If gamers are ready to accept that game consoles of the future will require a constant internet connection, you certainly wouldn’t ascertain that from the recent vitriol that has flooded the internet. In the wake of former Microsoft creative director Adam Orth’s controversial remarks, which essentially flipped the middle finger and told everyone to “deal with it,” the feverish opposition to the idea has been palpable. While it’s not known if the Xbox 720 (or “Durango”) will indeed include this requirement, it’s clear that it’s not a system that the gaming public at large is ready to embrace. Enter Yannis Mallat, the CEO of Ubisoft Montreal, who looks at the situation a little differently. While there may be hurdles to jump in the process, he believes that we are ready to face an always-connected future in gaming.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mallat points out that having a constant connection will reap many benefits to the consumers and their gaming experiences. One example is the upcoming next generation title Watch Dogs, which will have a companion application for tablets and smartphones, thus allowing the player to interact with the game away from their console. Such a system points to a heightened sense of interactivity, however it does not address the prevailing issues that have arisen with “always online” games. The recent examples of Diablo III and SimCity, both games that experienced devastating online functionality issues upon release, are testaments to this.
When asked, Mallat noted that the benefits will be clear once all of the bugs have been worked out.
“As soon as players don’t have to worry, then they will only take into account the benefits that those services bring. And I agree, these services need to provide clear benefits.” Mallat noted, going further to add “It’s important to be able to provide direct connections between us and our consumers, whether that’s extra content or online services, a lot of successful games have that.”
While this doesn’t directly address what can be done to resolve the connectivity issues that are at the heart of the “always online” debate, Mallat does raise an interesting point. Many games nowadays require an internet connection in order to reap the full experience. For example, Borderlands 2 requires this for online co-op, a major selling feature of the game, and several Ubisoft titles make use of the UPlay service, which is meant to provide a unique online component. Patches, DLC and other extras also require an online connection. However, it should be pointed out that these games are still fully playable offline, albeit with some limited functionalities. To force the player’s hand into having a constant connection is different practice altogether.
When asked if he feels that gamers are ready to truly embrace the possibility of “always online” gaming in the next PlayStation or Xbox, Mallat remarked:
“Well, that’s a question you should put to Microsoft and Sony! I would say that a lot of people are already always online through other devices – I would suspect that the audience is ready.”
So are we really ready for this? Consumer derision is only one indicator, but the more pressing question is that of infrastructure. One of the chief concerns raised would be the impact on people with unstable, unreliable or lower speed internet connections, which could render their games unplayable if a constant internet connection is required. The well publicized difficulties with Diablo III and SimCity also points to the system being incapable of providing reliable service, and even if they did, for how long? Even if everything works now, what is going to happen to these games five or even ten years down the line once the servers are shut down? In theory we may be ready for such an idea, but in practice, we might not be there just yet.