ESTNN’s Lahftel takes a closer look at Ubisoft server shutdowns, and what they mean for the gaming space as a whole.
Around June 2, the Internet did an Internet thing and Ubisoft went crazy collectively for shutting down online services for 15 titles. What was interesting and hilarious, sparking that weird reaction out of the normal gaming space. Because it amazes me that many people are not aware of what the matter is.
At this point, I wonder how anyone can be surprised that Ubisoft and other big companies are taking away active multiplayer and access to DLC by server. Because as companies, they have to make money. And seriously, what reason would they have to keep the servers live that only cost them money? This is an economical business decision, it is worth understanding that those servers require regular maintenance, require said maintenance individually and cost a lot of money on a monthly basis.
But video game social media did what video game social media does, going crazy over an issue they don’t fully understand. I mean, yeah, if I read that some games I’ve bought but haven’t played yet turn off, I’d be mad too. But for once, it’s not entirely Ubisoft’s fault here. And this was by far not the first time, even recently.
Again, kind of a dick move by Ubisoft but can you really expect them to run a service that gets used maybe a few times a month? Nah. What you can fault Ubisoft, and everyone else, is the fact that these games have never been future proofed—which gives way to a bigger issue that we’ll get to in a moment. The underlying evil here isn’t a greedy game publisher deciding that their work is no longer worth preserving. The point is that games are not made to run under the guise of copyright protection.
Online storefront created an issue
Now first and foremost, I want to give credit to Ross Scott from Cursed Farm who has been reporting on this issue in their Dead Game News format for quite some time. And his most recent video on the subject is more or less the jumping off point for this piece.
Preserving the Media How We Preserve the Past
Protection of media is very important, protection of everything is important. It is how we can learn from past successes and mistakes and is an integral part of how humanity evolved. (Don’t worry, it has a meaning.) Over the years, the idea of remake Made waves in the industry. Whether it’s adding fancy new graphics to an old classic or erasing the mistakes of the past. And throughout this discussion, I realize the importance of that protection and how a deed is issued is often overlooked.
We absolutely love to remember the past, and these remakes are often made with that in mind. But past flaws are important and while the pursuit of perfection is admirable, we gradually remove the kinks and rough spots that provide us with some valuable insight. Yes, it is now about The Last of Us Part 1 as well. I don’t think it’s wrong for Naughty Dog to modernize its historical title; This would be an issue if they would make the original one that is only available on now defunct consoles. Yes, there is a remastered version of the game for PlayStation 4, but what if you can’t buy any more?
The PlayStation 4 and its online storefront will disappear, just as the PlayStation 3 storefront did. And just think about it, all those PlayStation 3 games you can no longer buy on PlayStation Network because Sony has made no effort to make them available after the fact. How long can I download them no more as Sony considers the service ineligible to survive? in future. The same thing happened with the old Nintendo Store, so while you can still download games for the Wii, WiiU, DSi, and 3DS, you can no longer buy them digitally. When will they not be available?
Emulation would be the more reasonable approach, but it requires me to make a digital copy of my PlayStation 3 hard drive. And as long as I can, because I’m a big nerd. I assure you that there may not be a good number of people reading this.
At least some of the credit goes to Microsoft for trying to preserve older games on its newer platform. And thankfully, Sony’s new service is taking steps in the right direction, and so is Nintendo. But through curated re-releases of those older titles, we’re slowly losing more and more of them.
Game Piracy Is Wrong, But Soon It Will Be The Only Option
And under the guise of copyright protection, games are required to communicate with servers to validate their components, such as DLC or leader boards. Sometimes they even save the states. I love the new Hitman games, they are probably the pinnacle of the immersive sim and stealth genre. But with them comes this biting sting; Your save file is linked to their server. If you play offline, you will not be able to access all your unlockables. For now it’s really only a problem if the servers are down or you don’t have an internet connection. But think about it in 20 years, do you think those servers will be operational by then?
Do you believe that whoever owns IO Interactive cares about keeping the title alive and preserved? And who knows, maybe they’ll live up to their promises and update the game once the servers go down. But who can assure you that this is so?
The worst part about all of this is that we sacrifice longevity and protection of video games under the assumption that they deter online piracy. And some strange things have emerged about this issue, providing a moral reason why piracy is the right choice if you love sports. And it’s hard to disagree if you’re considering being able to play the game against not being able to access what you bought with your own money.
not a problem of the past
It’s also worth remembering that this isn’t a problem we used to have. We didn’t live in a world where games were checking in servers to verify their data, or online modes, which required a central server to function. Even without an online store, I can still set up a multiplayer round for a game like Age of Empires 2. It requires me to host a match and type in an IP address to my friends.
But with modern features like matchmaking – born out of necessity after consoles entered the online multiplayer arena – we have to make some sacrifices. There are some that will inevitably lock up some of your favorite games and never be preserved. Yep, I’m still mad that I can no longer play Metal Gear Online 1 and 2 in any legal way. At least some heroes on the internet have managed to make MGO2 playable with emulation.
And when I see that some of my more respected colleagues argue that 10 years is enough time to experience a title and its online mode. Then I really start questioning my conscience. How can you be against preserving games? Even pulling older GTA games like Rockstar from Steam, or Blizzard making the old WarCraft 3 unavailable on Battlenet shows a pretty dangerous precedent. These games are thrown away from the media, only to be consumed around the time of their release.
Sooner or later, not all current gaming classics will be available in the shape or form in which they were released. Patch culture has pretty much set the standard that it’s perfectly fine to break a game, as long as you can patch it on day one. Or in some cases, patches can make it worse. (Like how the PC launch version released with Elden Ring introduced a number of technical and performance issues, not including review copies.)
I don’t want to be all doom and gloom about it, but it’s not what it used to be. And it may very well be because games aren’t as technically complex as they used to be.
But on the other end of the spectrum, even though GOG is a service that will one day be gone. I can download game installers from there, which often don’t require any kind of DRM software to use after the fact. And my only concern when downloading older titles is whether they are going to work flawlessly on my PC. It baffles me that this isn’t a big issue for most gamers, but it doesn’t surprise me at all because nobody cares if they’ll be able to play Fortnite with all those expensive skins they’ve spent 20 years down the road. Bought from.
More efforts should be made to preserve sports
So, what can we do about the fact that everything you love in gaming right now will be unavailable sooner or later? Either because you can’t repair that old console you bought the disc for or because of anti piracy measures. Rethink the whole system. Valve founder Gabe Newell said a long time ago that piracy is always a service issue. Which is true to some extent, but even on Steam you don’t actually own the games you buy.
And I understand that the issue goes deeper than just rogue game makers being lazy or trying to prevent their work from being stolen. But it is a problem that the consumer and the industry should not ignore. And I don’t think it’s wrong to go back to the good old days of CD-keys or these cool code wheels Monkey Island was.
But how does this work in an industry like today? Especially with all the platform and storefront exclusivity, because for some common reason we decided that making games accessible through limited means is what really drives the industry.
I’ve always thought that criticizing something would also mean that I had to propose a solution. But this is one of those issues when I was feeling way out of my zone. Because none of the solutions I can come up with are financially viable for companies that have to up their game while protecting their assets. It’s also not that I pay a lot of money to be able to download games until a service is turned off. But think of all the games that have been lost over time only surviving on old hard drives, all the online games no one can play anymore.
So what do we do out here? I don’t think this is an issue on which we can sit and there should be a solution to it. Maybe I’m just shouting it out in the void, at least some kind of debate could be sparked, or maybe someone with a bigger platform could unify this rhetoric into something more. But hopefully there will be a follow-up piece to this, I’ll try and “do some journalism” and see if I can get some answers from some of the bigger publishers.
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