Editorial: Taking It Online

Games are more exciting when death is permanent.

The decision to take Diablo 3 online meant that hardcore characters could no longer be backed up to escape permanent death.

The internet has been in an uproar during the last few weeks over the announcement that Breath of Fire 6 will be an online-only game for PC, tablets, and smartphones. I was not shocked to hear that this iteration of the franchise will be a mobile game as Capcom have produced other Breath of Fire spin-off titles for the mobile phone market in the last ten years, though none of them have reached Western shores. No, my amazement comes from the fact that this will only be playable online and seems to be part of a shift that the industry is taking towards requiring permanent connections to play games.

Games produced in this way for the mobile market are often stripped down to the bare basics. Look at Book of Heroes, a fine game for iOS and Android that takes the addictive nature of gearing up from World of Warcraft and removes everything that does not support the player in earning currency to purchase, enhance, or upgrade their gear. Not being tied to any other IP, players picking up Book of Heroes for the first time will have no expectations other than what others have told them about the game, even then, players will enter into it knowing it for what it is. This is not the case for Breath of Fire 6, as players have certain expectations from a mainline entry of the twenty year old franchise.

Other developers have tried to take their game franchises online with varying degrees of success. Blizzard have been taking their franchises online with each new release. Fans cried out when Diablo 3 was announced to be online-only due to the real money auction house. The former lead designer later admitted that the auction house hurt the game as players that wanted to be equipped to deal with monsters on higher difficulties and spent more time farming currency to buy their ideal weapon rather than waiting for one to drop. Later patches to the game made the blacksmith easier to use, and while it still is not as effective as buying a gear from the auction house, it certainly is a lot cheaper and makes the game considerably more fun.

Not this month, that's for sure.

I cannot even imagine how long it takes to get to this stage in Anno Online.

Square Enix took their franchise down a completely different path when they chose to make Final Fantasy XI an MMO. Although it was awkward to setup and required a fair amount of grinding, the game was praised for its large amount of content. Releasing the game on consoles gave gamers without a computer a way to play an MMO and quickly became one of the most played games on Xbox Live. Releasing a second Final Fantasy MMO, Square Enix should not have had much trouble giving their fans more of the same, but the release of Final Fantasy XIV was anything but smooth. The company had to issue two formal apologies to customers, recognising the poor quality of the game. The game was even free-to-play for over a year while in order to allow players to experience a reshuffled development teams updates before committing to the game.

There are many other franchises heading into the online space, though none are huge names or well advertised. The Settlers, Stronghold, Age of Empires, and Anno have all had an online make-over. These game are all free to play and supported by micro transactions. Having played Anno 2070 recently, I decided to give Anno Online a go to see how it compares. The Anno series have never been a fast-paced games, but this browser offering takes the snails pace to a new extreme. Resources come in very slowly, and as the settlement grows, extra infrastructure must be placed to keep up with the demands of the citizens. The fun part of Anno was managing the interactions between islands to secure materials to grow further, but after two days this is still nowhere in sight. In fact, I still cannot use the entirety of my starting island!

So, as long as developers see larger profits from online games, we will continue to see other franchises go free-to-play with micro transactions to keep the money rolling in for years. The only way we can combat this is by not touching these games. If we chose to play Breath of Fire 6 should it get released in the West, then who knows what will come next? What about a Mega Man game where one could challenge Dr. Wily at any time, but the robot master levels must be bought? No thanks!

Would you consider playing Breath of Fire 6? Would you play an MMO on a console if it was free-to-play? Let me know in the comments!

3 comments on “Editorial: Taking It Online”

  1. I think it’s also interesting what certain expectations can do for a game. If you go and turn a franchise game into a crap mobile game people will be pretty upset, but is it because it’s unexpected or because it’s crap? Probably both.

    And the push for online is fine in my opinion as long as the online aspect is actually adding something, and isn’t just a way for game makers to verify that I bought the game. D3 really straddled that line between being online for a good reason and cutting into some aspects people liked about the previous, offline entries. Arguably the biggest reason for requiring a connection was the Auction Houses, and those were found to change the game in not-always-positive ways. Eventually the expectation of consumers to be online for any reason will be a real one in more and more locations across the globe.

  2. IMO BoF6 was probably completely unrelated to the BoF series for the first 2/3 of development, with the BoF name cynically slapped on at the last minute for marketing purposes.

    This really tarnishes the BoF name, but then Capcom obviously has no plans to resurrect the series in any meaningful way, so it doesn’t matter to them.

  3. I really don’t care for the phrase “push for online.” I don’t think it’s fine, Mel. I feel like “pushing” for online is what makes games that are meant to be experienced offline get forced into some kind of unfitting multi-player structure that doesn’t make the game better in any way. Leader boards and things like that are a fun addition to any game. I was surprised to see that Tales of Vesperia had an online leader board for the arena battles. That was a nice online ADDITION to the series. The last thing any series needs is for their developers to say, “Well, ‘open world’ and ‘online’ are all the rage so let’s do that.” If that’s the direction that the developers TRULY see a game series should go, then that’s fine.

    Breath of Fire VI, Star Ocean: Material Trader, and Circle of Mana have all proven to me just how naive I’ve been. I never thought things would go quite like this.

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