Going Without Internet Made Me Worried About The Always-Streaming Future

On Friday night, we went out to a movie. When we stepped out of the theatre to come home, we found ourselves standing in a maelstrom the likes of which neither of us had ever before seen around where we lived. The storm caused astonishing levels of damage in under an hour and left 1.3 million of our neighbours sitting in the dark, some of whom will be waiting up to a week for electricity to return.

Saturday eventually dawned, and we found out how very lucky we were: none of the massive old oaks just outside came through anyone's windows, and our building still had electricity, including the all-too-necessary air conditioning for yet another 37C day. But our cable was out, and with it, our internet. Our phones were out too, meaning we had basically no way to communicate with the outside world, short of opening a window and shouting.

We were lucky enough to be powered, but still we were profoundly disconnected. And we had a day to spend indoors, out of the way of the crews trying to clean up the mess and get all the power back on to mostly closed local businesses. The original Saturday plan, for both me and my spouse, had been to play MMOs. Obviously, without internet access, we wouldn't be logging into persistent faraway worlds anytime soon. But an experiment presented itself: what could we play?

In an era of subscriptions, downloads, cloud saves and internet-based DRM? Not much.

Part of the problem was timing: he's just gotten a new PC, and I'm still in the relative wasteland of uninstalled games that comes with a sudden hard drive replacement. Neither of us had installed or reinstalled more than a half-dozen games yet.

No Steam. No Origin. No GOG. No downloads. And for many games, no discs.

So it seemed like as good a time as any to take the plunge and bring my Shepard -- my real one, my "true" Commander -- through the ending arc of Mass Effect 3. Except once I managed to convince Origin to run in offline mode (turns outs it doesn't like starting offline if you're marked invisible), the game itself came up with error messages about being unable to connect. No dice.

That's when I began to realise how very few truly singleplayer offline games we have. And when I realised that the vast majority of games we could install and play without an internet connection were at least a few years old, I began to worry about how limited the options will be in the future.

The pros and cons of future gaming -- all digital -- always on -- have been a hot button topic this year. Diablo III has been at the centre of that conversation, with players feeling simultaneously that the always-on requirement makes it a better game and also that the connection requirement is a big problem. Next year's SimCity will require a connection at all times. Ubisoft games are notorious for requiring a chat with the server at start-up, and thoughts about their future solutions hint at even more connectedness.

Of course, in this house we are primarily PC gamers. But without a working connection to the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live, both major consoles' functionality is limited as well. And now, with PlayStation having purchased streaming game service Gaikai, it looks like the future is ever more in the cloud. Reliance on a stable, fast broadband connection seems nearly as necessary to video games of the future as electricity is.

Games will stream to us, and we will pay to access them in full. Or the future will go where the chief operating officer of EA sees it heading, and every game will be a free download, with microtransactions or later payments to continue.

No internet? No games. Slow internet? Fewer games. Hit your bandwidth cap? Back to no internet, no games.

Civilization V was installed and runs offline, so I spent Saturday peacefully trying to take over the world. I was one turn -- one turn! -- away from completing a cultural victory with Byzantium when Gandhi completed his rocket and won with science. Bastard.

And then that was it for entertainment. Gaming was mainly out of the picture, and so was everything else. No connection meant no Netflix. No TV, no movies. At least we got a lot of overdue cleaning done.

We're moving more and more into a realm where the $US60 we pay for a game gives us the right to access to an interconnected universe. Or into a realm where we can walk in the door for free, but have to pay to stay once we're there. Either way, single-player games that I can play on my own time without an internet connection are becoming alarmingly hard to find. Every single game I personally saw or played a demo of at this year's E3 was in some way designed for multiplayer. And two players sitting in the same living room just don't cut it.

I didn't realise how dependent I'd become on the cloud until the cloud went away. Now I notice, and I'm afraid. I can keep my own behaviour smarter, and I can manage my files and games better going forward, but only as much as the systems themselves will let me. When the day comes when "download and install" is completely replaced with "login and stream", being offline -- intentionally or not -- will cease to be any kind of option.

The convenience of living in the cloud is remarkable. I use Google tools daily for both my personal affairs and for work, and the ability to access my documents, messages, and certain saved games from any machine, anywhere is spectacular. I believe, in general, that the option for more connection is a good thing, that will help bring more games and services to more players in ways we, collectively, can better afford.

But the days where we're forced to be offline remind us how necessary it is to be online now, at all times. And they highlight, for better and worse, how truly fragile the connection (and, apparently, local infrastructure) really is. I hope some games, at least, let me remain unplugged. Because now I know, sometimes I won't be able to connect. Even when I want to.


Comments

    I seriously doubt that streaming will become the norm, ever. Maybe for some select games but the latency alone dooms it for a lot of types of game unless the entire internet infrastructure is ripped up and replaced with some kind of future technology

      Yup. The only reason streaming would be considered as the sole way forward would be because publishers don't want the gamedata ever getting into the hands of the public. Since the chance of preventing piracy in such a situation would be pretty high(though people would the try hack your streaming service).

      Problem is its going to be hard to charge full price for streamed games and even harder to successfully monetize a the game itself in order to minimize that initial cost.

    Get a console then. No internet issues if there's no internet, I think all the games run without a system update.

    But if you connect that internet... Expect to wait 3-4 hours on a PS3 if you haven't ever installed updates lol.

      Even if you had kept it connected, I bought Starhark a few days ago, couldn't more than a couple of months old. I had to download 3 patches, install the game, enter the stupid multiplayer code, then restart the game. So much for plug and play.

      Yes, but that's now. The point is that this is probably the future for console games as well.

      Most of it isn't an issue with PC games anyway a large swath of the steam library works without needing steam to be open(just open the .exe directly)

      And if your seriously worried about online checks it's pretty easy to go and download a no Internet crack(if you have the forethought that is or a active mobile connection)

      Though why you would give someone money when they aren't servicing your needs correctly is another question

    GOD yes. We worry about always-on internet based DRM and streaming services like OnLine now, in an age where our internet just isn't good enough but if you've moved house recently, or suffered service interruptions from your ISP, then you'll know the all-too familiar sting of being without certain services.

    When I moved house with my wife about 2 and a half years ago, we had no Foxtel for two weeks. That meant no TV, because there was almost no reception and nothing to watch on free-to-air TV. We had no internet for "5-10 days" and let me tell you, when you're limited to checking Twitter via a non-smart Motorola Razr and you don't have a data allowance on your phone plan, you quickly come to appreciate the convenience of having an internet connection.

    When that first five days of the "5-10" days, you find yourself itching to yell at someone every half an hour until it's fixed. I think it ultimately took them eight days but I had paced myself for five. It's like how when the pizza place tells you "30-45 minutes". You know anything above 30 minutes and something has gone wrong, they only said that to cover their asses so you don't demand it for free like back in the 90s.

    On the upside my wife and I had each other for company. And books. And video games. Back then we didn't have many PC games, and steam would only intermittently give us access to what few games we DID have, without an internet connection. I think I was able to play a little bit of Fallout 2 on a couple of occasions, but sometimes steam would block me off until it could verify my ID, which it couldn't.

    Mainly we played our Xbox, but around that time (November 2009) we were still playing a fair amount of Halo 3, and Modern Warfare 2 had just come out. Our passion was for online multiplayer! We had a few unfinished single player games but that wasn't what we wanted to play. We had never once signed into the 360 without an internet connection and while we had used the Xbox during Xbox Live outages, the 8 day period beung unable to access it at all made us feel isolated. No friendslist. No comforting bloop of a friend coming online or a game invite.

    It was frustrating. I was fortunate enough to return to work 4 days after moving, so I had the limited ability to check my email and Facebook, but my wife endured. We had friends over but their presence only served to more sharply contrast the dullness a life without internet was.

    I don't think I'm an internet addict, it's just that our media intake, our gaming consoles, our computers and even our phones and TVs these days are geared towards the assumption you'll have an internet connection available, and using them without it is difficult.

    Once we're streaming all our media and games? A world without internet might as well be a world without electricity. Light a candle and read a book - assuming you even have books. Maybe you're young enough to have never amassed a collection of quality literature. Maybe your collection only exists inside your iPad or Kindle.

    It might only seem like a stupid inconvenience in hindsight, and the looming entertainment apocalypse may seem over dramatised now, but for the duration of your life without internet you'll wish we'd never invented stupid streaming media in the first place.

    You could read a book. The non-e kind of book, I mean.

    you don't need an internet hiatus to know that streaming is bullshit....even if the internet becomes good enough I just sont like having my stuff at the mercy of others

    I never really gave much thought to this. I've found myself downloading less and less while streaming lots more because it's so much easier now. I hate the idea of streaming games though.

    Surely the author must have had at least one console game to play though?

    We were without the power, and therefore the internet, for most of a day not that long ago.
    During daylight hours it wasn't much of an issue, we could read and we still had power in the DSs since they'd been left to charge overnight.
    But when night arrived and we were still without power and we were running around trying to find the candles we came to a dilemma.. we'd used the DSs throughout the day and they were running on red. And candlelight, no matter how nice it sounds in the stories, is very hard to read by when you're used to electricity.
    We remembered that I'd bought several cardgames a couple of years ago for Christmas. Turns out, I rock at uno.

    On a related note, I've also been without just the internet when my computer went through a giant overhaul a year or so ago. Made me glad I'd never connected my 360 so I never felt I was without anything. Played a LOT of Skate 2.

    The thing is while more and more stuff requires the internet, internet providers will have to strive to make it more and more stable and available. It's at a point even now where loss of internet is a major inconvenience, and customers won't stand for it.

    I imagine it going the way of power. Everyone has it, and rarely something goes wrong and you're screwed without it.

      That's true for normal situations but in a freak accident threrr ain't much you can do about it.

      Moreso in Australia when if your not in the major cities no matter your ISP your likely on some form of Telstra wholesale line which means your ISP can do nothing more than pass your bitching onto telstra

    I was without internet for about a week due to moving and changing isp's but I thought cool I can just play my steam games in off-line mode.I didn't realise that steams "off-line" mode was some sort of Schrödinger's cat system where you couldn't predict weither it would work or give you an "off-line mode is unavailable, please connect to the steam network" message.

    Maybe I'm just old fashioned but nearly all the games I own is meant to be played offline (with the exception of street fighter).

    Only now?

    Us cool (paranoid) kids have been worrying over this since forever 8-) When the Internet dies I'll have a nice huge backlog of classic games to go through.

    "we found ourselves standing in a maelstrom the likes of which neither of us had ever before seen"

    You either live on boat in the middle of the ocean, or you have no idea what a maelstrom is and believe it is a storm.... I will give you a hint: it's not a storm

    If you had internet you could have googled that......

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