Is online connectivity really all it’s cracked up to be? In the wake of Sony completely losing their online service for over a week, I just have to ask one potentially-obvious-but-maybe-not question: Do we as gamers really need online? In this modern era of gaming where so much is convenient and instantaneous, is online service a necessity, the future of gaming, a perk that we take for granted or something which, when you get right down to it, is easily disposable?
Now for a lot of you I’m going to assume the answer is going to be, “Yes, I need my PSN, what the hell are you smoking, I paid for the PS3 to play games online, stfu & gtfo!!!” It will include more expletives, of course, but I try to be less vulgar than that. But you know, I can totally see your point. Ever since Microsoft really put their muscle behind making a console friendly online experience with Xbox Live, online connectivity has widely been seen as one of the big perks of this era of gaming. Multiplayer from across the country, interaction with far off friends, instantaneous purchases and downloads, movies, gamer skins and achievements. Oh, don’t even get me started on the Cheevos. But this is what modern gaming is. Hell, it’s one of the reasons why the quote unquote “hardcore” audience of long time gamers have given up on the Wii. Compared to the other two consoles in terms of online content the Wii offers piss poor competition. But really, when you get right down to it, do you guys really need the online stuff?
Now before we go any further, I want to make something really clear. This is not a defense of Sony article. They screwed up big. People are pissed, they let their service go down, and people are disappointed. There is no excuse for that. However, because of this event, it presents a good opportunity to ask some things about gaming in general. Just want to make it clear. Don’t need no fanboys jumping on my ass about this thing. This isn’t about Sony, it’s about gaming.
Maybe this is just my old school, sitting my ass in front of the Nintendo after school upbringing coloring my judgement. But for me, I’ve never really needed the constant multiplayer offerings that every triple A game brings out. Did Super Mario Bros. need multiplayer back in the day? Yes, I am aware that it had multiplayer, but that was basically waiting your turn until the other guy was done. Did Zelda or Metroid need a horde of other players to make them seem like dense and actualized worlds? To bring the analogies up to date, why did players buy Bioshock? Or Uncharted? Or Assassin’s Creed? Those later games have multiplayer, but that’s not the selling point. Oh sure, it’s good. Great even. But it’s almost an extra that you get when you buy the super awesome new game you’re playing. Was anyone buying Red Dead Redemption because they wanted to play poker online? Or was it to immerse yourself in the wild west world of John Marston?
But let’s talk about multiplayer. Yes, I do realize that multiplayer is important. I would never say otherwise. I’m not just some asshole who sits at home, alone, playing vidjya with no friends. I have friends and I play games with them. But the best times I’ve ever had playing video games with friends was when we were all in the same room together. GoldenEye on the N64 is still the crowning achievement of multiplayer fun in my eyes. Just having some friends over for the weekend, pizza and Mountain Dew all over the place, playing GoldenEye until the wee hours of the morning. It was the camaraderie, the feeling of having all your friends around you as you play the game. Man, I used to pick Oddjob and screw with my friends, slapping their junk around because I was so short and everyone was all, “Dude what are you doing Oddjob is way too short! Way to be friggin’ cheap! I can’t hit that!” But really guys, I picked Oddjob because he wears a hat. That’s it. No tactical advantage. Hat. Wow, I got off topic. Anyways, yes, I know that as adults it is harder to get that kind of free time. And sometimes the old games we used to play don’t hold up as much as we would want to, but the experience sure does.
Actually, the only thing I really use my online time doing is purchasing games online. And it’s not just the big games. Sure, you can buy, for example, all three Prince of Persia games online and directly download them onto your PS3. But I don’t really need that. I want the smaller games, the independent games. It’s here that an online function really shines. It provides smaller developers a place to put their smaller games, giving them a chance to get exposure and gain a profile. Hell, without something like the PSN I don’t think studios like Fire Hose Games and their wonderful Slam Bolt Scrappers would have much of a chance. In a world of brand names and bottom dollars, it’s nice to see the little guy being able to compete with all the Goliaths.
And speaking of purchasing games online, let’s look at that a little bit. I used to think that such a thing was a really awesome idea, a totally revolutionary way of getting my entertainment and media. Just download this shit onto my hard drive and carry it around with me. The future of gaming, says me. But then the PSN went down and I started really thinking about it. If all games were like that, how would I get games in the event of another such outage? What if it were more severe than the one the PSN is currently experiencing? If we all depend on an online service for games, not just to enhance things, but to literally play them at all, what happens when that one service gets shut down? There are some games, like Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, that can’t be played without a connection to the PSN. Well my God, isn’t that a pain in the ass? And what if, horrors of horrors, the failure of the online service wipes the records of what you have bought from the network. You have no proof that you have bought anything on there. Spent hundreds of dollars getting games and expansions and what have you? Say goodbye to that.
Now I’m not saying get rid of online. I know why it’s popular. It is fun to have competitive multiplayer battles at the tips of your fingers or tons of content right there available for download. It’s just something interesting to think about. Do we really, when the chips are down, need this service to still enjoy video games? You don’t have to look at the PSN outage as a horrible tragedy. Well, besides the whole, “Assholes might have stolen your credit card” shit. What the hell was that about Sony? That should have been mentioned pretty much immediately. Even though credit card data being stolen could happen to just about any company that uses credit cards to purchase things. Which is all of them. It could have happened to Microsoft or Nintendo too. Is Internet activity too risky to depend upon? Or too unstable? Do we want to own physical copies of our games? Do we need multiplayer now in order to be happy, or is single player enough for these times when you can’t shoot complete strangers across the country in the crotch with a shotgun? Can we ever go back to the days of just picking up Mega Man and blowing through some stages and having a good time, or must Mega Man now come with team deathmatch and tons of DLC before we even consider calling it a good game?