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Why always-online consoles are actually good for gamers

Alex Wawro | June 14, 2013
While Microsoft catches hell for a next-gen console that won’t play games without frequent Internet access, developers are building games that all but require you to play online.

always-online consoles

Internet access is always a hot topic at E3—Wi-Fi access is notoriously scanty—but this may be the first year that attendees are more concerned about the health of their home networks. Microsoft and Sony built their next generation of gaming consoles expecting that they'll be jacked into a broadband connection most of the time; Microsoft took it a step further, advising players with poor Internet access to skip the Xbox One entirely and content themselves with current-generation hardware.

Bold words. Bold enough to be borderline rude, as Microsoft is effectively placing its latest product beyond the reach of people who can't afford to keep it hooked up to a reliable Internet connection.

But don't forsake the message in your haste to shoot the messenger. Microsoft is doing a piss-poor job of showcasing the positive side of an always-online game console—namely, that developers can make games with the expectation that most players will be connected to the Internet most of the time. That simple premise unlocks a new frontier of multiplayer development, allowing game designers to create crazy single-player/multiplayer hybrids that simply aren't possible on unconnected hardware.

Game
Other players will seamlessly appear in your Destiny game to fight by your side. The game requires your machine to be connected to the Internet.

The next-gen game that defines this trend is Destiny, Bungie's hotly anticipated first-person shooter that's coming to Microsoft and Sony consoles next year. The developers behind Destiny love to hype it up as a persistent living universe, a "shared-world shooter" that lets players seamlessly jump into each other's games to compete or cooperate at a moment's notice.

In practice, the Destiny demo we saw at E3 looks like a next-gen Borderlands 2—players can team up with friends or rely on the game's automated matchmaking algorithms to pair them up with suitable playmates who are exploring the same areas at the same time. There are also dedicated hubs of social activity, allowing you to come back from completing a solo mission to trade, gamble, or just goof off with other players.

If that sounds a little familiar, it is. It's the same sort of casual multiplayer interaction that makes massively multiplayer online games so appealing. And it's only possible because the game is designed with the expectation that you will spend a significant amount of time connected to the Internet.

Game
Any car you meet in The Crew could have a human behind the wheel, someone looking to team up and beat a tough mission or just run you off the road.

 

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