Single player server. That is a bit of an oxymoron of a statement and yet we now live in world where they exist. While no game company is actually using that term, it doesn’t mean that gamers aren’t having to deal with them.
There have been three major titles that have had this issue; Assassin’s Creed II, Diablo III, and the recently released SimCity. The shambles that has become the SimCity launch has been widely reported on, so I’m not going to really go into detail on that. Suffice it to say a lot of people are angry and annoyed at the fact that you have to be connected to a server to play a game.
It’s certainly worth noting that the same problem plagued Diablo III’s launch, with Error 37 proving the bane of many a gamer, and those who bought Assassin’s Creed II on PC had to be constantly connected to a Ubisoft server to play the single player. After a lot of backlash from players, Ubisoft eventually switched those DRM servers off.
The Assassin’s Creed II debacle should have provided a major insight into just how people would react to any such measure. It seems that Blizzard and EA Maxis did not heed the warning signs and ploughed ahead anyway.
Launch issues are to be expected in any game that relies heavily on server activity, but the difference between games like Call Of Duty and titles like Diablo III, ACII and SimCity’s ilk should be obvious; the former has become focused on the online multiplayer, while the latter titles have been games that had historically focussed on the single player and players were forced to deal with multiplayer issues.
I don’t take issue with the likes of Diablo III and SimCity having multiplayer. One of the original things that interested me about the latest Maxis game was the concept of interconnected cities and how they could affect the global community and cities in your region; an exciting, new element that I assumed would be optional.
You see the main reason SimCity appealed to me was because I wanted to build a city and run it my way, play it my way, save it my way. If I felt ready then I would have taken my city online to interact with everyone else. However, the decision was made to force an always online existence, force connectivity and even force saves to be made on the servers and not locally. There’s not even a way to take a private region you’ve been playing by yourself and switch it into a public region later, although people from your friends list – who are on the same server as you – can be invited to join your private region.
The fact that most of what you do is not locally controlled makes, in my opinion, both Diablo III and SimCity nothing more than glorified rentals. It’s even worse if you take into account that SimCity may be able to work without the servers, at least according to one source.
Right now I could install my disk of SimCity 4 and play that with very few problems. I bought that ten years ago. Or I could hook up my Mega Drive and play the original Sonic game, which I received some 18 years ago now. Some of you reading this probably weren’t even born then. Can the same be said for either Diablo III or SimCity? Will they still work ten or even 18 years into the future?
A few years down the line either Blizzard or EA could decide that their respective games aren’t generating enough money to continue sustaining the servers and they’ll shut them down. That’s hardly an unprecedented scenario either, EA shut down the servers for their MMA title just 18 months after the game’s launch for similar reasons, and that game had an online pass system many had paid for.
Though the servers were shut down for MMA, the entire game wasn’t rendered completely unplayable as the single player didn’t require any server connection. Diablo III and SimCity don’t have that separation. Instead you’re left with an all or nothing situation. You could equate the online pass in this case to the full price of the games, which leaves a situation where you’re never fully in control of the product you paid for.
I can see why companies are putting these restrictions in place, they’re clearly combating piracy, but that doesn’t mean they should treat every customer like a potential criminal, one who must constantly be monitored lest they start waving the Jolly Roger and take without paying. If you ever get that desire I recommend a quick bout of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, after you’ve paid for it of course.
This is what you'll become if you're not constantly watched, apparently.
Once companies accept that they’re simply not going to beat the pirates, a better way to stem the tide can be implemented, one that doesn’t require the constant surveillance of Big Brother. A potential approach that I feel could work is something similar to Steam Guard. Steam Guard basically allows you to log onto your Steam account from any device that supports it, as long as you authorise access from that device.
A similar system could be adopted by other developers if they insist on having some kind of DRM. Essentially someone would buy a game, enter their email and an initial activation code. Now that computer should have unrestricted access to the game. To activate another device you just download the authorisation client, enter your email, receive the authorisation code and away you go again. Much better than sitting in a queue for 30 minutes to play a game solo.
There was a time when there was faith between publishers and consumers, a time when a server wasn’t needed to play a city building game that allowed volcanoes to erupt in the city centre. To put it simply, I don’t want to be treated as untrustworthy by someone I give money to, and I’m glad that thousands have voiced that same opinion.
And, if for some reason the trend of single player servers continues then at least I’ll still have my Sonic games to play.