portrait picture

TIMO ZIMMERMANN

balancing software engineering & infosec

15 Years Of Gaming

posted on Tuesday 22nd of May 2012 in ,

As most of you I am currently occupied with Diablo 3. I do not have much time but I
managed to stand in front of Diablo in normal mode. I thought about the current
game releases and how the industrie changed in the last ten years.

I cannot remember when I started gaming. But I think I have seen all the old game
consoles, I was there when you had to overclock and 486dx to get more than two frames
out of Doom and I played nearly every genre. I organized LAN parties, I participated in
tournaments and done nearly everything related to those two things. I think everything
started when I was 9 or 10. But I never was a real hardcore gamer. I was more interested
in our game servers and network. I learned a lot back in these days.

New game releases were great. Publishers took years to create stunning titles, if ID was
involved you had to wait some years till you could afford a system that was capable of
running the games, did everything they could to deliver quality and tried to make sure
that there were no bugs left before they released a game. When a game was out there was
no way to deliver a bugfix.

Today? You get games that were produced one or two years and most of the time there is a
bugfix release before the game is in the shelves. Thanks to the fact that nearly everyone
got an Internet connection this concept works. Publishers noticed that and some of them
stopped trying to deliver quality. I have no other explanation looking at some games that
were released the last two years.

But this is not the only problem. Like the whole content industry, game publishers believe
that everyone with an Internet connection is trying to steal their game. They invented
new ways of making sure that you have bought it. CD keys were not enough. Copy protections
that even made it impossible to play the game if you purchased it were not enough.
The last part of the never ending “screw-the-customer” toolbox is authentification against
servers. You need a permanent internet connection to play your game, even if you are only
interested in the single player.

Blizzard tried to provide a reason with some features like quick join, others did not even
bother trying to implement some value for the pain that you cannot play while on the road.
Even if Blizzard tried to provide some features – they just fucked up. They ran an open
beta. They noticed that the login and Battle.net server could not handle the load. They
have the money, they have enough experience but did not show much effort fixing it.
Of course I know that you can never predict bottle necks and if you fix
three in open beta you will run into new ones. I do not blame Blizzard as idiots or the
ultimate evil for not managing to provide stable servers. I expected them to do a better
job – but scaling is black, black art that should not be discussed in this post.
The problem is that you need this servers to play single player.

You buy a game, I believe the prices did not really change that much
the last few years, and then you have to buy addons and buy extra stuff that would have
just been included a few years ago. Some companies (Yes, I am looking in your direction
EA) sell you $2500 extra features for small optic changes like another color for your
equipment. Again this is only possible because publishers assume you have a Internet
connection (and are willing to pay).

Most games just have no single player anymore. If there is one it is likely to be
implemented with as few levels as possible that you get the feeling one of those 30
designers that were hired to make sure blood looks real was paid to work one weekend on
it. Likely this designer was paid with Vodka. Flatrate style. In advance.

So, a quick recap what changed:

Remember “Zak McKracken”, “Final Fantasy” or “Day of the Tentacle”? Sweet memories. Not
that we did not have multiplayer options back then. We had them and they were fun.
Doom95? Quake 3? I could go on,…

Today publishers do no care about gamers anymore, they care about profit. They know that
they got franchises that guarantee big sales numbers. Everything that counts. And somehow
gamers missed the point where they should have started complaining and “fighting”
publishers. No matter if movies or music – when studios started DRM people complained.
Sometimes it changed something. Sony root kits? Shitstorm incoming.
Today you sometimes see some childish trolls posting on official forums but others are
quickly telling them to shut up. Gamers even seem to defend the behavior of publishers.

There are still some great games that are okay and fun for a short time but I do not find
one that could compare to one of those old games I played as a child. Somehow this is sad.
I am not sure when we missed the point to get loud, but we clearly did. I hope we will,
someday, find a way to change this.