Whether you’re discussing the rise of MMOs, the increasing use of digital distribution or the prevalence of online multiplayer, it is undeniable: we’re living in an online world.
Why are so many upset, then, when Ubisoft introduces DRM that requires you be online for game saves? Why are so many upset when there are delays to updates, or the Playstation Network goes down, or World of Warcraft server maintenance takes slightly longer than expected? Sure it’s inconvenient, but there are as many if not more benefits to having game services move online than there are drawbacks. Why fight it conceptually?
The outrage of being online
The reason so many are upset about the new Ubisoft DRM that requires online for game saves and authentication is two fold: what if your internet connection fails and you lose some progress in a game, and what happens in the future when they take down those servers and you can’t play a single player game?
My response: seriously? Some gamers were quoting power outages as their fear for their internet connection. I think you have bigger problems than your internet connection losing their servers when the power goes down such as your computer shutting down. I only know from my experience, but my internet fails maybe once every couple months, and if I lose 5-10 minutes of gaming since the last autosave I’m not going to be permanently traumatized.
In addition, there are very few games that couldn’t be played because the authentication or multiplayer servers were offline when people wanted to play them simply because years after a game’s release there is a very small community remaining. The only one that comes to mind is Halo 2 and that was because it was so stunningly popular. This is not going to be a common problem, but even if it is I’m sure there will be a patch to allow you to play without authentication servers. Very little revenue is generated by games years or decades after release so this wouldn’t be a huge profit hit for Ubisoft.
In addition, the reason these changes are being made on the PC is because there is so much piracy. I’m sure it will be a huge imposition on the user to download an authentication server crack when you want to play a decade after initial release.
The benefits of being online?
Removing the obvious benefits such as online multiplayer, game fixing updates and digital distribution, there are subtler updates to being online all the time. Services like Steam can be developed, which add massive convenience to the consumer.
I just switched to a new computer and wanted to continue to play Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. I didn’t have to find my discs again, or find those authentication CD Key stickers on the DVD jewel cases. I just downloaded the free Steam client, logged into my account and went to a movie. When I returned, they were all downloaded and installed and ready to go.
In addition, the prevalence of cross game chat has made finding games and discussing them with friends even easier. You can chat to any Steam user while in any Steam game without leaving. The same thing is being done for the new Battle.net for Starcraft. You can plan a game or chat with a friend extremely easily even while playing another game. This is incredible convenience that wasn’t available in the past.
Finally, being always online allows for out of game experiences such as World of Warcraft’s armory and auction house. You can now see your character when you’re not even at your computer. Not only that, but you can trade through the auction house from your mobile device. This is incredible functionality and the slight drawback from the occasional lost connection is more than worth it.
I understand being annoyed that a game is DX10 only and therefore doesn’t support Windows XP despite that being the OS of choice for over 40% of the gaming community. Don’t fight an obvious and well established trend though. Pretty soon it will be unusual for a developer to assume you might be playing without an internet connection. All computers capable of playing games have a constant connection. Mobile devices now primarily have wireless connections and soon that will be absolute.
A developer can improve the gaming experience with the information and easy access that online gives them in regard to their player community. It’s ok to complain about internet lapses much as it is ok to complain about flight delays. But don’t say that you’re never going to fly again because you sat on the runway for a couple hours. If Ubisoft makes good games, you’re going to play them, because this online only policy is merely them getting ahead of the curve.