Having recently purchased a new gaming laptop, my very first task was obviously to start loading it up with a plethora of games that, until then, I had only dreamed of playing. As I set about building my new PC game collection, a strange phenomenon started forming in front of me. I began to notice that all the games I was downloading were either online games, MMO’s, or single-player games that required a gaming “hub” such as Steam or Origin.
I started wracking my brain for a single-player game I had played recently that didn’t require and/or benefit from online support in one way or another, be it because of DRM, leaderboards, DLC, or some other form of online functionality. It started to dawn on me just how long it had been since I had been content playing a strictly single-player experience with virtually no online component. The only prominent examples I could think of were the old N64 Legend of Zelda games Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask and I had played those a good ten or so years ago!
It seems RPG’s in particular are undergoing a sort of “multiplayer-focused restructuring” (though other genres are being affected as well). Whether it’s Blizzard forcing players to remain constantly online even when playing the single-player portions of Diablo 3, Minecraft’s upcoming update that aims to merge the single-player and multiplayer modes, or titles like Dragon’s Dogma, Dark Souls, and the upcoming Ascend: New Gods that find clever ways of injecting multiplayer into the gaming environment without having players interact with each other directly, it would seem that having a decent internet connection is becoming more and more of a requirement in order to get the full experience from a standard RPG.
Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I, like many gamers, like to be able to socialize and connect with other players even when I’m not directly interacting with them. However this push for more online presence can become a slippery slope if not monitored carefully. There’s already been a rather large outcry over DRM which locks players out of any game they purchase, single-player or otherwise, if an internet connection cannot be established. In fact, certain companies and websites such as GoG.com use “DRM Free!” as a major selling point for their titles, a small yet frightening sign of just how rampant DRM has become.
Even “pure” single-player games such as Skyrim and Arkham City cannot be counted as “complete” games due to the pretty much standard practice of developing post-release DLC, most of which players have to pay for. While some could argue that DLC is almost always optional, a recent event involving Bioware’s Mass Effect 3, in which story content that many players claimed was integral to getting the full scope of the narrative was locked away behind a day-one DLC purchase, caused almost as much controversy as the community’s reactions to the game’s ending.
With the list of online-required features growing ever larger, gamers who aren’t fortunate enough to have reliable internet access are starting to feel left out in the cold. Fortunately, certain developers and publishers are making strides to lessen a player’s reliance on the internet; allowing retailers to offer special editions of certain games that contain DLC right on the disc. Sadly these versions often come out months, even years after the game’s initial release, forcing gamers without internet to wait if they want the full experience.
Of course some publishers and developers are going the exact opposite direction. EA Labels president Frank Gibeau recently announced that EA is setting its sights on being 100% digital in the near future. While Gibeau was careful to note that EA would not be abandoning retail sales entirely any time soon, he stressed in his announcement that as long as digital distribution of games continues to rise, EA will push more and more in that direction. At best this could mean that EA’s digital library will grow exponentially in the coming months, at worst it could mean that if you want to get your hands on titles like Dead Space or Mass Effect, your only option will be a digital purchase.
Cloud gaming is another movement that’s slowly gaining steam with developers and publishers. Sony’s partnership with Gaikai, one of the big names in mainstream cloud gaming, has already begun sparking rumors of the supposed Playstation 4 being a completely digital device with zero reliance on physical copies of games. While such rumors are obviously a bit far-fetched, the partnership is still a clear sign that Sony wants a bigger presence in the digital/cloud gaming market. With such movements going underway, it isn’t so hard to imagine that in the future, all games, both single-player and multiplayer, will have to be played online.
So, is the gaming community’s increasing reliance on the internet necessarily a bad thing? I suppose it depends on who you ask. However it begs to reason that there is a method behind the madness. I’m sure major developers such as EA and Sony wouldn’t be making such a strong push for digital/online support unless they were confident that, if not now then at least in the future, more gamers will have access to the internet than not. It’s still a mighty tricky subject to broach, mainly because the exact makeup of how the gaming industry is structured is constantly changing and evolving. I’m personally both interested and excited not only to see how things turn out, but what sort of impact we, the gamers, have on that turnout.