Online connection or GTFO

0

Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Nicholas: With the release of Need For Speed a few weeks ago I figured it was only appropriate that we spend this article discussing it and it alone. OK, perhaps that’s a bit excessive, but there has been something that I’ve been meaning to discuss with you over the past week of ripping through Ventura Bay. Many articles ago we discussed the always-online requirement of the reboot, and at the time we both didn’t really express any concerns. Now that I’ve had the chance to play the game though, I’m slightly disappointed that it was a decision Ghost Games made.

As simple as it might seem, the fact I can’t pause the game, especially when I’m playing offline, just seems likes such a ridiculous oversight. I understand that when it comes to multiplayer games that there is no pausing, but in a game like this, when I’m playing career mode and I’m not racing with friends, it just seems unnecessary.

To kick things off this week I wanted to ask you whether you’ve been playing through Need For Speed and what your opinions are of the always-online connection now you’ve actually experienced it. Furthermore, why do you think the developers chose to implement it to begin with?

needforspeed7

Andy: I played a bit of NFS the week before it officially launched via EA Access (side note: EA Access is one of the best values in gaming in my opinion). I think I’ve only played it for about 3 hours or so and for the most part enjoyed what I experienced. Like you mentioned when it was first announced neither of us really thought too much about it. However, I read your review along with a couple others and while I’m still not overly bothered by it, but the implementation of a couple factors of it seem oddly placed and have questionable outcomes.

The inability to pause when not racing against anyone seems odd for sure. If memory serves me correctly Need for Speed: Rivals was the same way. With Rivals though it made more sense because some of the players were cops and the others were racers. With the latest iteration though and the forced “always on-line”, I’m honestly not sure why it’s there. The interaction with other human controlled racers is mostly in passing and doesn’t really seem to have much substance behind it. When I initially heard of the requirement I thought it was going to be used for AutoLog and to know what your friend’s best times were. Something like that makes sense and is relatively benign.

With the lack of any real need behind having other real players in my game I’m left wondering why the decision was made to go down that route. I’m not sure I see the true benefit of it. You don’t interact with them, they aren’t part of your story and during the campaign they don’t matter. Now, if I was actively racing against them, getting rep, money and maybe parts it would make sense. As it is, it seems unnecessary.  I wish I could answer the “why” behind it but in all honesty I’m not really sure on this one. It doesn’t provide any extra replayability, and like you said in your review – if anything it creates drawbacks when you lose connection to the host.

If it enhanced gameplay, replayability or increased the enjoyment of the game somehow then I would be all for it. In this case, it doesn’t seem to be any of those. I think developers in general try to have this because it gets people playing with friends, and when the competitive juices start to flow it keeps the disc in the tray longer. I get developers want us to keep playing their games, and I will, if the game is good enough and keeps my attention. To put in some cheap tactic that makes it harder for me to enjoy the game seems to be counter intuitive does it not? So that begs the question, with more developers implementing things like this; are we going to see instances where developers start to shoot themselves in the foot and accomplish the opposite of what they are trying to do?

Nicholas: I think so, and I definitely think that was the case with Need For Speed. When the developers first announced the feature they also spoke about how friends add to the story, but as you mentioned, that doesn’t happen at all in the game. It makes me wonder whether they had a goal in mind but had to change it mid-development, or whether they were lying the entire time and trying to fluff up an aspect that was never going to happen.

The other thing I’ve been wondering is whether the developers over anticipated how successful and popular their game was going to be? If we continue down this path of them wanting people to play with friends and keep the disc in the console for longer, were they expecting that thousands of gamers would be playing Need For Speed daily, and that people’s worlds would be filled with hundreds of different gamers at once? I mean, why else would they push a social aspect so much unless they thought the activity online was going to be substantial all the time?

So to answer your question, I think that’s the case. I think there are too many developers who want to implement big and flashy features with these high hopes but what happens is they fall flat and short of expectation. I guess the question to you I’d like to ask is, why do you think developers expect their games to be so popular? Is it unrealistic? Do you ever get the impression that developers think that they’re titles will pull COD and WoW numbers when we all know they won’t? To go back to Need For Speed, I checked my friends list yesterday afternoon and not a single person I knew was playing it.

Call of Duty Black Ops II_Overflow 2

Andy: The thing that’s frustrating for me with Need for Speed’s latest release is there is a lot of good stuff in the game. A lot of things people have been asking for over and over again. Ghost added many of those things – performance tuning, car customization, they brought it back to the roots of what made NFS a great game… and then they tack on this unneeded restriction and that’s what people are talking about. They aren’t talking about the good stuff, they are talking about the one glaring thing that frankly shouldn’t be there.

I would like to think that both EA and Ghost Games knew they were not going to hit COD numbers, but after taking a year off from the series and promising to get back to the roots of the series. They did a good job of teasing the game leading up to launch, hitting the right notes to make it feel like NFS Underground without actually calling it that. For the most part this was the game that fans of the series had asked for. By adding the online requirement they have effectively cut-off a segment of the gamers that were looking forward to the game. Just look at your example of your friends list. I’ve already heard the inevitable whispers asking what happens when EA turns off the servers as well. Granted, that won’t happen for a couple years – but I think it’s fair to bring up with the amount of server closures that happen (and not just from EA).

Speaking of EA though, we’ll never know but I have to wonder if the online connection required came from the top and was mandated by guys with suits. I’ve really been thinking about this topic since we started writing and I just can’t see any reason to require it. It’s a single player experience in terms of the story, if I want to race against others then let me click “Race Online”, there are no micro-transactions, no massive lobbies, none of the usual suspects that would require that type of connection. Do you think this is a case of the suits messing up a good thing with something unneeded, or do you think this was a decision from the developer?

Nicholas: It doesn’t make sense that it would come from the publisher/suits if they weren’t peddling things like launch DLC or micro-transactions. Generally when you think of a publisher having unwanted influence it’s with things that generate revenue. Merely requiring gamers to be online all the time does nothing to promote EA’s profits. I could be wrong, but it just screams of the developers being too optimistic as to how it was all going to work out and the actual implementation didn’t meet expectations.

The thing I’ve also been wondering about this entire situation is whether it was mentioned at all during testing, and whether anyone thought of saying, “you know what guys… this really doesn’t seem necessary for what you’re trying to do.” To me, that stands out as the biggest issue. I don’t care if Ghost wanted to try something and then they realised it wouldn’t work and dropped it, but it astounds me that with all the testing that it still got past as a good enough idea despite the implementation being, shitty.

The game otherwise has no major bugs that I can remember experiencing. Do you think this is where public opinion/testing needs to be stronger? It shouldn’t be about just testing if the game works, but whether the elements come together? You played the beta as well before launch, did you notice this at all when you played it?

titanfall2

Andy: I think I know why we are both struggling to explain or make sense of this whole issue. That’s because in this case, it really makes no sense. We have seen an influx of games that are online only such as Titanfall and Elder Scrolls Online, with those two games though they were billed as an online game and it makes sense for them. Yet, with Need for Speed, at least in my opinion it has always been a single player experience with the occasional multiplayer addition added for fun.

When I think about the perfect execution of a racing game Forza Horizon 2 comes to mind right away. It has tons of single player content, but for those who want to there is multiplayer content as well. In addition to all of that there is the addition of the bucket list co-op challenges as well for those who want to race with a friend. You don’t need a constant connection to play the single-player content, nor should any game ever require you to have a connection for single-player content. No matter what I wanted to do I could do it, and it didn’t depend solely on an internet connection. FH2 is one of my favourite racing games of the past five years or so. Most of all it was easy to segment what I wanted to do and click the appropriate option and play.

I’m not really sure what testing would have done. It’s obvious a group of people somewhere in the chain thought an always online connection was the right decision. To my knowledge Ghost never really said beforehand why it was always online or what exactly ‘always-online’ meant. When I first heard it I assumed it was for AutoLog and to always have your friends times there to try and beat. However, now that the game is out that’s far from the case. Maybe I am going back to my old game roots, but unless the game is an MMO, multiplayer-only-type game there is no reason to have it be always online. Do you agree with that? Are you and I just not embracing the new age of gaming? Or is it the opposite, developers/publishers trying to push something that is just not needed for every game?

Nicholas: No, I completely agree with you there. Unless a game is solely focused on multiplayer (which I hate to begin with), then there’s no reason why it needs to have a constant online connection. Unless the game cannot progress or work unless you have other players with you, then there’s no reason why I’d require a constant connection to a server. Simple. In the case with racers there’s an even bigger reason as to why it makes absolutely no sense. Hell, even something like Test Drive Unlimited 2 which really tried to play into the whole MMO style of gameplay didn’t penalise you for being offline.

I think this all came to a head for me this weekend where I wanted to have a few races before I jumped into the new Tomb Raider game. I loaded up Need For Speed, clicked ‘Play’ on the main menu and after I dismissed the prompt telling me I need a Gold subscription (hint – I don’t) the game kicked me back to the menu because it was suffering ‘internal errors’. So due to no fault of my own I was essentially left unable to play a game I spent $60+ on. For me that was the ultimate example of how stupid this all is. I couldn’t even roam the world or customise cars in my garage because the game had a fault connecting to EA’s servers, not because of any other reason.

As we close this week’s article I wanted to end by discussing patches. Already EA have announced that there are patches incoming for this game to add features like mirroring decals/vinyls, adding neons and even fixing the rubber-band AI issue. For you, do you see the removal of this always-online connection as something the developers should do, or, should we just accept that this was the plan envisioned by Ghost Games and we need to accept it, with its (lack of) benefits and flaws?

Andy: The popular answer will of course be, yes Ghost patch the game to remove the always online requirement. With that said, I don’t think we will be seeing it anytime soon – if ever. I say that because if it was patched out of the game so soon after release it would be an admission by EA ad Ghost that it was something that shouldn’t have been included in the first place. That would cause a fairly good amount of flak from gamers and the gaming media. The only point in which I see this as being patched out is at the time they shut off the servers for the game. I don’t see that happening for a couple years though.

You raise an excellent point though about not being able to play through no fault of your own. This was one of the biggest criticisms when Microsoft first announced the Xbox One before making an about face and changing that requirement. If there is an issue with EA’s servers the game is effectively rendered useless. We are coming up to our winter season here in the US and where I live we get winds in excess of 40 MPH and several feet of snow, which every now and then knocks out the internet. When that happens, I can scratch off Need for Speed as one of the games I can play while I wait for everything to get back up and running. It’s simply not acceptable for a developer to require a connection in order to play the single player elements of the game.

It’s still too early to know to know if this decision to include the always online requirement has affected sales. Sure we have your circumstantial evidence that no one on your friends list was playing it. But it’s hard to really extrapolate that across all gamers who may have been interested in the game. I would assume it did affect sales, and that there are some gamers who have eschewed the game because of it. While I want to see NFS succeed, however I also think developers need to be more cognizant of how these types of policies can negatively affect gamers. Maybe, there is a valid reason for the policy. Maybe it has something to do with “cloud computing” or something like that. If that’s the case be upfront with gamers; tell us why it’s there.

That is probably my biggest complaint with this. Gamers are an accepting bunch. If you tell us why, and it makes sense, we’re ok with it. When it seems like some arbitrary decision that has no real practical reason, and it’s shrouded in mystery and questions that’s when our hackles go up and we get aggravated. We are willing to put up with a lot, it should not be a one-way street though. Keep gamers in the loop, be honest with us, and take our suggestions to heart. Don’t set policies just because, set policies that benefit the game and allow us to get the most out of it. This always online policy for NFS does not allow us to get the most out of it, in fact it’s the opposite. There is a very real chance we cannot play the game under certain situations regardless if they are our fault or not. That, to me, is extremely disappointing. Hopefully it’s a learning experience for Ghost, EA, and every other developer. Things like this just should not happen in today’s industry.

driveclub-bikes1

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.