Always Online: Missing the Point

I still have a problem with the always-online trend, but it actually comes from the other direction. Fundamentally, I am always connected to the internet… but that does not mean I always have a connection capable of running a client/server game without lag.

Spotty Wi-Fi? It happens. ISP having issues with Blizzard’s servers? Been there, done that. Indeed, Time Warner (the only cable internet provider in my area) frequently has intermittent disconnects in the 11pm-3am time period when I am most active (I work 2nd shift). And obviously playing multiplayer games like FPS and WoW is impossible when, I dunno, I am downloading torrents, Steam/iTunes/antivirus programs decide to update, someone on the same connection boots up Netflix, and so on and so forth. Any of those other things are about 1000% more likely than lugging a laptop onto airplanes, trains, or buses.

So please don’t construe this always-online DRM as a value-added feature when it is nothing but movie executives futilely pushing 3D movies because it eliminates the majority of piracy. There are better ways of eliminating that kind of piracy, but the movie industry is choosing the one that makes them more money.

Speaking of choosing the option that makes them more money. Tobold mentions that the cash AH in Diablo 3 necessitates a constant connection, but cheating prevention is honestly a red herring as Tycho from Penny-Arcade divines:

For my part, and I’m not, like, The Lord or anything, but the gulf between able to install a Spawn copy of the game and not being able to play offline at all seems pretty deep. Don’t really know what else to tell you. I saw that Blizzard came out with a response response, expressing their surprise at the consumer reaction, when this is more or less how consumers react every single time they learn the precise circumference of their golden leash.

By their own admission, Diablo isn’t not really focused around a PVP experience; if you’re playing with someone who has duped items or whatever, all it means is that you will be more likely to defeat Satan. Without a means to gain advantage over another, “cheating” as a concept becomes substantially more opaque. Who is the cheated party, precisely? Satan the Devil? Fuck him, who cares.

Who is being cheated? This is the part of the movie where, in a series of retrospective realizations cut with you looking at your own face in the rearview mirror, you come bit by bit to the heart of it. The person you are cheating is Blizzard, Blizzard in the aggregate, with your attempts to interfere with their digital marketplace. You mustn’t play offline or goof around with your files or any other naughty business because they are endeavoring to transform your putative ownership into a revenue stream.

There, now don’t you feel better?

Diablo 3 was going to spawn a black market(place) if Blizzard did not do anything, but there were other options available. Flagging items as being offline-only, having separate offline characters*, or hell, even turn item/gold duplication into a (somewhat hidden) feature, preemptively destroying that market. If you choose to log onto some epic’d-out guy’s server, it is indistinguishable to you whether said guy hacked the items into existence or bought them all from the AH. Don’t group with that guy. This is Bashiok:

Q u o t e:
but it also has the potential to damage the game economy and overall experience for the many thousands of others who play World of Warcraft for fun

We still think that’s true for a MMO in which thousands of players co-mingle in a persistent world and vie for supremacy in eSport competitions or ‘world first’ boss kills in raids. Neither of these are true though for a co-op action RPG.

The worst that could happen is you open your game up to the public, someone jumps in wearing some awesome gear, and you don’t know if he found those items himself. But that’d be the case whether we offered an official way to buy items from other players or not.

I have a hard time reading that and accepting the premise that cheating harms anything, especially under the Diablo model of a co-op dungeon grinder. Hell, I have a hard time accepting the premise of a co-op anything that you play with total strangers all the time as opposed to with people you know, but that might just be me. I would never open up a public Minecraft or Magicka or Portal 2 or Dawn of War 2 server, for example. Competitive game modes like TF2 or Counter-Strike or WoW BGs are one thing, “intimate” team projects you cannot quickly exit are quite another.

*Blizzard did address this by saying they did not want someone leveling up to the cap, eventually coming around to the whole online idea, and then realizing that they would have to reroll completely. To which I reply: you are allowing the buying and selling of characters. Throw down $20 and you can have a fully epic’d, level-capped character to play around with online. Problem solved.

Posted on August 9, 2011, in Commentary, Diablo and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.

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