I recently moved. Thus my resulting hiatus from writing. I was stuck in that horrible limbo of having no internet at home until it gets set up, and I have come to some shouldn’t-be-so-surprising-but-you-just-never-notice realisations: too many video games rely on internet access and too many people (myself included) take internet access for granted.
Sure, you have those to be expected (MMOs, online multiplayer functions), but more and more features are becoming reliant on the gamer having a solid stream of access to start or play the game or use the service, even if the game itself appears to only be single or local play only. I’m not even referring to the recent complaints about Diablo III. Services like Steam, while they are great in that they open up a world of games and allow you to play them online with your friends, need the internet to access them. While Steam does have ’Offline Mode’ you need to log into it online to engage this mode and all games must be up to date – you cannot play them offline if there is an update for them.
Now, to be honest, most people have constant access to the internet while at home. It has become as integral and ingrained in our day to day lives as TV did, more so even (each day I like to check the weather for the following day on my tablet, and so forth). But it is times like these, when you are waiting anxiously for your modem to arrive and your service to be connected, that you realise just how reliant we are to the internet, even in casual gaming. So I compiled a list of all the games I and my husband own, plus researched the most popular titles for each console/device and compared the level of internet reliance for each console, in regards to games AND services. You may (or may not) be surprised by the findings. I know I took it for granted until I no longer had access to it. Below I will comment on my findings for each console company based on the consoles that actually have internet capabilities.
Whilst analyzing Nintendo consoles, I looked at the Wii, DS and 3DS. Nintendo consoles are the least internet reliant of all the consoles. While all of their added services require internet access, none of their games do. At most, a percentage of each the Wii, DS and 3DS games offer optional online features or multiplayer modes (approximately 30%, 50% and 80% respectively). Also, online play is heavily monitored. This makes Nintendo’s claim of being for families very valid. What also adds to this notion is the ability to purchase games through their online stores without leaving your credit card details in the device, so if you have purchased something for a child, they cannot then use your credit card after to purchase more. None of the downloadable games require internet once they have been downloaded either, so if you wanted, you could disable the Wi-Fi afterwards, if you were still concerned about your child playing online.
Most online gameplay on Nintendo consoles is multiplayer. There is not a great deal of DLC. The 3DS is the most internet friendly, with most cartridge games having some kind of online function, but none of them require you to be online for the main story or gameplay. There is usually a multiplayer aspect that allows you to fight, race, battle or just compete with people all around the world via a Wi-Fi connection as well as the local wireless play. This makes the 3DS the most social Nintendo console released to date, as the Wii U has not yet been released. Since such a low percentage of Wii games have internet capabilities I’ll be interested by how much it is increased for the Wii U, especially in terms of the Miiverse forum style network where you can discuss each game visually, not just textually. It will be a big step toward online requirements for Nintendo, but I don’t see them allowing it to overshadow actual gameplay and thus being more of an enhanced feature rather than main game feature.
The PlayStation series is moving further and further toward being internet dependent, at least in terms of differentiating features in devices such as the PS Vita and services offered on the PS3. In fact, other than the BluRay player, there isn’t much of significance in terms of hardware that now separates the PS3 from other consoles. Well, apart from maybe Play TV. I use that more than anything myself. Being able to pause and record TV is very practical, especially if you aren’t always home. All services offered by the PS3 apart from those relating to Play TV and the disc drive require internet access, including the other TV services offered (such as ABC iView). They have even started moving into MMOs with DC Universe Online (obviously requires full internet access to play), and Bioware games such as the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series require internet authentication to play DLC. The rest of the games for the PS3 are split fairly evenly between not having any online features and offering optional online multiplayer or enhanced gameplay.
As for their portable consoles, the Vita of course has much more online functionality than the PSP. Most games for the PSP were single player with no internet modes whatsoever. Once you downloaded or uploaded music or movies to the device, no internet was required. It had internet capabilities, but they weren’t all that extensive. The Vita on the other hand was made for internet use pretty much 24/7. So much so that you can purchase the 3G model which has its own sim card and internet provider. With features such as ‘near’ and ‘Party’ it encourages gamers to utilise the online capabilities to gain the benefits offered in doing so that cannot be gained any other way. The services offered on this console require internet access, but as for games: once you download a game to the SD card you do not need to have internet access to play it and most of the older games you can download don’t even have online modes. Newer games do, more often than not, but as far as I know none of the games require full internet access to play. It is a device in which you can play games offline, but it was designed for integrated online play.
For this section, I only looked at the latest Xbox 360, and am not including PCs as they are a whole category on their own. Like the above two home consoles, all of the services offered through this console require full internet access, except watching DVDs. Technically the Media Center streaming function only requires a network, but not many people, if any would have a wireless network set up in their house without an internet connection. Most games on the 360 offer optional online play for multiplayer or enhanced gameplay. The rest don’t require any internet. These facts on their own don’t seem like much, but from what I can gather from people I know and people online, the main used feature on the 360 is playing multiplayer online. It is a big part of their groups of friends and gaming communities’ game time. Especially for First Person Shooters, which are very popular on the 360. Much like a guild in an MMO organising a raid/dungeon/etc., these groups, or teams, organise to battle/play matches, all over the world. Online play is really just another form of globalization, bringing people together from all over the world in real time; making the world a smaller place by making people on the other side seem so close. It is a wonderful thing – when we can control it.
PC games encompass a wide range of genres and have a wide range of sources. In short, all Steam games are effectively online only; all MMOs are obviously online only; all Origin (Bioware) games require internet access for either full gameplay or DLC access; and, all Blizzard games require internet access for either full gameplay or enhanced/multiplayer gameplay. GOG, a service dedicated to providing old games either revamped or compatible for play on later machines, and new indie games of a similar tone to the Good Old Games we used to know and love, provides 100% offline games. Once they have been downloaded you can play with no internet access required. The rest of the PC games out there pretty much can be played offline, with approximately half of them offering optional online multiplayer modes. What I have noticed is that the newer the game, the more likely it is to be online only or at least have online features or modes. This isn’t just the case with PC games. As you can see, it is a trend that is happening across the board.
Now let’s look at a relatively new contender in the gaming world: mobile devices. These cover those phones and tablets running on Android, iOS, Windows Phone, etc. For the purpose of this article I only looked at the top 20 featured games on Android and iOS. As I went through the lists of Top Featured, Top Paid, Top Free, Top Grossing etc. on each platform, there were maybe two or three out of twenty that didn’t require internet access. This surprised me a little since 3G internet isn’t always available. E.g. I prefer games that don’t require internet access on my phone as I’m more likely to be playing it on the train to and from work, which takes me through quite a long tunnel and a few black spots because of it. If I played games that required internet I would be constantly frustrated by the dropping out that would undoubtedly occur. Perhaps more people are playing their mobile devices at home or anywhere else they can log into Wi-Fi connections to ensure a steady stream. If you have any thoughts on this, comment below, as I am interested to know how people use the gaming features of their mobile devices.
As you can see, each console company is heading more and more online with each new console, and mobile devices are focusing heavily on online dependent games. Samsung is even bringing out their own cloud gaming service integrated into its smart TV range, which of course is facilitated by an internet connection. It is definitely a prominent trend, but is it necessary? In terms of competition, I’d say yes. We are living in an age where our lives are online. Most of our everyday devices connect us to the internet. Is it wanted? Perhaps. I am a big believer in video games being a social experience, and the internet helps facilitate that, but sometimes I just feel a little over exposed to everyone else. The ability to shut off the internet and play offline where other people cannot bug you is important, and the more open our gameplay is to others, the more we will eventually want to withdraw. Sometimes we don’t want our friends to know we are playing a game because we don’t want them to join us/interfere or even talk to us. Sometimes we just want to relax.
In conclusion, I think the ability to connect with people online is very important to the gaming industry, but the ability to disconnect is equally important. This will be a key to success in future gaming endevours. All of this over-connectedness can be intimidating when you look at it in a big picture sense. It’s not that it is a big deal, but choice is an important factor to everyone, especially when it comes to our lives being open to everyone online. I remember when a game was just for you to experience in your own home. It was you own escape that you could control. Then being able to play via network and internet came along; it was great being able to share the experience with other like-minded people, but now, every idiot is playing some game online, and it affects our gameplay. Sometimes, you just want to close off from the rest of the world while you immerse yourself in a story… I don’t want to lose the ability to play games by myself, with no messages or tabs being kept on me, just for the sake of added features and “moving forward with technology”, yet the ability to block individuals was a godsend. A balance in these things is crucial, and it is why games with OPTIONAL online modes are doing so well. We can’t help but desire choice, it is in our nature; not just as humans, but as gamers.