So yeah, let’s talk about this.
Gaming, what the hell happened to you? I thought that as technology would get better games would get better. I mean, on some level they have. Games today are pretty amazing and only the most mindlessly nostalgic and retro of players would ever argue that we should just give up all the graphical, narrative, and gameplay innovations that have been invented in the past 30 years and go back to the 8-bit era. But what has gotten worse is our ability to access and play games on our own time. It used to be that you could only watch your favorite TV shows when the networks wanted you to. Now I can stream instantly all of my favorite shows from a variety of different websites. It used to be you could only listen to the music you liked in your home. Now I can take my entire library with me whenever I want. But with games, it used to be I could sit down and play any single player game whenever I wanted, now I can only do it when a completely different computer I have no control over feels like it.
Let me address the most common argument in favor of this. Pirates have been kicking developer ass ever since the dawn of PC games. Remember Looking Glass Studios? They made the awesome Thief games. Well you’re not going to find them today, LGS closed down because too many people played their fantastic games without paying for them. Today investments for a standard AAA game can be in the tens of millions. That’s the sort of money that no one is willing to part with unless they have anything but 120% certainty that isn’t going up into a cloud of smoke. As far as DRM’s go, having to have a constant Internet access is less intrusive and less “let’s punish the people who bought this as well” than other DRM’s have been in the past. The problem with demanding constant Internet access to play a single player game is simple: we are putting more and more of our entertainment technology into the same basket. And if something ever happens to that basket, which this basket is known to do, then we lose everything.
There is a kind of longevity to a game that is lost under this system. For some games it’s true that once we finish them we almost never pick them back up again, but once in a while there comes that one rare game that you do want to play over and over again just because you enjoy it so much. There’s a popular saying that holds true which goes; “Every time Deus Ex is mentioned on a forum, someone will reinstall it.” Right now I can go back and install the original Diablo and nostalgia bomb on the good old days of whacking skeletons in a gothic labyrinth, and nothing beyond Windows compatibility issues can stop me. But honestly how much do you want to bet I will be able to do the same in 15 years time with Diablo III? Unless Blizzard is foresighted and nice enough to disable this feature in the future, once they decide they can no longer support the costs of running the servers for a game hardly anyone plays anymore, that’s all she wrote folks. Your future self’s sudden pang of nostalgia for Diablo III will just be met by a sad slap to the face as Blizzard says “Sorry, not enough people are playing the multiplayer mode so you can’t play your single player mode.”
Finally I want to talk to developers here, because ultimately running a constant Internet connection for a single player game is bad for you too. I mean first of all it’s bad for consumers and anyone with half a brain enough to remember Econ 101 should know that if something is bad for the consumers it’s bad for the company. But as I hinted at in the previous paragraph, this kind of DRM is kind of cost prohibitive. Yes I understand that Diablo III has a multiplayer mode anyway, so having those servers was going to happen no matter what. But a big contributor game’s failure to deliver the instant it went live was that everyone, even the people who had no interest in the multiplayer had to join in on the server flood which ruined the game for everyone. A server flood so bad that not only is it fucking things up for Diablo III players but also for people playing other Blizzard games. You see not only has Blizzard put all of their games in the internet basket, but they are also all in the Battle.net basket.
But let’s say for a second you aren’t Blizzard, but you’re another company who is doing this for a game that has no multiplayer mode at all like Assassin’s Creed 2 just to throw a random title out there. This is a completely unnecessary cost for your company that does nothing but harm the people who actually paid for your game. Assassin’s Creed 2’s DRM prevented only a week of online piracy, but after that you made piracy the more attractive option because now the pirated version of the game doesn’t require permanent online access, so it’s less of a pain in the butt for the player. And again you have the issue of losing longevity. The instant you decide that the servers aren’t worth it, all the people who bought your game can never play it again, but the people who pirated it, they can play it forever.
I wasn’t there for Diablo III’s spectacular failure at launch, I was not one of the millions who pre-ordered it and sat patiently for 12 years waiting for the moment Blizzard would tell them “Too many people are using Battle.net so you have to wait even longer.” It’s been two days and I still haven’t bought it, and I don’t know if I want to buy it. Our purchasing power as consumers is the only effective tool we have to send messages to companies, and frankly I really don’t want this to be the future of games. There’s no point in even waiting for it to go down in price, Starcraft II came out two years ago and it’s still going at its full retail price. But I do know that unless Blizzard changes it’s policy on this issue, every time I see that box for Diablo III I’m just going to think “Sorry son, it just ain’t worth it.”