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Cloud Gaming Paranoia!!!

posted on April 7th, 2010 by tyson

Call me paranoid but I have never been a fan of “cloud” computing. I like having all of my files stored on my computer. I like having my games on discs. I like knowing that if something goes haywire, I am the one responsible and I am the one that can fix it. It seems like the general trend for computing has been to have massive servers out there in the wilds of Oregon and Washington take care of all of the heavy lifting and maintenance of data while the computers we are using keep getting smaller and more portable. Gaming has followed these trends and I find it troubling for handful of reasons. I have always written off these worries as the product of my overactive imagination but recent events have given me reason to suspect I might be right to worry.

Take the recent issues with Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed 2 for instance. Here you have thousands of people locked out of a game they own because the serverside DRM took a huge dump. I find this irritating for a couple of reasons. First, I understand the need to protect your games from pirates and online ninjas and whatnot but do companies really need to implement systems that require games to send their progress saves to the server for authentication? Not only does this seem like it would be spendy for a game publisher to have to do but what happens if next time, instead of just locking people out of their game for a couple of days, something corrupts their saves and gamers have to start over once the server issues get resolved? Yes, they probably make backups of these files (I hope and pray) but who says they do that everyday and could reinstate saves immediately? What if when the game recovered from a crash and players find that any progress they made in the last two days is gone? I know I am asking a lot of questions here but it is because I have a lot of questions and take issue with these practices. Ubisoft blamed hackers for the incident and that bugs me too because if random people can break into DRM servers, who is to say they can’t delete saves or alter them to brick a console when the gamer logs in to play and information gets transferred. Is this a stretch? Yes, but it is feasible. If you look at how modern consoles are exploited by homebrew authors, game saves are often points of weakness in terms of system security. The PSP, Wii, and Xbox are all consoles that come to mind.

Also very high on my creepy scale are the leap year clock issues that older (my) Playstation 3s experienced a couple of weeks ago. The glitch that resulted in some data loss was due to the internal clock of older PS3 models not jiving with the Playstation Store’s clock and resulting in a freak out. Had the PS3’s not needed to talk to another server, there would have not been any problems. Other than catching and patching bugs like this before they occur, I do not see how this could have been avoided. There are always going to be goofy glitches like this and I expect their occurrences to rise as gaming consoles become almost indistinguishable from regular computers.

Another issue I have is with DLC. Everyone likes downloadable content and it seems that as time goes by, almost all games are getting it. I have purchased DLC in the past and will do so in the future but the more DLC a player accumulates, the more stuff that will need to be recovered if that person’s console harddrive ever crashes. Depending on the internet connection of the gamers, you are looking at hours in lost time and more money possibly being spent to get back something you have already purchased. All of these hassles are because the trend is going toward not putting stuff on discs anymore. I love DLC in the sense that it lets developers keep a game alive and find ways to keep gamers coming back. I do not like the fact that I can’t physically get a copy of some of that content.

As a collector of games, the internet is killing me. I see a bright future for PSP games and other consoles but I also see a future in which, I can no longer see the cases for those games lining my selves. Nintendo has already said that its next true portable upgrade may only have an internal hard drive and no cartridge slot and Sony is fielding its disc-less PSP Go with limited success. The same goes for many of the indy titles available on Xbox Live and the Playstation Store. This is a double-edged blade because I understand that marketing and packaging costs money that smaller developers may not have access to and Xbox Live distribution vehicle. An indy house can easily get a game to a large audience without the overhead that packaging and distribution brings with it. But man, the materialistic nerd in me really likes looking a rows of expensive and pretty cases lining my selves. It is not like you can make a game sold online rare without implementing some crazy limited sales run. Who would do that, especially if the title was popular? The one upside I can see for having games purchased online is that they will never scratch or break and you will never have to blow into a cartridge and press reset repeatedly. Even games on discs have a shelf life (usually 20-30 years depending on storage conditions) so the online alternative is helpful in this way. I just don’t like it.

I am not calling for all of us to go back to the days of the original Playstation or Nintendo 64 when gaming online was only for people playing Doom or Wolfenstein and I don’t see the current trends reversing themselves. People are getting to be more trusting of online environments in which even their cell phones play games and go online. Historically, video games have always had glitches that have caused many gamers a nervous breakdown or two but as new stands of playablility are introduced, new glitches appear. In an age in which game publishers are now keeping and accessing our save data, I just can’t help but worry about scenarios that could make my gaming experience an unpleasant one. Then again, maybe I am just paranoid.

4 Comments

  1. christian said on April 7, 2010:

    This isn’t so much a problem with the concept of cloud computing, as it is how gaming uses it. Most cloud solutions intend to allow you to store files and content in a place where you, and maybe others, can get to it from a variety of locations, since it isn’t tied to hardware. And in the end, you still have control. You can get the files, convert them, back them up, whatever.

    Meanwhile, some publishers are using it so that consumers have absolutely no control over the content they paid for, while still tying your access rights to hardware. It’s just a way to use digital distribution to bolster their DRM schemes.

    Those that use the cloud for storage and convenience will last (see Steam). Those that use it to punish gamers will have no choice but to give up (see Ubisoft).

  2. Cunzy1 1 said on April 8, 2010:

    Yes, Hideo’s comments recently are essentially predicting that consoles will be replaced by some magical future system that seems to, for all intents and purposes, work like a PC. Now, I love DRM, patches, updates, graphics cards, sound cards, monitor settings, crashes, freezing, changing security settings, anything to do with routers and installing as much as the next man but I can still [quickly checks] pop in a copy of Resident Evil and my original PlayStation memory card and be playing the game I suspended three years ago within minutes.
    The PS3 and Xbox 360 are already essentially under-the-TV PCs with all the frustration that brings albeit without the functionality of an PC.

    Either way, if cloud gaming does take off, there needs to be some serious implementation of user friendliness. For it to have any kind of commercial success it really really does need to be plug in and play. It’s time to lose the godawful-tech fiddling if consoles truly are “on the way out”.

  3. AK said on April 8, 2010:

    Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean you are wrong.

    I realized how crappy things were years ago, when my HD crashed before I could backup my latest iTunes purchase. Apple said, “tough shit.” They had my receipts, but once I downloaded the files they didn’t care if I had purchased them or not. Customer service told me to use my iTunes account history as a “helpful tool” to repurchase the music I liked.

    There are many trends in DRM, DLC, and the cloud that are terribly worrisome. So far the general populous doesn’t care because it hasn’t bitten them on their asses enough.

    Culture persists, be it videogames, film, video, music, art, literature, history, technology, science, medicine, whatever, because we have a permanent public record for it to persist. DRM, DLC, all of that means that one year’s culture will be inaccessible when your iPhone or iCrap dies. People won’t, and can’t afford to repurchase the same IP every few years. Too bad that’s the way things are going.

  4. Michelle said on April 12, 2010:

    I too am more than a little paranoid about cloud computing, and I feel my views might represent a fair section of the gaming population, put simply there is still real scepticism due to the “collector like” status of our hobby, weaning people off physical copies of anything – even in this the most digital of mediums – will always be a bit of a hard sell, particularly with all the mistakes made with it’s various implementations thus far.

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