Dabe Alan

Gamers may say they hate always-on Internet requirements, but their behavior tells a different story

Gamers may say they hate always-on Internet requirements, but their behavior tells a different story

Gaming will die when consoles, or individual games, need to be online to be played. People complain about always-on requirements on forums, they loudly proclaim their hatred of the practice in the comments to news stories and, when a game is shown to have such a requirement, the angry boycotts begin. The rhetoric is incredibly one-sided, but it’s only part of the story.

Diablo 3 requires a connection to the Internet to be played, but that game was a tremendous success. There is an argument to be made about this requirement hurting future games or expansions, but we’ll have to see how that plays out.

The upcoming SimCity also requires a connection to be played, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the enthusiasm for that game. Destiny will also require an always-on connection to be played, even when soloing through the campaign. People may sound like they’re against this move, but you can’t listen to what people say, you have to pay attention to what they do.

And it’s very possible that always-on is simply the future, and when it arrives the majority of gamers simply won’t care.

How bad does always-on connectivity hurt games?

It may seem harsh, but publishers don’t really care about what you say on the forums, or the 10,000 signatures you get on your petition. They listen to sales data, and if people say they hate a game but buy it anyway, the message being sent is that people like the game. It really is that simple.

Why do publishers and developers release games with day one DLC and always-on requirements? It’s very simple: This is what gamers say they want. Not with their mouths, but with their dollars.

“Day one DLC, the rise in price of expansion/map packs, and always-on technology are game components that have been unfavorable to core gamers and the vocal minority,” Jesse Divnich, the Vice President of Insights and Analysis at EEDAR explained. “The sales results, however, speak differently. Day one DLC, in some cases, generate more revenue than DLC released later on. The rise in price for expansion/map packs have generated record setting revenues, and always-on technology has not shown any instances of hindering sales and in most cases allow the developers to create an even more immersive experience for the player.”

Look at it this way, some of the biggest games these days are always online. World of WarCraft for one. League of Legends for another. Those are online games, sure, but there are upsides to games that are always online, and it’s not just a matter of stopping piracy. The always-on requirement moving to games with single-player components is inevitable.

“At first it was used as a tool to limit piracy, unauthorized play, and hack/cheats,” Divnich said. “Over the years, however, developers have embraced the benefits of always-on technology by being able to provide the consumer an even more enjoyable experience by always ensuring they have the latest updates, patches, and has become a key component in measuring—mostly anonymously—player activity data, which empowers developers to improve the gaming experience after launch”

The only downside to creating games that need to be online to be played is lost sales, and the sad reality is that there is precious little evidence that points to the fact that always on games lose anything in this area.

“Always-on technology from three years ago is much different than it is today and we haven’t seen much resistance from gamers lately,” Divnich said.

People not invited along for the ride

“I think that the Destiny ‘always connected’ requirement gives some support to the rumor that the next Xbox will be always connected.  It is a risk for Microsoft to require consoles to be always on, but a greater risk for an individual publisher to do so,” Michael Pachter, the Managing Director of Equity Research at Wedbush Securities, told the Report. “If Destiny requires a persistent connection, it makes the Microsoft rumor more believable, notwithstanding that Eric Hirshberg says he doesn’t know anything about the next Xbox.”

The question is whether or not these requirements will actually hurt sales. Will games give up on their favorite series or developers if the always-on requirement becomes the norm?

“I think that an ‘always connected’ requirement will alienate a pretty substantial minority of gamers, based on the large number of Xbox 360s that aren’t connected to the Internet at all, which was 15% the last time they published,” Pachter said. “I am sure that there is a large overlap of connected homes and console owners, and the percentage of connected console owners is likely to increase on its own in the next generation, but the fact is that some people have areas of their homes that are difficult to connect, such as attics, basements, garages, etc.”

Does this limit the audience?

I brought up the fact that these kinds of requirements will force many gamers to either upgrade their Internet connections, buy more powerful wireless routers, or wire more of their home for the Internet. Pachter agreed, but all these options come with a price, and it may limit the audience for some games.

“High speed Internet is still relatively expensive, at around $30/month for entry level plans, so a lot of people really can’t afford it. I think it’s sad that the console market is going to be limited to the middle class and wealthier, think it would be great if lower income households could buy a console and play whatever they want,” he countered. “The truth is that we are on the cusp of getting every form of entertainment over the Internet, and an ‘always connected’ requirement makes sense for households who buy a next generation Xbox for the over-the-top TV tuner. This is coming, it just saddens me that it is being accelerated by publishers and console makers looking to squeeze a few more bucks out of consumers.”

The always-on requirement being added to mainstream games with both single- and multiplayer features mean that developers and publishers trust that almost all of us will be connected in the next few years. The risk is now worth the reward, and they’re likely right. It’s not inconceivable that the next-generation consoles themselves will require an Internet connection to work. 

“That means that the alienated gamers who resist buying Destiny at launch will ultimately succumb, especially if they purchase a next generation console from Microsoft,” Pachter said.  “I haven’t heard that Sony is doing the same thing, so there will likely be a non-connected alternative, but if other developers and publishers follow Bungie’s lead, this may be the beginning of a wave of always connected games.”