What has always been, and will always be bad about always online games

You may know from my recent blog posts and my Twitter stream that I have been playing Path of Exile. You may have also heard that this week there was a freak flood in Milan that involved hail and a “river of ice.” These two things may not seem related, except the local server for Path of Exile is in Milan.

In an update post, I’d already written how problems with TIM, our internet provider, had forced me to take several days off from the game. But this latest problem with the flood isn’t just affecting Path of Exile. No, I can’t play a single online game right now because bad weather has reduced our online speeds back to “digital dirt road” levels.

I’m not knocking TIM, because even if they have some slow times, they are rarely down and gone for any length of time. I’m not even knocking Path of Exile itself, as it’s been a pretty good time. (Although the last act I played was pretty unbalanced, with a boss fight so terrible, I was shouting “That should have been a cut scene!”) No, this time I want to talk about how this current local disaster highlights the logical flaw in pushing for all games to be always online or live services.

First, the flood wasn’t the only thing stopping me from mainlining Path of Exile. In the days leading up to ExileCon, there have been several DDOS attacks that forced me to quit for a few hours or the rest of the day. But this flood was bad, taking our high speed connection back down to the kind of crawl we had with our ADSL connection. Which makes sense. We might have a wireless modem, but the signal travels along towers back to a wired hub, and that hub is smack dab in the middle of the latest freak weather event.

However, this time, the downtime also made it impossible to play Diablo Immortal, which has previously proved stable even with speeds that made Path of Exile laugh and boot me back to the login screen. Then I thought what I could play instead. Fall Guys? Nope, always online. Fortnite? Nope. Elder Scrolls Online? No. Fallout 76? (There was a sale for 9 Euros, so hubby and I both got it.) Also a no. Even my go-to good time, Dark Souls has an always online component. Yeah, I can put that one in offline mode, but I kind of like the potential to be invaded, or to summon a partner if a boss proves too difficult for my current build. (Fucking FromSoftware Clerics, man, am I right?)

I looked over my current library of games, many of which I’d like to review, and almost all of them are currently unplayable. I actually let out a sigh of relief to see Epic Games Store had a summer sale, giving me the chance to buy a single player offline game to review next week. Everything else has to wait until TIM can repair the damage done during the flood.

So, contrast this reality with the gaming industry’s desire for more live service and always online games. For that matter, contrast this reality with the push for digital only titles that need to check in with a server to run, or with game streaming services.

What they all have in common is an industry that takes the Internet for granted. They treat it like some kind of endless resource that never goes down, and that kind of thing doesn’t exist. A storm comes and power lines go down, creating a blackout. A gas main explodes, and a city goes without heating or hot water. A water main bursts, and thousands of folks suddenly have to run to the store just to keep a supply of fresh drinking water. That’s reality. There is no infinite resource.

The fact is, we need single player games for those times when the Internet shuts down, or at least gets so jammed that we can’t play online. And please understand, I’m not saying we need all games to have a single player mode. There’s a lot of fun to be found in multiplayer FPS and RPG games, and also in MMORPGs.

But when the shit hits the digital fan and those aren’t options, we still need something to play as an alternative. Otherwise we might think about how that flood last week is coinciding with a massive infrastructure meltdown due to record temperatures a few provinces away, mass forest fires, flash flooding, and the general rapid decline of the human race due to corporate hubris and governmental indifference.

Welp, that got dark quickly. Anywho, see you next week.