Over the last few months, I have been thinking more deeply about the ever connected gaming world and what exactly that means, not just for the consumer but also for the games we play.
This console generation is the first generation of consoles to all have a connection to the internet. All three consoles have online multiplayer, downloadable content and servers that need to be maintained in order for that functionality to continue.
This generation of game consoles have also brought about the ability to patch and update not just the games on the console but also the console itself.
Have you ever thought of what that means for the games of this generation when the switch on those servers is turned off?
There is already some evidence of what will happen.
In 2008 Walmart shut off the DRM authentication servers for their music download service. (http://boingboing.net/2008/09/26/walmart-shutting-dow.html) This made it impossible for anyone to use the music they legally bought without cracking their music and thus violating the law.
This year, Microsoft shut down access to Xbox Live for original XBox games thus removing an entire aspect of many popular games. (http://www.gamespot.com/xbox/action/halo2/news.html?sid=6249542)
And this is just what happens when the switch is flipped at the end of the life cycle. What about during the life cycle of games?
Ubisoft created a new DRM scheme that would not allow owners of legitimate copies of their PC games to play unless they were connected to their servers at all times over the internet. We all know how that is working out for them. (http://www.gamepolitics.com/2010/03/09/ubisoft-servers-torpedoed-once-again)
Even consoles are not immune to this effect. Sony has a bug in their first and second gen PS3 consoles that made the console completely unplayable on March 1, 2010. The console couldn’t reconcile the dates between the hardware and the PSN servers making even single player games impossible to play for the day. (http://www.edge-online.com/news/sony-issues-ps3-bug-update) To this date no fix has been made to prevent this from happening again.
Finally we have the issue of removal of features from consoles as well. Sony recently removed the Other OS feature from all PS3s forcing those who want that feature off their online service and thus making it impossible to play any new games or games that required that connection.(http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/27850/Firmware_Upgrade_To_Disable_PS3_Other_OS_Feature.php)
Other issues stem from having downloadable content tied to the hardware that it is downloaded on, making the customer jump through hoops just to get at the content they paid for in the event of hardware failure and replacement.
For an industry that wants its customers to embrace downloadable content, they are not doing a very good job at making a positive example out of it.
If this is representative of the future of gaming, will the consumer really go along with it? Will they bow to the whims of the console manufacturers and developers? Will they go quietly when the maintainers of the servers decide that they no longer want to maintain legacy game?
I know many people (millions in fact) are showing that they have faith that the companies they are purchasing from will not screw them over in the end, but how much longer will that faith hold out?