With the rocky release of Diablo III, I figured now would be as good a time as any to just make a few observations about the strangeness of modern gaming in general. Gaming has changed so much in just the past ten years that it only slightly resembles what it used to be. Features that were considered unique in prior generations are now standards in modern games. Downloadable content and internet connection has literally changed the way we play and consume games. Will we even be able to play this generation of games in the future? Will future gamers have the same interest in this generation as we do for the consoles we grew up with?
I want to talk about Diablo III. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Diablo III is kind of a big deal in the gaming world right now. It would probably be in a better light if there weren’t so many issues with it. Frequent disconnects, lag and complete inability to even log into the game are just some of the issues people are experiencing. The most frustrating part is that these are issues that should be restricted to a completely online game. You shouldn’t be concerned about lag or disconnects during a single-player experience. However, if Blizzards servers go down, you’re not playing Diablo III. You cannot play single player if you can’t log in. There are many outraged people who aren’t allowed to play their new game, regardless of their multiplayer intentions, because they are required to be connected to the Battle.net servers in order to play. If you’re going to be required to be online to play single player, than Blizzard should be required to give you a perfectly smooth gaming experience when YOU, the paying customer, choose to play.
You know, I’m not really into retro gaming. I have my old systems that I grew up with and my old games and stuff, but I don’t actively collect for any of those systems. But look at the Diablo situation, and then look at Castlevania for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. I can hook up my NES system right now and play the fuck out of some Castlevania. Instead of waiting for Blizzard to fix the bugs and getting frustrated with not being able to play the single player portion of Diablo III, I could be having a blast duking it out with the Frankenstein monster and the Mummy. I don’t have to rely on Konami’s server stability to go adventuring with Simon. I don’t need a Konami.net account to whip the shit out of Dracula. I just put the cartridge in the system, hit the power button and just like that I’m getting my ass kicked by those motherfucking Medusa heads. Kind of strange how a 25 year old game works fine, but the future of a recently released game is in jeopardy.
Anyway, lets leave Diablo on the backburner for now. (See what I did there? Because he’s like from Hell and stuff? I’ll be here all week folks!) The other week it seemed like EA/DICE was cutting down the number of official servers for Battlefield 3 in favor of servers that are rented by consumers for a monthly fee. While it looks like that issue only appears to be half true, I wouldn’t put that type of behavior past any business-minded corporation. It’s not out of the question that eventually all EA servers could be phased out entirely, leaving the community to keep the multiplayer section of the game alive through server rentals. What happens if that becomes true? What happens if the community doesn’t have the resources to keep the multiplayer portion going? All you have left is the god-awful single player campaign. Nobody wants that.
This just isn’t a factor with older games. I can play the multiplayer and single-player components of Goldeneye on Nintendo 64 right now if I want. I don’t have to worry about Nintendo renting out server space to the hardcore gamers who are willing to pay extra money every month just to access a part of the game. More importantly I don’t have to sacrifice my first born to the Battle Log gods. I just plug in four controllers, call up some friends and I’m golden. Pun totally intended.
This got me thinking: are games that we play today even going to be available years from now? People are still playing Diablo II. What happens a few years down the road if Blizzard decides to stop supporting servers for Diablo III? Will you be forever locked out of single-player? We have games from this generation that no longer have servers online. Games where an entire component is locked out because it was no longer feasible to keep the servers online. When the 360 came out it made sense to scrap the old Xbox Live. We’re not even out of this generation and there are games that have lost online support. The 360 was released in 2005. You can buy an Atari 2600 and any game from it’s library and you will be able to play every component of the game with no issues. Granted Atari 2600 probably don’t have that many components to them, but the point is the system came out in 1977.
Being able to play games online with my friends is pretty rad. Patches that fix minor bugs are kind of a neat thing to have. I wonder how the Cheetahmen / Action 52 would have turned out of Active Enterprises could have patched the game post-release? Actually… it would probably still be a miserable pile of donkey balls, but it’s funny to imagine the scenario where old games have the luxuries of modern gaming. It would be really nice to be able to play Battletoads online. That way, you can steal the flies from your injured friend without having to worry about getting punched in the arm for it! However, will this dependency on digital distribution for entire games as well as new content remove the ability for our kids to enjoy this generation’s games?
Who knows what gaming will be like ten years from now. The digital distribution format and reliance on server connections leaves a lot of questions to be answered about the future of gaming. Hopefully Blizzard figures out a way to keep all Diablo fans happy. Ultimately, it will be interesting to see how people interact with games in the future. Maybe we as gamers won’t care if we lose the ability to play Halo Reach online. Maybe we won’t care about future generations of gamers being able to experience digital titles such as Fez or Minecraft. Maybe that means we’ll bring up our kids on Goldeneye instead of Call of Duty. This generation has been one of the craziest in gaming. Personally I hope that this generation of gaming will somehow be preserved so that future gamers can experience the weirdness. All I can really say is that in ten years, I’ll still be playing Castlevania on the NES.