Last weekend we here at 7outof10 held our seventh Halopalooza, a LAN-party revolving around all things Halo. In the past there have been cakes and certificates for outstanding play, however the centrepiece of the event is always a marathon session of Bungie’s seminal shooter that goes long into the night.
Whilst Master Chief and his fellow Spartans may dominate online play, our ‘paloozas would not be possible without System Link or LAN play. The ability to easily lash a series of machines together with lengths of Ethernet cabling and start battling it out has been a staple of competitive gaming for many years, but the end may be near for such things.
Last week Blizzard announced that their much anticipated RTS Starcraft 2 would not include LAN functionality. This came as somewhat of a shock to Starcraft’s fanatical following, for it is a game so popular that in the Far East televised tournaments have spawned professional players who have gone on to become national heroes. Some put part of the title’s success is down to the ability to host such events, something easily achieved over a LAN. So why would Blizzard seemingly cut off a core part of what made the original so popular?
As with so many things in business, cost could be a large factor. No matter how much code is shared between online and LAN play the testing involved in what are technically two distinct modes is immense. Tester’s won’t take your word that the two are identical and will hammer the game to within an inch of its life in a bid to garner the best user experience possible. With multiplayer games especially, reputations can be dashed overnight with poor net code and so skimping on such quality assurance is not an option. Losing a surplus mode, however, is; it could slash the duration and final cost of testing dramatically. I know for a fact that many developers are actively encouraged to forgo LAN play for this very reason.
Piracy could also be cited. A large user-base on the PC does not necessarily translate into sales. In certain regions piracy is rife and one way to minimise this risk to the developer is to force the game to be authenticated every time it is played. Getting the user to be connect to an authentication server on boot up, ala Steam, is a relatively unobtrusive method of making sure that only those with valid copies can play your game. The natural progression is to then think that if you’re already connected to the internet why do you need LAN play?
Both seem reasonable arguments but with an online petition bearing the names of many multiple of thousands of players it seems as though people like the flexibility, the ease of a LAN. I have many fond memories of university and ‘paloozas, constructing our networks out of coloured wires and duct tape. Swapping those with the thought of just “logging on” seems to take some of the magic away.
What the decision probably comes to rest on is that the proportion of players who are dedicated enough to setup their own house-party based around any game is very tiny indeed. For most the thought of lugging equipment around to another person’s house is a little too much effort and they would much prefer the ease of signing onto the internet and getting their fix from the comfort of their favourite chair.
We are the hardcore and we shouldn’t forget that. The way the market is evolving means our numbers are reducing swiftly and whilst developers that do pander to our whims should be held aloft and praised, those that don’t should not be vilified; they’re just playing a numbers game.