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Destiny, planned obsolescence, and the future of DRM

When Microsoft originally announced the Xbox One, the backlash to the online check-in requirement was enormous. Not only were the people who don't have access to fast, reliable, cap-free broadband upset, but so was a wide swath of the community who look at games as an art and entertainment form and not just a disposable product. What Microsoft announced wasn't just a new way for your console to function. It was an end to the video game industry as we knew it.

I'm relived this isn't the future we live in, but we're honestly not far off from it.

The online pass never had that strong of a response. It was unpopular and ultimately did more harm than good to the games publishers were trying to make more money off of, so the program was eventually dropped anyway. But if it stuck around, I think life would have carried on as usual in the industry. The only thing that was ever walled behind the online pass was the online multiplayer (and in some cases bits of mostly meaningless single player content). When it comes to console games, all online servers get shut down eventually. The online pass didn't change that reality.

The original plan for the XB1 was an entirely different beast. Without access to Live, every game disc you bought for that thing was a brick. If you couldn't authenticate the game, you couldn't use it, single or multiplayer. One day when the XB1 successor is released and the Live servers get shut down for it (just as they did with the Original Xbox and just like they will with the 360), everyone's discs would have been useless. If you want to play those games again, you'll have to rebuy them someplace else. No Steam offline mode. No local play. Gaming is no longer art to be experienced, it's a product with an expiration date.

What if shutting the Original Xbox servers meant you couldn't play this in any capacity?

Fast forward to today, and that post-apocalyptic gaming future has seemingly been avoided. Microsoft pulled its so called "Xbox 180", reversed its DRM policy with the XB1, and over the past year has been changing its strategy to better respond to what consumers want, instead of what Microsoft tells them they're supposed to buy. The PS4 may have gotten an early lead this generation, but things definitely seem to be heating up going into the holidays. Is the industry in a better place? Sure. But there's another problem we need to address.

This past March, Respawn Entertainment released the highly anticipated Titanfall, the culmination of four years of work by the core staff responsible for bringing you the early Call of Duty games. I'll be the first person to admit that I'm a fan of COD. My in game play time on Modern Warfare 2 is over two weeks, and I've pumped dozens of hours into almost all the other sequels as well, both the single and multiplayer modes. But I didn't buy Titanfall. I have a fully functioning 360, at the time my Live sub was still active, but the idea of an online only game being sold for $60 didn't interest me at all. Especially when I know that, as EA always does, the servers for Titanfall will be shut off somewhere between the release of the first and second sequels.

So how long until this is all your Titanfall disc does? Two years? Three maybe?

And so we come to Destiny. Now I've been following this game for quite a long time. Ever since that easter egg referencing the game was hidden in Halo 3: ODST, I've been eagerly awaiting the release of Bungie's first new IP in over a decade. When we started to get news on the game, I was excited. As time passed, reality eventually set in: this might not technically be an MMO, but it's sure as hell going to function like one. And what does that mean? It's a brick if you can't get online, and once the servers go down permanently it stays that way. It's yet another product with an expiration date. Just like every version of Windows Microsoft pulls support from to get you to buy the new one. Just like every mediocre upgrade to whatever smartphone Apple and Samsung try to sell you this year while they stop giving security patches to the old models.

As we already know from the contract between Bungie and Activision that came out as part of the West/Zampella lawsuit, Destiny is a ten year project. Each game in this franchise will be released on a roughly two year schedule, with expansion packs (referred to as "Comets") being released in the off years. This isn't something that happened organically as a result of the first Destiny being a success. This didn't come together during development when they realized they had more ideas than they could fit into one game. No, this was planned before a single line of code was ever written for Destiny. Much like the social and mobile games we despise which are built around their business models and not their gameplay mechanics, Bungie and Activison are doing the exact same thing in the boxed retail space on consoles.

Don't worry mask guys. I'll see you again in 2 years... and another 2 years... and...

And how do they pull that off? An always online requirement. They don't want you booting up Destiny 1 a decade from now and playing split screen with a friend. They want you to drop another $60 on Destiny 5: Who Gives a Fuck What it's Called Just Buy It Already. They want you in that ecosystem, buying more microtransactions and DLC for that game, and constantly posting to social media to add to Activision's ludicrous $500M development and marketing budget for Destiny. If they can't kill the second hand market with DRM, they just build these products around being the DRM itself. And from the looks of The Crew and The Division, Ubisoft seems to be joining EA and Activision with this sad excuse for a "business model".

As you've probably already noticed, Destiny isn't coming to PC. I think that's intentional. That open ecosystem is a direct threat to ActiBlizz's bottom line. They don't want someone modding Destiny to work offline, just like we saw with Sim City and their own Diablo III. That would only prove that the always online requirement isn't a necessity, it's just a forced mandate. Destiny isn't actually an MMO, and as such Activision isn't going to have to pay for server upkeep or content updates like they would for an actual MMO. But that's not stopping them from walling off the game like it is one.

Welcome to the "next generation", ladies and gentlemen.
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About ctg867one of us since 2:47 AM on 11.29.2013

I'm an (aging) dude who plays games and comments about stuff. Been on Dtoid since 2010-ish, back during the Sterling days, though this account's a bit newer than that. Don't post on the FP anymore but you can find me on Qtoid and (occasionally) the Cblogs.

I also stream on Twitch sometimes, if you're interested: