and discuss as reasons why we are not ready at this point in time. I will make a point though that I do not know how internet situation is in other countries but everything should still apply.
Technology is evolving at an alarming rate and more and more people are getting access to internet. However, that is not to say everyone has an internet connection. In fact, a very large number of U.S. citizens (50+ million) still do not have internet. I actually have some first hand experience on this matter. I myself have high speed internet but there are quite a few places near my home where there is no internet access at all. I would be willing to bet a number of people without internet access do own a console of some kind and to totally alienate these people would be a bad move especially if only one company went this route. These people would just flock to whatever other console is out, thus boosting sales for that console. The console that required internet would be left in the dust.
There are of course the families that could get internet but choose not to in a way to protect their children . Also, what about those families who have internet but it's not “high-speed.”? Assuming an always online system would need high-speed internet to work properly, these people would have an awful time playing games or connecting to the servers. There are also a large number of people with high-speed internet but their provider may not be the best or have a provider with limits to what you can do. At one point I had a service from a company that would drop all the time, two to three times a day to be exact. With an always online system one drop would be all it takes to ruin the whole thing.
This also leads to another interesting point. What if I were to take a week long trip up to a cabin in the woods to get away from the everyday grind. Maybe I take my gaming console for some leisurely play. Most places like this (resorts, vacation spots, personal getaways, etc.) do not come with or have the ability to have high-speed internet or even access to the internet at all. And what about our troops who are stationed in barracks in other countries? It’s been well documented that they like to play videogames when they have some downtime. I’m pretty sure there is no internet access or at least very little in the desert (where a good number of troops are/have been stationed).
With an always online system you would hardly be able to take it anywhere with you. I remember when I was a young lad and I use to take my original Xbox to friends' houses for some good old fashion LAN play. Well you can pretty much kiss that goodbye with an always online system. Even if your friend has fast internet, the amount of people jumping on it at once will cause a bit of instability resulting in crashes or lag. Sound fun?
Oh and here is another good one, weather, if you are like me then you live in an area where weather usually wreaks havoc on an internet connection. If a bad storm rolls in kicking off your internet say goodbye to your save. Hell, even a little bit of wind in my area is enough for my internet to go down for an hour or two.
One of my major issues with an always online console is the fact that we would then have no choice but to trust the developers and publishers in maintaining proper upkeep and making sure the servers would always be operating at optimal conditions. Well, Diablo 3 and SimCity shot this one down. We would have to fully put our trust into these companies and I don't think we can. Both Diablo and SimCity had a mess of a time trying to get things going and trying to play both within the first week was a severe pain. I've even heard reports of some people STILL having connectivity issues with SimCity. Now imagine these problems with every game. Imagine it with something as simple as booting up your system. Could you simply imagine getting home with your new system and setting everything up only to be greeted with a queue to just get into your dashboard? The next day that company responds with “We did not anticipate that many people logging on at once.” Yeah okay, doesn't next-gen sound great?
Another thing we must consider is server maintenance It’s an inevitable thing and necessary to any server’s longevity and stability. Yet, if we HAD to be connected to the server at all times, something as simple as maintenance would boot us off. Leaving us not able to play the game or even get onto the system. If Halo 4’s servers are down for whatever reason we can still play single player or local co-op. Not with an always connected console. Server goes down and you are out of luck until they go back up.
Thinking of all this makes my head hurt but the number 1 reason that upsets me the most is the fact that once a game's or system's servers are shut down for good those experiences you spent all your money on are now useless. I still, to this day, go back and play games of days past and love every second of it. With this new approach, that’s all gone. The new Batman game’s server gets shut down? Oh well, too bad. There are examples of this today with several “online only” games whose servers are no longer available. These games can no longer be played and are no doubt in a landfill somewhere. This would also make it impossible to pass games along to younger generations. I mean, I guess we could assume there would be emulators of said games at some point but I don't like to make that assumption.
As I stated previously, I think that always connected consoles will be a reality at some point. It's inevitable. However we're not ready at this point. There are way too many variables outside our control that could ruin the experience. Some gamers may not see a problem in it at all and that's fine but I would have to guess that most gamers are not ready for this. Even if they have capable internet.
I'm no engineer and maybe most of my concerns could be easily rectified or at least reduced, It's in my opinion ,however, that if the next Xbox DOES decide to go this route that they will be committing console suicide. Sure, they will have their loyal Xbox players who buy in but the mass majority of gamers will go to Sony or Nintendo because they won't force this upon them. If I were a company making a game console, I would leave it up to the developer to decide if there game is to require an internet connection and not force the requirement on every person who spends their money on my system.