If The Future Is Online Only, We Need To Talk.
Online-only Gaming has been an increasingly daunting discussion for many people. Devin, Kyle, and I tend to talk about it a lot on our podcasts. Is a subject to some, that isn't important -- and others, it's the end of the gaming-world, literally. Now, we could say that online-only is still a few years away from mainstream adoption for AAA titles. It's not hard to realize that those years are already coming up.
Expanding The Internet
We've seen an increased focus by many companies; The task of expanding and increasing internet and it's speeds across the globe. Facebook and Google, two forces to be wreckoned with, leading the cause. Facebooks idea is to make providing internet more effecient. Reducing power consumption on mobile devices while being connected, as well as improving internet networks all cutting down on costs to provide such services. But as Mark Zuckberg has said, "No one company can really do this by itself."
Then there's Google, they aren't necessarily going for optimization so much, as they are thinking about expanding the networks into new areas. One of those proposed methods is to provide internet by balloon. Though ultimately not the most likely of options, it's still something they're looking into. The real option is what they've begun investing in: Satellites. So far they plan to spend $1 billion on 180 small new satellites and then expanding from there.
It's not an internet thing, though. Just because the internet is growing and spreading to more places, doesn't mean we're immune to the problem. In fact, it might feed the problem unless something is done within the gaming industry.
The Gaming Problem
Even if everyone is connected and has enough to play online games, there's still one specific issue that I, and others I have talked with, still have with always-online gaming experiences. Let's look at Titanfall as our theoretical (and potentially soon-to-be real-life example.) Say you enjoyed Titanfall since day one and you're still playing it to this day. You and your friends are among the elites still playing the game. The next day, EA announces support for Titanfall will be dropped and the servers are going offline in a few weeks.
What are you left to do? What is the Titanfall community left to do? There are times when game developers or publishers have kept servers for games online for a decade after they released the game or supported it. Electronic Arts, surprisingly still has an MMO going. Ultima Online has been online since September 24th, 1997. That's 18 years. We can assume there's at least one person who has paid the subscription every month to this day.
What are you left to do when your MMO goes down for good?
What can we do about it? There's a few things we can do nowadays. We can obviously find a new MMO. For me personally, it's a little more complicated than that. I like to stick with certain MMOs for long periods of time. Ultima Online was one that I loved playing and I didn't even stop until a few years ago. I played UO since I was 9 or 10 years old. Then I found World of Warcraft, and I started playing that when I was 13 up until now, where I am 21.
We could also just play more games. There are plenty of games to enjoy, both online and off. Telltale's Walking Dead games are enjoyable, Call of Duty is an easy to get into, even easier to rage quit game to play. That's only 2 games out of hundreds of thousands you can play.
There's one option that is limited to only a handful of online-enabled games: Private servers. You know that games like Minecraft, Terraria, ARK: Survival Evolved, and many other modern games have private servers. Many of these are indie studios though. The AAA developers don't offer these capabilities as often.
World of Warcraft is seen as an undying MMO, despite it's sharp drop in subscriber numbers.
The difference for World of Warcraf though, is even after it's enevitable death, it will still have life. While it's technically not legal under copyright law and within Blizzard's Terms of Service -- Private servers of World of Warcraft exist. Purely based on emulation. Even Blizzard has said that they cannot bring back servers for old expansions, because that code base no longer exists. Well, the server emulators have done so and continue to do so.
Not only are emulators good for fans that want to continue playing, but they're great for nostalgia trips and gaming history. Being able to show your kids 20+ years from now what gaming was like in our days. It's way better than just showing them a screenshot or video on the internet.
This is why Ultima Online servers still exist, based on Emulation. Runescape has emulators. Habbo Hotel has emulators (bad example). Even when those official servers go down, the people who truly enjoyed their experiences will have somewhere to turn to remain on the games they loved. And this is the problem the gaming industry needs to correct.
It's On The Devs
Yes, the developers should hand over server software. If not for free, then liscense it out. Giving players an option to keep servers running is something we rarely get to see. Why should it matter to the developer if players begin hosting their games online when the developer has ceased support? They could even make more money off of it in the long run. Whether that be through game purchases or through liscensing their software. There will always be an interest in keeping old titles alive.
But that's my opinion. If it were ultimately left up to you. What would you do? Let us know below!