Always Online: A Dark Future For Single Player

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Players may notice that games these days invariably seem to come with some form of DRM (Digital Rights Management). The most common of which we see in this day and age is a form of DRM which requires a player to be always online. Always online is used even in single player games, often causing issues such as latency problems or even outright preventing you from playing should you not be able to connect to the servers.

Perhaps the most notorious of these always online titles is Diablo 3. Players may remember the infamous Error 37 where, on release day, an excess of 3 million players all over the world simultaneously tried to connect to Blizzard’s servers causing massive stress that eventually crashed them altogether.

Another culprit who uses always online DRM would be Ubisoft. Players have to connect to their servers before being able to enjoy games such as Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed’s single player story. Players of Far Cry 3 encountered connection issues when Ubisoft’s servers crashed on release day and took to Ubisoft’s forums to complain about the down time and the fact that they were unable to enjoy a single player game due to the developers forcing such draconian DRM onto their customers.

Simply put, if you wish to play the single player component of a game you are forced to rely upon 3rd party verification to access what is on your own hard drive. Should your internet connection fail or you simply don’t have access to a Wi-Fi connection, you basically cannot play the games that you’ve bought.

Blizzard would have you believe that always online DRM is a good thing, a feature in fact. It would allow new features to be implemented, such as the auction house for Diablo 3, or that your save will always be up to date. It constantly monitors your progress to prevent cheating and allows you to drop in and out of co-op freely. They would have you believe that you are getting better features for a minor inconvenience. However, underlying all that fluff is an undependable and annoying ‘feature’ that dictates when you can play a game that you spent good money on. A game which subjects players to the mercy of their servers even if you wish to play the single player story alone. Should the servers ever be taken down, you can not play it again, ever.

Some people would argue that always online DRM would only inconvenience players now, but if online infrastructure were to become more robust and widespread in the future, these inconveniences would simply go away.

At the surface of things, the inconvenience of always online would be the ability to get a secure Wi-Fi connection anywhere at any given time. However, at the core of the issue is the problem of who owns the game? Take Diablo 2 for instance, I purchased it about a good 10 years ago and I can still play it whenever and wherever I want to. Yet with games like Diablo 3, Far Cry 3 and even Mass Effect 3, consumers can no longer be certain that 10 years from now that they’ll be able to enjoy or even play these games because the servers might not be in operation.

It’s certainly true that always online DRM can be used as a preventive measure against piracy or cheating. There might even be some unforeseen benefits that this form of  DRM might provide in the future. Always online would make sense for the multiplayer component of a game but, in a single player experience, always online fails to provide any significant benefits at all. If all I wish is to experience a single player story/campaign at my own pace, why should I be prevented from doing so? Even if a player “cheats” in a single player story, he is only affecting his experience of the game and not anyone else’s. It’s also doubtful that save files are ever going to be so large that players must be forced to use cloud saves. What is so detrimental about allowing players to enjoy a single player game when,where and how they want it. Furthermore, the sort of people who pirate games in the first place have found numerous ways to circumvent always online DRM so that, effectively, the only people who are being punished are the players who actually bought the game legitimately in the first place.

Always online in single player will only harm consumers more than help them, but developers don’t seem to think that is an issue as long as they are protecting themselves from the small percentage of pirates out there. It seems like players might have to come to terms with the fact that we will only be subjected to more of this manner of DRM in the future.