GameSpy is shutting down.
We’ve all sort of seen it coming. First GameSpy stopped licensing its services back at the start of last year. The website shut down. And now we get the inevitable announcement that the service itself will be closing for good.
While GameSpy closing is sad for a lot of human reasons – lost jobs and the like – it has a more direct impact on an industry-wide scale.
Hundreds of games have multiplayer components that use the service to ensure online connectivity goes smoothly. And with servers shutting down for good, this is a big deal for people with those games.
Well yes, it’s pretty uncommon for older multiplayer games to see much play – a few notable exceptions excepted, of course. I daresay server population for most of the games affected is next to nil. Quite a few titles are receiving updates to keep multiplayer running. And the number of people who will be forced to give up playing a game they enjoy online is probably miniscule.
But that’s completely beside the point.
Nobody should HAVE to give up the enjoyment of a product that they have paid for.
Reliance on online services – or any secondary feature that exists beyond the control of the user – always poses a risk to the consumer. Always. No exceptions, ever. Some risks are acceptable – like a multiplayer game being unplayable during an electrical storm when all the telephone lines (and therefore internet) are disrupted. But an awful lot of risks are not acceptable.
It’s these risks that big publishers and distribution services ask us to take every time we make a purchase.
GameSpy may have thought it would be able to assure product stability for the immediate future. It may have even considered it indefinitely. And, back at the height of their popularity, that might have even been a reasonable prediction to make. But the thing about predictions and projections is that they only take into account known quantities.
The online landscape has changed drastically in the last ten years. Hell, it’s changed drastically in the last year. It has changed in unpredictable ways. Infrastructure has developed. Hardware has evolved. And user’s needs have shifted. GameSpy’s business model was, for whatever reason, untenable, and it subsequently failed.
And that’s natural. Businesses fail or succeed at the whim of the financial roulette wheel. But in this case, there is a severe, tangible knock-on effect to end-users who never had a real choice of having them as a third party.
It was a risk for end-users to use GameSpy’s online service. A risk outsourced by publishers and developers to a third party. And that’s an unfair situation for the end-user.
But what about Steam? What about Origin? uPlay? Good Old Games? Desura? Humble? BattleNet? Whatever Squeenix’s thing is called?
What about all those games that require online activation?
And what about Sony’s SEN, Microsoft’s Xbox Live, Nintendo’s eShop?
The simple answer is – none of the purchases that rely on any of these services is guaranteed future-proof. Not. One.
I have a Steam library of just over 400 games – almost all of which I bought with my own money. If Steam ever goes bust, there is a distinct possibility that all of that money I have spent on those games will be completely wasted.
That’s a rather drastic example. For example, Valve’s financial position is very secure. They have a demonstrable history of treating the consumer with respect. And they have built up a lot of goodwill and trust. If Steam were to go down within the next decade – which I don’t foresee at all – I trust them to provide offline patches or download servers for long enough for me to backup what I “own”.
But I can’t deny that there is a potential risk of losing everything.
Other, smaller services aren’t as secure or trusted as Steam. And only last year Sony got hacked. Microsoft announced the closure of Games For Windows Live. And Nintendo – quite probably in a response to GameSpy’s closure, since they use that infrastructure for some of their services – are closing a lot of Wii games’ multiplayer servers on May 20.
Far Cry 2’s PC disk version required an online activation check. So did Spore. So did Mass Effect 2. So did Batman: Arkham Asylum. The list goes on. What happens when their activation servers go down? Sure, patches exist that remove the authentication check, but not all games have them, and not all games WILL have them. Remove the ability to authenticate the product and you lose the ability to play the game (legally).
Nothing’s future-proof. Everything has an expected life cycle. But video games that rely on continued first or third party software or hardware support have a measure of unsurity about them. To think that in 20 years’ time I might not be able to replay Dark Souls or Stalker because I can’t access them on someone else’s server somewhere is a little sad, actually.
Games create experiences and memories, some of which I want to be able to relive and share in the future, maybe with a family or maybe just as a personal guilty pleasure. To have that taken away from me by someone else’s inability to manage their arbitrary service would be supremely unfriendly.