Three things happened lately, leaving me with some thoughts about the future of multiplayer gaming:
– Last week, a Steam sale offered The Showdown Effect at discount price, also making it free to play for the weekend. I’ve had my eye on that game since it came out, as “platformer arena game” has long been on my “things to do someday unless someone else does them first” list. Unusually for me, I actually managed to find people to try it out with me – only to find out it fails. Still to this moment Paradox does not appear to give any sort of explanation what went wrong with their servers there, so I have no idea if it would ever have been fixed. Of course I did not buy the game to find out.
– If one game isn’t working, we can always go back to what’s known to work – a few days later, I came to play GTA 4. But oh, Rockstar Social Club was down. I tried for a while, so I’m quite sure it was down for about four days. At other times I was able to play, but occasionally it took me a few minutes until either Rockstar Social Club or Games for Windows got to work.
– Meanwhile I’m always looking for potential future games to get my friends into – so after seeing and liking the Spies Vs Mercs mode in the new Splinter Cell game, I decided to buy an old Splinter Cell game (Chaos Theory) to try it without spending too much. Tried it once and Steam failed to run it. Reinstalled it and it worked, then tried again after a few days and it failed again. Haven’t tried it since and don’t think I will.
So for a game like GTA, we have four servers where things can go wrong (Steam, Games for Windows, Rockstar, and actual game server). I remember being quite happy in the good old days when we needed exactly zero servers to play multiplayer, remember that? In case you’re too young to remember – to play Warcraft II multiplayer, you did not need any external servers. One player chose “host game”, the other chose “join game” and entered the host IP address. There are two main reasons this no longer exists – having a lobby to meet strangers to play with, and bypassing router blocks. All other benefits are for the company – they get to strengthen their DRM, they get statistics on how you use the game, they get personal information from you and they have your dependency on them.
For me, the ability to play with random strangers is not at all interesting, and certainly not worth the downsides of setting up servers. As for routers – the only issue is that you’ll need some minimal knowledge of computer networks to host a game. This means that direct P2P games can no longer exist in the commercial world, but for me – someone who makes games in order to play them and enjoy – I’m quite sure I’m never going to set up game servers. And in fact, the new experimental P2P multiplayer feature of the Sunflower engine will very soon be revealed, along with another fun feature I’ll talk about soon.