A Life Less Broadbandy

The Sunday morning alarm drilled into my skull as though Monty Mole and his buddies were trying to dig their way through my wax-filled ear canals and in to my cerebellum. Bleary eyed, I prodded at my phone, hoping to hit the dismiss and not the snooze button; as the screen came into focus I noticed it was now September. Great. Soon it’ll be the third month of living back at the home I grew up in. The third month without unfettered access to the Internet, the third month I will look over the meagre selection of games that aren’t in storage and the third month I will think, “oh what’s out this week?” and be prompted with a ‘You are not connected to Live’ notification.

Having had the luxury of living alone/away from home for fifteen years, I’ve been able to control the internet access I have and lucky enough to be at the front-end of the ‘digital revolution’. Initially dial-up whilst at university, this then changed to 1mb broadband a few years later, and so on until my last house, which boasted a healthy 12mb unlimited broadband connection. Plenty for any gaming, streaming media or other needs, as I’m sure you’d agree.  Unfortunately, moving back home whilst waiting for my house purchase to go through is like moving back in time, for lack of a better word the ‘broadband’ access they have is non-existent.

Mordecai resented having to have his sniper rifle double as an aerial. Fyrestone desperately needed fibre-optic broadband

Not having regular broadband access has caused me an untold amount of headaches and irritations and I can’t help but think that with the constant talk around brick and mortar shops for gaming closing down and the days of physical media being numbered that there must be more people like me, albeit temporarily, out there that couldn’t make the transition to a purely digital gaming world.

The first big deal is DRM and Cloud Gaming. With Diablo 3 being the most recent high-profile game to require an ‘always on’ connection to access the game (even single player), and storing all details server-side, it isn’t foolish to consider that many more games will head down this road – most likely citing anti-piracy as the main driver. Right now, I couldn’t play any MMO but that wouldn’t bother me too much as that needs an online connection to function, but a single-player game is a push too far.

I have a similar issue with a number of games on the Xbox, too.  Having had three Xbox 360s so far, there is often weirdness with the licensing/DRM or whatever Microsoft implement to control which games and DLC your gamertag has rights to. When starting up Borderlands offline it states my DLC is corrupt and not available, however trying it when online and connected to Live it works fine.  Other arcade games like Peggle, Crimson Alliance and more also dump me into the trial version when I’ve paid for it and played it.  The trouble seems to stem from anything originally purchased on a previous console, and I know what you are thinking, “well just use the license transfer to wholesale shift everything to your current console”. I did that months ago and, usefully, Microsoft only allow you to do it once every six months, so I’m now waiting for it to reset before trying yet again.

Games with online components, such as Dragon’s Dogma, have me torn, because by playing offline I’m missing out on my main pawn gaining credits by being used by other players and having to rely on stock offline-generated pawns rather than some interesting (and effective) setups by online players.

Naturally I also miss out on title updates, DLC and other associated online updates. When, seemingly increasingly, a number of games are released with game-breaking bugs such as file-save corruption, frame-rate problems or any number of other high profile issues recently reported in numerous ‘AAA’ titles, then it could mean anyone without broadband must risk paying for a broken game out of the box. I remember getting Empire: Total War on release and having to install Steam and verify the purchase online before playing it. It felt wrong to impose that on someone and I’m almost certain it didn’t state the requirement on the back of the box – and if it did then certainly not in a big enough font!

Cloud saves are another issue, too. Much as I lauded Microsoft for adding the ability almost a year ago, I’ve now had a run in with the downside of this (which, admittedly, with planning I could have avoided) and will be more selective in my cloud saving going forward – who knows when some numpty roadworks engineer might cut through the line or your broadband router will fail? Unless I start again with local saves, several long-haul RPG games will sit unused until I move house. From now on, everything is going to be saved locally on USB sticks.

The stampede started when a spot at the local internet cafe suddenly opened up

Little though I use the feature, multiplayer is obviously a big problem for offline gamers. Almost gone are the times when games are aimed at single player or multiplayer, with most single-player games now adding multiplayer as an ‘essential’ game mode (with achievements to boot) when after a couple of months the lobbies will be mostly empty, save the few same faces that seem to always be online and in that game (and, by that point, absolutely pro at the game).  Splitscreen also seems to be getting phased out, with fewer and fewer games offering that ability. Offline completionists are going to be in their own version of hell with unattainable multiplayer/online achievements staring back at them from almost every new release.

It isn’t just playable and technical issues either. I was a little saddened by how much I rely on sites like http://www.trueachievements.com/ and http://www.xbox360achievements.org/ for quick-fire ways to obtain Gs, get around sticky puzzles or YouTube for finding that one, single annoying collectible that eludes you.  In fact my whole gaming mindset is now so different to what it used to be, but I guess that’s another topic entirely.

After nearly three months of offline gaming I’m struggling, and struggling badly. In time I could adapt back to my 1998 offline gaming mode but I would always know there is so much more I could have if I were online. Playing modern games without access to the net is like being a vampire and having your fangs removed. Ineffective. I cannot wait to get my fangs back, and when I do I won’t curse those little ads Microsoft insist on putting in every screen of the Xbox dash. Not as much at least…

You take this bastard out, and we'll give you 5gb free per month for a year, how does that sound, my friend?

It’d be foolish of me to state that the games industry should wind back the clock, that isn’t what I want. Constant internet access has added so much more to gaming through voice comms, co-op, regular updates and content packs, patches, etc., but it is worth remembering that not everyone can enjoy these and, for the foreseeable future at least, games creators should still bear in mind the offline players. Improve QA on releases, kill ‘always online’ DRM for single-player games, and find methods to obtain access to cloud stuff for downloading to USB stick at another location with broadband and using it locally offline – they would be my requests. Most of all though, I hope that packaged media and brick and mortar stores aren’t crawling into their coffins for a few more years yet. Offliners will still need to buy their games somehow.




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2 Comments

  1. simonjk says:

    I can sympathis. i’m not one for online gaming but couldn’t do without my internet connection and my gold membership. Not just that, I’m non a strict decreasing budget but have noticed that, even after the fact i don’t actually ever use my BT landline, there is no way I could cut it from my budget as my kids would have no way to do home work, stay out of my way whilst they watch Iplayer or even my sky system wouldn’t work correctly. Maybe Continuum have it right and the future will be run my the phone company, lol.

  2. Lorna says:

    BT are a nightmare, so when we moved, we had to do with two weeks of no broadband. At the time, I gamed on the Xbox more, so it was more of an issue. Although I have now drifted away from Xbox gaming, I would still miss a net connection, mainly thanks to the pain in the arse DRM stuff or the faff of Steam. That’s why I love GOG, I suppose… no connection required once you have downloaded your game.

    It makes me wonder what we would do without the net, as gamers. Great point about broken games. These days it seems to be so common to ship a broken game with a ‘we’ll fix it later’ mentality, that anyone without a connection would essentially have a very broken piece of software for rather a lot of money. As for guides and walkthroughs…very good point! I remember the days of expensive phone tip lines for games all too well… £1.50 a minute! Still, that said, I still have most of my cheat and guide pullouts from old Speccy mags; no internet for gamers could mean the saving of the print industry for that additional content. ;)

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