The Elalgphant in the Room
I just got back in town very briefly from a trip to a part of New Mexico with what I will refer to generously as "spotty" internet. I'd actually spent an entire
summer in this town (Truth or Consequences, NM for the curious), and dealing with the difficulty of connecting to the net was an eye-opening experience in and
of itself. This trip reminded me of something that can be really easy to forget when you live somewhere that free Wi-Fi and broadband access is widely distributed. Not
everyone that games has access to broadband internet, and some of those that do have bandwidth caps. A lot of the world [name some countries, Japan, etc.] treat the
internet like a public service, and don't allow monopolies to develop.
If you live in much of the United States, you're pretty much stuck with whomever services the area you're in. If they offer terrible support and spotty service, tough
luck. Google is looking into shaking up this paradigm with their limited google fiber rollouts, but those have been limited to areas like Austin Texas. While it's
encouraging to see things like that, or the start-up Brooklyn Fiber, until
regulations on the internet industry bring us to an arrangement closer to countries that treat the internet as a utility that deserves more competition I don't expect
the consumer to have any better options any time soon.
Part of the issue for those with limited access to broadband goes way beyond a mere speed problem. At this point the deck is stacked against someone who has a slow
internet connection. Forget streaming, loading simple webpages can become a chore because of lazy design. As the average internet speed has increased, the emphasis on
coding web-pages for absolute minimal bandwidth tax has been laid to the side, if not outright abandoned. Reactive web-pages, fancy HTML 5 interfaces, anything having
to do with flash. All of that is no fun on an internet connection that chugs.
Offline and campaign modes are extremely important to those
who know from the outset they aren't going to be able to play over the net.
So with all these problems for the casual browser, it's easy to see where this is going with relation to a high-use activity like gaming. If you're trying to play a
twitchy shooter on a laggy connection, good luck. Want to play Diablo 3 on hardcore mode? Get ready for the inevitable lag-spike deaths. Blizzard has stood by their
online-only decision from the outset of D3, and honestly they've made their case pretty well. That being said, it's still a bummer for the person who wants to play but
just can't get a reliable connection to the servers. Really no game is immune to the issues of slow speeds. Offline and campaign modes (when possible!) are extremely important to those
who know from the outset they aren't going to be able to play over the net. One of the big issues with Minecraft early in it's development was the lack of ways to play
with friends on a world you'd originally created to play alone (like you might do when not able to get online), and true to Mojang's style they added the ability to
open a single-player game to LAN connections, facilitating the kind of local Multiplayer that created my fondest memories of Minecraft.
The issues are many in this department, and not every company is designing with the contigient of internet-challenged fans in mind. Until internet speed averages
across the entire world are increased, let's hope that the industry as a whole does what they can when possible to make the play experience as enjoyable as they can
for those still playing internet speed catchup.
[Editorial Note: I had to wait to post this until I could find somewhere with internet while traveling. Irony.]
Your faithful avatar,