Commentary: I like my game consoles offline, thank you.

I’m gonna go slightly off-tangent this time round to talk about the next generation of video games and the consoles. I’m as skeptical as the next gamer on the perceived benefits of an always-online system touted by supporters as the next step towards a greater gaming experience. So what’s not to like?

Before I begin, I have to establish the type of gamer that I am, which is largely of the jRPG variety (if you’ve been reading a few posts it’d have been plain obvious). From the viewpoint of niche gamers like myself, I could say the draw of the internet is near-irrelevant.

The Lone Gamer

Most role playing games are single-player, with the occasional option to allow a second player to control another character, but with little added value to the experience. Besides, with an added pair of eyes you are often pressured into speeding up and advancing the plot rather than hang around exploring the area, speaking with NPCs or getting into random battles for experience. You know, the sense of immersion.

I don’t need people leaving messages (and most definitely won’t want to be talking with anyone or simultaneously watching TV), I have GameFAQs if I need a guide, and I most definitely don’t want someone else to help me clear an RPG.

DLC

Downloadable content, or in more frustrating cases ‘disc-locked content’ (the stuff that comes with the disc which you still have to pay to unlock), are a set of annoying things that were first introduced in this generation of games, which marked the beginning of the sales of ‘incomplete’ games. Thankfully, this wasn’t such a big issue with jRPGs, unless you really wanted that bikini for that particular female party member.

To be frank, none of the DLC ever mattered to me. I’d admit I was tempted by the optional side missions in Valkyria Chronicles (which remains one of my favourite games to date), but I figured spending for the hard-copy was more than enough.

EULA (And the excuse to ship half-assed products)

By choosing to play online, you are most definitely going to have to create an account with the respective console companies, which will almost assuredly include an end-user licence agreement that you cannot choose to disagree with. Unless you want a new paperweight.

You can bet that the licence will now include plenty more clauses to protect the console maker, now carefully worded to include protection against litigation by consumers (after the massive PSN breach), and of course you giving up your rights as the owner of the console and subjecting all your provided data to (some degree of) free use by the companies.

Remember the mandatory day one update of the Wii U before it could even be used as advertised? It’s what happens when people get complacent about the availability of the internet on a console, so they’d ship first, and fix problems later. Of course, it also had to do with sticking so much additional bloat into a console that you’ll probably never care to use.

The Console Makers have Full Power

Literally. Being a PS3 owner, I could say we had all experienced first-hand just how much power Sony had. While the console’s updates were never mandatory, you were pretty much forced into it due to the things you were no longer able to do without them. OtherOS was a feature removed from updating the PS3, but which had to be done else you’d face losing access to both the PSN and the ability to play the newer games (that also required the later firmware). So in a sense we already had a taste of what the ‘necessity’ of being online meant.

Microsoft quite famously perma-banned Xbox users from using their XBL services after they found users violating their terms of use. Although if you had wanted to pirate software and then still decide to go online with it, you ought to have seen this one coming from miles away.

I Wholeheartedly Enjoy Cheating

I miss the times when Gameshark, Action Replay and Codebreaker were common to the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, but which were pretty much outlawed in the current generation. While I frown upon the buffoons who cheat in competitive multi-player games, I love having them around while playing RPGs.

Time is a rather precious commodity, something I’d rather not spend on excessive grinding slaying the same monsters over and over. I’d hit myself up with an exp and money multiplier and I’d be able to enjoy the same thing while shaving off a good amount of time.

And who would forget some of the awesome things you could do with a cheat device, like bring Aerith back to life, or replace Donald and Goofy with other game characters in the battle against the 1000 heartless in Kingdom Hearts II?

It allowed even casual players to beat optional super-bosses so they could experience the game in its entirety without needing to sink in hours levelling or replaying the fight over and over because it required that awful mechanic called luck.

No playing if servers are down/overloaded

Well this is obvious enough. If you haven’t seen the blotched mess of Diablo 3 and SimCity that made ‘always-online’ synonymous with ‘largely-unavailable’ then I’m not sure where you’ve been.

Every online-reliant thingy eventually dies.

Lets paint a scenario. The year is 2020, some game companies have merged, maybe even bought over, while others have unfortunately folded. So what of their games? Well, those that rely on online resources at their servers would of course be dead. So you’d have  additional Blu-ray coasters.

I’m a control freak

Most importantly, so many of those in support are touting the ‘internet age’ and harping on the fact that we have everything connected now, so it wouldn’t hurt to have another plugged in. I’d say, sure, give me firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware and ad-blockers on the console (oh, and a browser of my choice) and maybe you’d get me to agree with you.

This is an age where we can no longer afford to be too trusting of companies with our information. We as a consumer are valuable data to the companies involved, and how many would hesitate to make a quick buck by providing user statistics and whatnot to third parties?

Claims to safeguard your information and not do things like spy on you are just like proprietary encryption protocols where users have to take the companies’ word on whether they include a backdoor for law enforcement. This will be the same for the future consoles until an external researcher dissects the system (read: hacks and decompiles the code) so that it becomes public knowledge.

Lesser Games

The final point I’d like to make is this. I remember the fantastic RPG bloom that is the PS2 era, where you felt you had so many of them that it’d take you a lifetime to finish them all. Then came the PS3 era, and suddenly everything took a hit. It could well be summed up with my dad walking in on me playing Disgaea 3 one day and commenting that it doesn’t look like a PS3 game (well of course it doesn’t, it was developed for the PS2 until they figured 512MB of memory wouldn’t cut it and swapped over).

We have come to expect that all console games this generation had high definition, brilliant graphics, which naturally drove up development costs of the games, and caused companies to shy away from the consoles, opting to create games for the handhelds and the mobiles instead.

So what do we expect of the next generation? That each must come with a unique online feature? That characters need to be so detailed you can make out individual pores on their skin? What I probably could see happening is more studios deciding against developing for the platform, considering how demanding consumers have become.

At the end of the day, it’s the niche gamer’s loss. But that’s just me, what about you?

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