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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: “… but the benefits are nice.” Last week, when the Need For Speed official Twitter account tweeted to someone that the upcoming reboot will require a constant online connection, it didn’t matter what they wrote afterwards, our hearts sank. With so many people (well, at least me) considering this reboot as EA finally acknowledging the demand a Underground return, it was that moment were we went from incredible joy that our prayers had been answered to thinking once again, “great, EA have f***** it up.”

Now I’m not one to readily jump on the EA hate train and I’m also trying to remain optimistic, but if there’s one thing that’s always made me skeptical about a game’s success, it’s hearing that it’ll require an always-online connection. The Twitter account went on to elaborate that doing so will bring “more variety and a more rewarding experience with friends”, but to kick things off this week I wanted to ask what your reaction was to this announcement. Furthermore, what are your thoughts about seeing more games go down this road?

Andy: I don’t know, maybe I’m in the minority but this isn’t a big deal to me if I was being one hundred percent honest. Sure, I can sort of understand why people are acting all, “oh my god worst decision ever” yet part of me thinks no matter what EA or the people running the Twitter would have said, someone, somewhere would find something to bitch about. The fact of the matter is 99% of the time I am playing games on the Xbox One I’m online. Whether it be a single player game or a multiplayer game I’m on-line. The only time I am not is when my ISP craps the bed and I don’t have internet.

It’s too early to get all bent out of shape and ready to sacrifice cute puppies to the dark gods in order to make things change. Remember Autolog from Need for Speed Hot Pursuit? That required an always online connection and all that was needed for was so it could sync up your friend’s times so you knew what you were going after. Same with… well every Need for Speed title since then. Titanfall is an always online game, however it seems like shooters get a pass but when other genres try to break that barrier they’re met with huge uproar.

It really boils down to two things. One, we simply don’t know what “always online” means in terms of the why behind it – if it’s because of an Autolog-type feature is it really that big of a deal? Two, gamers like to complain about a game not pushing the envelope, not treading on new ground and keeping things the status quo, yet they flip that on its head when a developer tries to do something different. The gamer says, “Well I want something new but not that!” So, instead of talking about specifics, what does a developer do then? If they don’t change they piss off those who want change, but if they do change they piss off another group. If we, as gamers, truly want innovation from developers we can’t bitch and moan every time they try to do something new… especially before we even know what it is. Should we not wait and see before we over react?

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Nicholas: Well that’s exactly why I’m not writing off this new game as a failure yet for the fact we simply don’t know how this always online requirement is going to be implemented. You are correct, there seems to be a constant struggle between the gaming community wanting innovation and then wanting things to remain the same. I think with the case of this Need For Speed reboot though, it’s a little different. EA are not calling this Underground 3 at this stage (or at any stage) because they don’t want gamers to immediately compare this title with the nostalgia of the Underground games a decade ago (which is understandable, but hard to prevent). That said, gamers in this instance aren’t asking necessarily for innovation. When we want a new IP there are often calls for innovation. When a franchise is becoming stale there are often calls for innovation. In this example, we don’t want innovation. We want the features that made the older games great. The features that EA haven’t included together in recent NFS titles. I think the mistake we make is assuming every game needs innovation – that shouldn’t be the case.

You mentioned that gamers are bitching about this news, but I wanted to put it to you whether these reservations/complaints are potentially justified rather than just premature cynicism. What if gamers aren’t bitching, but are skeptical given the history of both EA’s servers and other always-online games? Starting with the former, tell me a game that EA have made which rely on using their servers and I’ll tell you that there have been instances where you couldn’t connect to their servers. It happened with literally every NFS game that EA have released since ProStreet. For me, I know I’m worried that if I need (read: need) to be online to play this game, and I know EA has a history of server issues, am I facing the possibility of paying $80AUD for a game and there being instances where I can’t play it (even just single player) because EA can’t provide always online servers?

Going further, always-online brings with it the notion of semi-developed campaigns and storylines. The thing I enjoyed about the Underground and Most Wanted games were the stories. Yes, they weren’t award winning, but I enjoyed following them. I look at a game like Titanfall and its story is non-existent. I look at games like Test Drive Unlimited 2 and The Crew and they both seemed… lame. I look at every online-based game and how people constantly talk about how hard it is to enjoy it once your friends move on to something else.

For these reasons above, do you not think there is reason for concern that these fans are expressing? I know we’ve both suggested Microsoft should have implemented the always-online functionality with the Xbox One, but for the issues we’ve both expressed above about reliability of servers, is it perhaps a risk not worth taking?

Andy: Sure, I think it’s OK to be skeptical anytime a developer institutes something new. I by no means am saying blindly drink the Kool-Aid that developers dish out, but there is a line between being skeptical and complaining about one line from a tweet with no other context. There doesn’t seem to ever be much middle ground with gamers – they are either super excited for it, or they are complaining about how terrible a decision it was to <insert latest outrage reason>. My personal frustration is that there doesn’t seem to be much thinking in the middle. That’s what I’d like to see.

Based on EA’s track record, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to hold them under a microscope a little more and really understand not only the ‘what’ behind it what means to always be online, but the ‘why’ as well. The Twitter account, as you said, repeats the line “more variety and a more rewarding experience with friends”. Yet, at no time do they tell us what that means. I would assume we’ll hear more about what that means next week during E3, but until then we’re left to our own worst case scenario thinking. In my personal experience it seems EA’s servers are getting better, hopefully they are learning from their past mistakes.

I do think developers are somewhat responsible for this line of thinking, just not for the reason you think. When a developer announces a game, in this case Need for Speed, they try to toe a line between giving gamers information, while at the same time not giving them information. That’s always frustrated me. If they are going to announce a game tell me about it. Don’t be coy and vague. If you are ready to announce the game, give me the details. All too often we see exactly what’s transpiring now. A developer announces a game, answers a few questions on social media, something riles up gamers and the developer than says “no further information at this time”, repeats something really mundane/vague, or goes completely dark and doesn’t say anything else.

I get that E3 is next week and they want to hold some information for that, fine. If that’s the case then don’t give out any information that gamers can misconstrue and run with. Simply say “We’ll be talking more about the game at our E3 reveal”. Boom, it’s done and dusted and no major issue because gamers expect that response. I hate the fact that developers feel the need of being so secretive about information. Whenever they do that it just seems like they are asking for trouble. I’ve always been a “glass half full” type of person and if Ghost Games feels that by requiring an always-online state will benefit the game then I’m fine with that. It’s their game after all. What about you though, this isn’t the first time we have seen outrage over a social media interaction. Should developers be answering questions like that before they fully announce everything about the game? Is it just asking for more trouble by only half answering questions like that?

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Nicholas: See, that leads perfectly into what I wanted to discuss next. You mentioned above about wanting to know the what and why behind Ghost’s decision to have their upcoming title always-online, but what I’d like to know is the ‘why’ behind their decision to sneak little bits of information like they have in the first place. I’d like to hope that developers aren’t out-of-touch with what the community are thinking/saying, so surely Ghost Games knew that such a tweet would stir some reaction. I mean, they must if they had to justify why they’d done it by saying there were benefits immediately after. Was this deliberate to start people talking and generate that hype before E3? Was it a mistake and have they potentially hurt sales as a result?

To answer your question though, I can completely understand why they do it. As I’ve just alluded to, developers want to get people talking ahead of E3. Typically you’ll have two kinds of gamers leading up to the conference – those who care about the news and those who are happy to just see all the news roll out afterwards. When a developer releases half news or half-answers questions, they turn those in the latter camp into the former one  – gamers now need to know what’s said at the conference to clear up their suspicions. With the case of Need For Speed, people are going to want to watch the reveal to know exactly what this always-online feature is going to mean for how the game works. It’s no more just about whether you care or don’t care about the game, you need to know if this feature is going to impact how you’ll think you’ll enjoy it. It’s clever, but again, there’s the potential for damage if gamers start thinking pessimistically and already there are fears before you’ve even told them anything.

What are your thoughts on this? Stevivor showed a tweet of someone who replied to the Twitter account saying, “this will make me pass this game”. Do you think that EA have already lost some sales because of this announcement, or is this just a knee-jerk reaction that they’ll be able to control? Do you think they anticipated some gamers would act like this?

Andy: I don’t think we are at the point where they are losing sales. We are early in the game of releasing a game. I may be wrong in my assumption, but the only ones that are paying attention right now are the big Need for Speed fans. Since there wasn’t a NFS last year, fans are chomping at the bit to get back into the game. Add to that it is going back to its roots and I think it will be hard for fans not to get it. That’s pretty much par for the course though with gamers, something changes – we throw a fit about it – then when push comes to shove we get it anyway. It’s the same logic on why developers keep making season passes, overpriced DLC and micro-transactions. Who buys the majority of that stuff? Those who really like the game/series. Sure there is a group that complains about it, but at the end of the day it sells, otherwise the developer wouldn’t make it. So, I don’t see them losing sales over it, yet.

You raise an interesting idea of saying something like that to get people to essentially pay attention. I’m not sure though if this is the best way to bring about that attention. In my opinion releasing the teaser trailer that they did, then simply saying “Find out more at E3” would have been just as effective. There is no need to create discontent among those fans that really want the game and want to support the franchise. I understand the whole adage of “no news is bad news” and if you can get people talking about your game that’s all that matters, but it’s something I never understood.

Gamers are a fickle bunch, they will jump on anything in either direction. If a game is great, a trailer is good or something seems promising gamers will talk about it. Look at the Deus Ex Mankind Divided trailer or Witcher 3. If a game is bad or has questionable practices gamers will jump all over it. Why then willingly give those ardent fans of your game even a sliver of something that could be perceived as negative to run with? As I typed out my last response here, another thought popped into my head that I wanted to run past you. Could this be a case of them knowing this was going to be an issue with some gamers so they get it out there as soon as they can with the hopes that the outrage will die down before the game is released? It seems like that would be a risky strategy, but I think it’s something to consider. What do you think?

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Nicholas: It makes sense. Like I mentioned earlier, the tweet that mentioned the always-online connection also mentioned that there was a good reason for its implementation – so EA must have known that it could have been taken negatively by some (which it did). This always-online theme has been a source of contention for a lot of gamers since the announcement of this generation to begin with, so I do believe the developers would have known that they needed to tread carefully or at least ensure the reasons behind it are good enough to risk the backlash. You know, it was announced last week and by the time E3 rolls around it would have been at least 2-3 weeks since the news was broken, that’s more than enough time for gamers to get angry and then eventually stop talking about it. It seems like a clever move by EA if this was their plan.

To end this week’s article I wanted to get your opinion on whether this is the future for console games as we know it. With more titles wanting to take that MMO approach and others focusing more so on multiplayer than single-player, is this start of what’s to come, or is this merely a trend that will either stay or die out depending on whether it’s successful? With the real possibility that some gamers just won’t be able to enjoy this title either because they don’t have an internet connection or it’s simply unstable, are these just some of the sacrifices developers and publishers need to make, or should we be standing up and ensuring all gamers, regardless of their circumstance, are able to experience these titles?

Andy: I know some may not want to hear it, or admit to it, but I don’t think this is just a trend that will fade away. I think this is something that we will see more of in some form or another. By enabling gamers to always be online there is a bit of stress taken off the developers of creating story content for one person. The MMO style allows gamers to essentially create some of their own story. Sure, there is a framework in place for the game but the more people you allow together the less framework (to a point) you need. As much as I disliked Destiny one of the cool things was going to a mission objective only to look over and see two other players battling an enemy. A quick diversion and I’m in that fight. Once it’s over we go our separate ways. That’s pretty cool if you ask me.

I think a good portion of the pushback from gamers on this issue lies in two things. 1) The track record of most of these servers isn’t always the greatest. There will be downtime, it’s not an “if” but a “when” and “how long”. That worries some gamers, and it’s a valid point to be honest. We buy a game we want to play it when we want. 2) It’s something different, and we aren’t really sure what it means. We understand the silhouette of it, but what does it really mean, and it’s also not what we are used to. As much as gamers want to champion change and innovation there is a finite limit to the amount of change we want. Which puts developers in a Catch-22 position.

At the end of the day, no matter what gamers say or do we are only buying the opportunity to play a game in the developer’s vision. If we like it, awesome, if not we move on to the next game. Every developer wants to please as many fans as possible, but there is no way they can please them all with one game. So they have to trust that their creative decisions are the best choices for their title. If that means always online that’s fine. If it means no manual saves, that’s fine too. We as gamers merely need to support the games we like and are passionate about, and ignore the rest. There are literally hundreds of games out on the Xbox One and PS4, play what makes you happy. Until then take a step back from the ledge and let the full story come out before you jump up and down and scream a Dragon Shout from the highest peak because games are requiring an always online connection. With E3 right around the corner I’m sure we’ll be finding out more about Need for Speed and countless other titles.

This is one of the best times to be a gamer. Let’s not taint it by throwing a fit about one feature, from one game that we still don’t have the full story too. This year’s E3 has the potential to be huge on the game front. I know I’m looking forward to it. Only time will tell what always online means to each game, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on it for now.

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.