Always Online May Be The Future, But That Future Hasn't Arrived Yet
Hello there, ladies and gentlemen! Today, I'm going to play Devil's Advocate.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited for a future in which everyone is connected. Readily available digital content? The ability to instantly download or stream games? The ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, no matter where you are? A fully-digital future could well send everyone's quality of life into the stratosphere, at least where entertainment is involved.
Unfortunately, such a future isn't likely to happen for quite some time.
Not to beat a dead horse, but we all remember how the Xbox One required an Internet connection to function, right? How the 24-hour authentication system formed the framework of Microsoft's Family Sharing and Digital Games Trading feature? How several otherwise promising additions to Microsoft's new console were completely overshadowed by the fact that they'd essentially saddled it with DRM?
Microsoft likely thought it was being quite forward-thinking, designing a console made purely for online play and digital content. In a sense, they were- I'd almost go so far as to venture that they looked a bit too far forward. The 24-hour authentication system - and really, all online DRM - could never have worked in a modern-day context. There are a number of reasons for that.
The first, most obvious of these is the fact that most people weren't even remotely willing to accept that Microsoft had equipped its console with such a safeguard. It had done the unthinkable, it was treating the users as potential criminals - which, as we all know, is effectively on the same level baby killing. Microsoft shouldn't have been surprised at the backlash it experienced. The far-reaching stigma surrounding DRM aside, people simply aren't ready for something that's always-online.
Let's shift gears a bit. The Xbox One isn't our primary topic of discussion. Let's close that can of worms - what we're here to talk about is the concept of always-online gaming, and the fact that, with current networking technology, it simply isn't workable.
Let's look at the facts here, folks: save for MMOs, every single game in recent memory that's required a constant connection to the Internet in order to function has ended up making a complete botch of it. Remember the Sim City Launch? What about Diablo III's infamous "Error 37?" Ubisoft's poorly-conceived UPlay authentication system?
They all failed, in one fashion or another. Ubisoft abandoned its Uplay DRM system. Sim City's servers were revealed to be completely superfluous and unnecessary. Blizzard has dropped the always-online requirement for Diablo III's console release. In every one of the cases I just mentioned, the developer ultimately admitted, either directly or indirectly, that what they did was a mistake.
To be fair, the DRM here didn't fail chiefly because of technological constraints. It was also the result of developers attempting to force in technology which had no place in the experiences they'd created. It was the result of poor design decisions.
At the same time, however, technological restrictions - particularly on a global scale - are the unfortunate reality of the move towards full digital. Those of us in the west who have completely reliable, consistent, and high-speed Internet, we're the minority. There are far more men and women - both here and overseas - who have spotty connections, older systems, or poor infrastructure. Keeping constantly online isn't just difficult for such individuals, it's impossible.Networking technology has made great strides in the last decade, true; at the same time, we simply haven't reached the point at which readily availably Internet exists for everyone. We haven't reached the point at which we can all be connected all the time.
Until we do, that bright future is going to have to remain a distant dream by necessity.