Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh: Online-only game grief

Why are so many games online only? Siobhan Keogh investigates.
A screenshot from the game 'Diablo III'. Photo / Blizzard Entertainment
A screenshot from the game 'Diablo III'. Photo / Blizzard Entertainment

Always online games are the new normal, and sometimes it's like gamers have stopped noticing.

When always-online games, usually slathered in poorly-made rights management technology, began to take hold in games, gamers everywhere began the five stages of loss and grief.

First, denial. They wouldn't really do that to us, right? Maybe they're just trialing it out. They'll learn pretty quickly that gamers won't stand for it.

Then anger. How dare they inflict this on us? Don't they realise the customer is king? We have thrown cash at these companies for years, and they react by making games less accessible and less playable.

People were upset when Diablo III was released, and Sim City as well. They were games that, traditionally, had offline modes. But while we were all frothing at the mouth over sequels being online-only, game studios started to find ways of getting around gamers' ire. After all, no one complains about MMOs being online all the time - it's just the way they're meant to be played.

Now, I think we're somewhere around the bargaining stage. It seems that we're okay with our games being online, as long as it's required to make the game function properly.

Take a look at Destiny, for example. Clearly it's built to be an online game - you play through a campaign and people pop in and out of your world.

There are also player-versus-player game modes. To get the full Destiny experience, you have to be connected to the internet and preferably playing co-op.

But is there any real reason it can't be played offline, too?

Enemies appear to respawn on a timer and you can quite happily play through the whole thing without assistance from others, so I don't quite understand the reasoning. I genuinely do believe you won't get as good of an experience playing offline, although I don't see that as a good reason to exclude it altogether. In fact, if you just want to play on your own then you subject yourself to a worse experience, especially if you've got an internet connection like mine that likes to drop every few hours just for fun.

An image from the game 'Destiny'. Photo / Bungie

Regardless, it would be a much easier sell to gamers than something like Sim City, as it's a new franchise without a history of offline play.

I'm picking on Destiny, which - for the record - I think is going to be a fantastic game from what I've played so far. But Destiny is just one of a long list of games that are releasing over the next year or so with no offline mode - high-profile Ubisoft games The Crew and The Division also make the list.

Then there's the fact that existing franchises have just kind of given up on the single-player modes. It seems like the creators of Call of Duty: Ghosts just decided that hey, if they couldn't prevent people from pirating the single-player version of the game, they'd just make it not worth playing at all. Or perhaps that's a bit paranoid - people do mostly play Call of Duty for the multiplayer, after all.

It's only a matter of time before we all collectively go through the next couple of stages - depression as the realisation that we've been duped sinks in, followed by acceptance when we realise that we've let it happen and it can't be changed. I'm culpable myself - I paid for a copy of Diablo III and I still play it sometimes (although to be fair, Blizzard has made significant improvements to the game since its release).

It seems to me that inevitably, all blockbuster games are going to be online-only in the near future. Little by little, game developers and publishers are nudging us closer and closer to that reality.

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Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh has been playing video games for almost as long as she's been able to read. Her passion for games started with Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, grew when she discovered the Final Fantasy series as a teenager, and became near-obsessive when she worked as games editor for PC World magazine. She'll play almost every kind of game there is, from shooters to strategies to adventure games to Peggle, on any platform she can get her hands on. Her love of games isn't limited to the screen - she also plays both board and card games on the tabletop. When she's not gaming, she's tweeting lame jokes about games on Twitter. Occasionally she takes a breather from that and talks about running and fitness instead. Siobhan works as community manager for New Zealand's largest locally-owned technology company, but her views on gaming are her own.

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