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Is it right for game publishers to turn off online servers?

Online gaming controllers

Last week, video game publisher Electronic Arts announced its intention to close several online multiplayer servers for titles like Tiger Woods 10 and Battlefield 2. Is it fair to remove a feature we’ve paid for?

Electronic Arts’ (EA) official reason for turning off online servers for its games, also including Skate and Need for Speed, is due to a lack of active players for these particular titles, or ‘fewer than 1% of all peak online players across all EA titles’.

I say it’s about time publishers guaranteed that a game’s multiplayer servers will be open for a specific period. And not only that – they should let gamers know how long this will be before they’ve spent their money on it.

Online passes enter the fray

This is especially the case given the current trend for charging a premium for going online. For those who may not have heard of this; in an effort to combat the huge second-hand games market, some publishers are including ‘online passes’. These are “free” codes included with a new game, but since they can only be used once, if you’re buying second-hand you’ll have to purchase another pass separately.

Paying for online passes is a whole other topic that I might come back to at a later date (especially with the next Call of Duty introducing a monthly online charge), but it does nicely illustrate that when you buy a game, you’re paying for a service. A service that includes a certain set of features. And unless we’re told that these features will be removed at a specific date, why should they be taken away from us?

Shouldn’t publishers, like EA, better inform us about the lifespan of their games’ multiplayer components? That way we can asses the value for money we can expect to get from them.

Forcing us to upgrade?

It’s hard not to be cynical about these servers being closed down when many of the affected games are released on a yearly basis, especially sports titles. Would it be too much of a stretch to suggest that these servers are being closed down to encourage gamers to buy the latest version at a premium?

If publishers could guarantee that a title’s multiplayer servers would be open for a set number of years and inform us on the box, then we’d be in a much stronger position to make an informed choice about our purchase.

It would be unrealistic to say that these servers should be left open indefinitely, but their lifespan definitely shouldn’t be a mystery to those of us paying for the experience.

Waylander101 says:
20 July 2011

I agree that all games with online multiplayer should state something along the lines of “this game will have online multiplayer active until XX/XXXX” but what happens when someone goes to their local store to buy a game and finds it’s only a short time until server cut off time? I know I wouldn’t be willing to pay anything over 50% of RRP for it, and for some games that are very multiplayer centric 25%

Bilbo says:
20 July 2011

Agree completely that publishers should clearly state how long their servers will be available. You’re right that they shut down them early to ‘encourage’ you to buy the new version. Think of it this way, all the sports titles have the option to update the rosters and they do so several times a year. However, they don’t update them after the new version is released – even though they obviously have all the data. Sales would drop dramatically if they did.

Also looking forward to reading your article on Online Passes when you publish it.

Personally, I boycott all games that come with online passes.

chickenfeed says:
21 July 2011

I think that if EA or other companies plan to shut down servers for their multiplayer games, they should at least let the people who bought the game make dedicated servers. Dedicated servers either out of the box or make an update for it.

robb192002 says:
31 July 2011

You make a valid point. And that is something that would add value to their product, and the publisher’s reputation. But not their bottom line. And the growing trend is to limit customisation. For example the lack of mod tool support for various well known game franchises. Game community map making can be a wonderful thing for players but poor profit for shareholders.
The publisher would benefit from user generated content creating a happier community around its games though it seems, with the Call of Duty series subscription, they only look to increase revenue from online users.Replay value is something the publishers wish they could dictate.

Pete says:
21 July 2011

Somebody will sue. They will buy a used game and pay for the online pass, then when the games servers are shut down a legal course will begin. The consumer will say it was not publicly announced that the game would be shut down. Then EA will fall back on the user agreement saying they can shut the servers down at any time. Which is fine but what will hopefully prevail is a guarantee of X amount of time before that happens.

I think anytime someone goes to pay for that online fee they should have full disclosure that the game may have an expiration. Not some hidden crap nobody reads when it says do you accept the terms.

If Sony make me pay to play Modern Warfare 3 online, then I am switching to XBOX, which I already own anyway. The only games I play online are COD and GT5 and if I am charged a premium, then it will be best to switch to xbox because in their subscription, you will get a whole load more features.

This was the reason I bought a PS3 after also owning an xbox, I will not pay to play games online, we already pay £40 – £50 for a game, which is worth it with the online offering. If I have to pay to play online, I expect a discount on the RRP of the game.

Otherwise, I will use a new service. I was wondering how long it would take after Sony’s hacking scandal before they introduced an extra price on the worlds most popular shooter.

It will certainly end my association with Sony beginning with the PS1, for shame.

Sony is not the one who would be charging, it’s Activision. You will have to pay extra on Xbox as well (on top of your Xbox LIVE subscription). PSN is free and the ‘extra’ features on Xbox LIVE are not as expansive as you think they are.

boo! it’s even worse than I thought

Is this as a result of the disagreements between Infinity Ward (MW developer, Black Ops is Treyarch) and Activision?

XBOX live still offers more than psn, as in, Sky Sports? I know you have to pay even more for that but there are many more features from what I have seen.

Now if Activision offer me extra maps that they normally charge 10 – 15 quid for a few months after the games released then that’s not so bad, as long as I don’t have to pay for the game, the multiplayer AND the extra maps.

Sky Sports? How about PSN offering LoveFilm and all manner of other video/music services? Anyway, this is no competition. I’d say they are both comparable.

To be clear, though, the Call of Duty Elite is an extra service which includes further multiplayer features: http://www.callofduty.com/elite

yeah it’s not a comparison, but Lovefilm wherever you go for it, is simply rubbish 🙂

Thanks for the link though, reading up and blatantly they have packaged many of the main features of online play into this new elite package.

So do you reckon any others will follow this model?

Like I said, if the extra maps come with it, I have no problem paying for it, if it’s simply a set of stats and an ability to pick your own players in a lobby then no, I won’t pay, I will use it the same way as before

Uh Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t require a monthly fee.
Call of Duty Elite is a free service with premium features. Most of it is free but if you want to compete in daily tournaments you have to pay a monthly fee(reportedly less than Netflix per month)

You’re quite right M, which was what I was trying to explain. You’ve done a better job =) Thanks.

robb192002 says:
31 July 2011

Interesting that BF2 servers are to be switched off shortly after EA unveiled its BattlefieldPLay4Free heavily based upon its 2005 title…BF2.
EA are entranced by the microtransaction model. (Though quite why anyone would buy virtual items for a 6 year old rehashed game I dont know). Suffice to say, even if it wasn’t as heavily exploited as the original its not worth loading up in a browser.