When Microsoft announced that you’d have to be online to play on the Xbox One, there was an outcry. Many Xbox fans threatened to jump ship to the Sony PlayStation, and Microsoft rowed back frantically.
But you’d be mistaken to think that the need for an Internet connection is always a disadvantage in gaming. In fact, the opposite can be true. Current consoles all have online capabilities, and although PC platforms like Steam offer an offline mode, their games often rely on an Internet connection. It doesn’t seem to affect their popularity.
The three most successful paid-for PC games in 2016 were, according to Superdata Research, the shooters Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Go and the role-playing game Guild Wars 2. All three games require an Internet connection.
It’s a similar story with free-to-play titles for PCs. From League of Legends to World of Tanks, online games dominate. Things look a little different when it comes to consoles – here, the most successful titles, such as FIFA 16 or Grand Theft Auto V, can also be played offline.
On the other hand, the console charts also contain titles such as Destiny and The Division in which you can’t even get into the main menu without being online.
Of course, most of these games have to be played online because they’re multiplayer titles. The large-scale battles of Overwatch and World of Tanks would be impossible offline. But titles such as Destiny and the snowboard game Steep can also be played in single player mode.
Super Mario Run uses the Internet only for best lists and other trivia, but even so, you have to be online to play.
For developers, online connectivity has several advantages, including better copy protection, says Joerg Mueller-Lietzkow, a media economy professor at the University of Paderborn in Germany: “Unauthorised copying ceases. It’s no longer possible because of server binding.”
It also makes it easier for the developer to makes changes and fix problems. “The provider can, for example, change the game rules or fix errors without having to send gigabytes of patches,” Mueller-Lietzkow says.
And it can mean a constant supply of game content – some of it free and some that has to be paid for. Games are no longer finished products, but are rather platforms that are constantly changing – the so-called “games as a service” concept.
Thus For Honor and The Division from Ubisoft have continued to receive updates months after their release. This means that fans get more out of their favourite games, while casual players can get into a game for less money – for example, in the case of Square Enix’s Hitman.
“Ideally, as a player, I should only pay for what I really use,” says Mueller-Lietzkow.
Another advantage for the customer of the “games as a service” model is that “of course the developers are interested in keeping fans engaged and therefore listen to feedback,” the professor says.
A good example is Destiny – players complained a lot about the first version, which is why the developer Bungie kept making improvements. The result was a much better game.
The downside of relying on an Internet connection is that the game servers have to be functioning at all times. If the servers go down, the game can’t be played. — dpa