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To The Cloud! Wait...Are Those Servers Still Running?

Nostalgia, video gamesMattComment

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

It reminds us where we came from. It reminds us where things started for us. It gives us insight into our own evolution including the things we've interacted with, things that have taken a foothold in our psyche in order to create that super-attractive, well-rounded, under-paid lovely you see in the mirror most mornings.

Games like Rare Replay and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection along with Nintendo's Virtual Console, specifically prey upon the nostalgic. They remind us why we got into video games in the first place while simultaneously reminding us just how hard those games were. We've either become amazing gamers that can't beat a "simple" 2-D side-scroller or games have become easier due to the 3-D worlds which now permeate our PC's and consoles. But nostalgia doesn't only have to refer to what we played as kids. Going back and replaying a game from a year or two ago could qualify and that's where things get a little interesting.

Nintendo cartridges are still floating around, pretty easily found, and a majority of the games are fairly inexpensive. You can pick up a refurbished (and occasionally still new-in-box) NES or Genesis from a lot of the same sources. The great thing about those consoles and games is that they will work until something actually breaks. Until that point, you can potentially go back and play those games and possibly even pass them down to another generation of gamers who are sorely lacking in understanding their roots. With some current gen games, you might be able to say the same thing. Until the console breaks or the disc snaps, it's all good.

But not all games are going to fall under that umbrella. We're at a point where most games have a soft-requirement for some type of multiplayer component, be it PvP, PvE, what have you. Games like Titanfall and the long awaited Crackdown 3 are doubling down on their multiplayer components by integrating cloud-based computing with their games. This opens up the door for a greater, deeper multiplayer experience by using both the power of your console AND the power of a cloud-based system, which allows developers to create base pieces of their online worlds and subsidize other aspects such as bots, physics, and destruction. But, unlike their cartridge counterparts, these games will eventually become partially, and sometimes even wholly, unplayable. 

This is not a new discussion, but the Crackdown 3 reveal detailing just how integral Microsoft's cloud is to the multiplayer portion of the game kind of kicked the dust off this "issue". Titanfall, for all its warts, is a pretty solid multiplayer game. But that's all it is. There is no true single-player campaign and at some point in the future, there's a good bet the game will be "retired". Essentially, keeping the servers running while the population dwindles becomes a financial and technological burden to Microsoft as well as the developer, in this case, Respawn.

Crackdown 3, which won't be released until next year, is going to eventually hit the same wall. All that incredible destruction, the ability to blow holes into a random building's wall and actually go inside are all built using the cloud. In fact, so much so, that most of that destruction won't even exist in the single-player campaign, which adds another wrinkle to the discussion. You might be able to continue Crackdown 3's single-player mode, letting that wave of nostalgia take over. But if part of that nostalgia comes from one of Crackdown's biggest selling points, the absolute destruction of the city, and the servers are unavailable, then you're still in the same boat as you'll be with Titanfall

Server shut downs happen on a fairly regular basis. You see it commonly with sports games, which makes sense. In fact, shutting down dead-game servers makes sense in general, but on the same token, it kind of sucks. It sucks that, unlike my copy of Pitfall or Super Mario Bros., I can't just find the appropriate console and plug the cartridge in. There is no going back. Once those servers are dead, they're pretty much dead.

This is the world we live in now, for better or worse, and there's no real resolution that I can see with the exception of working with developers/IP owners in efforts to allow crowd-funded servers, but that's not without it's own risks and hitches. Plus, it's no guarantee that you'd have enough people loving the same game you do AND willing to fork over more money - and on a possibly recurring basis - to play a game for nostalgia's sake.

When that rush of nostalgia hits, reminding you how much fun you had with Titanfall, only to find out that the servers have been shuttered, there'll be some disappointment. It's a reminder that in this day and age, much of what you buy isn't something you'll own but something you'll rent. Video games are becoming just that. A long-term rental with a 1-time fee of $60. The question then becomes, did you get your money's worth while you could?

Well? Did you?