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Why always-online consoles are actually good for gamers

Alex Wawro | June 14, 2013
While Microsoft catches hell for a next-gen console that won’t play games without frequent Internet access, developers are building games that all but require you to play online.

Bungie isn't the only developer taking advantage of game consoles designed to be online most of the time. Ubisoft claims its next-gen racing game The Crew takes place in a virtual facsimile of the United States that's persistently online, meaning other players can drop in or out of the game at will.

All the accoutrements of a traditional single-player mode are still present—Ubisoft promises players 20 hours' worth of competitive missions that can be completed alone or with friends—but multiplayer isn't relegated to a separate mode. Instead, any car you meet on the road could be another player tearing up turf in your world—presumably with your permission.

Even character-driven games are evolving to permit mildly multiplayer gameplay, though they have to do a little sleight of hand to pull it off. Consider Watch_Dogs, Ubisoft's open-world game starring vigilante hacker Aiden Pearce. While Watch_Dogs probably offers discrete competitive multiplayer modes, even your single-player campaign can also be invaded by other players—again, only with your permission and only when you aren't in the middle of a mission.

If you allow it, other players—also playing as Aiden—can enter your game and install viruses on your in-game equipment, spy on you through hacked security cameras, and generally cause all sorts of trouble. Every player sees themselves as Aiden Pearce and other players as generic enemy hackers, allowing you to seamlessly interact with other people playing through Watch_Dogs without breaking the illusion that you are living the life of Aiden Pearce.

It's a great way to spice up single-player games with human intelligence, and it's only possible because Watch_Dogs was developed with always-online consoles in mind. But Watch_Dogs is also coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, consoles that benefit from being connected to the Internet without requiring it.

And that's key to making this trend palatable—game developers must create games that reward players for hooking their consoles up to the Internet, without punishing them for going offline.


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