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The Loss Of Net Neutrality Could Put Gaming Back A Decade

The loss of net neutrality could not only impact gamers playing modern video games but it could impact the types of games that are made in the future.

For those who have somehow avoided the developments of net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to vote to implement changes to Barack Obama’s Net Neutrality bill next month.  This would give internet providers the ability to charge users however they see fit, opening the door to extortionate charges for what many people deem to be “normal” usage.

Use Twitter?  Fine, you’ll need to pay for the social media package.

Like to watch movies on Netflix?  No problem, but you’ll have to pay for the streaming package.

Play video games?  Good news, there’s a “Premium Gaming Plan” for you to pay for – lucky you.

While this will undoubtedly hurt people’s pockets, it could also impact how developers go about creating video games.  It may sound ridiculous, but when money talks, customers may no longer be willing to drop $60 on a video game on top of their increased $100 a month internet package (I made that number up and I’m sorry).

Technological developments have significantly altered the path of the video game industry.  Video game file sizes are getting larger and larger.  GTA V is in excess of 60GB, Wolfenstein: New Order is in excess of 50GB, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare is in excess of 70GB.  With 4k graphics soon to become the benchmark, video game files will only get larger.

And, how do we get these games?  In 2009, 20% of game sales were digital and 80% were physical. I 2016, a whopping 74% of game sales were digital and 26% were physical (thanks, Statista).  Those digital games needed to be downloaded, rather than purchased on a disc, which uses bandwidth that the FCC cannot wait to make you pay for.

This is all before we even mention playing video games online.  Whether it is an MMORPG, an FPS, or a sports title, many gamers love jumping online to play with – or compete against – fellow players.  The FCC, again, wants you to open your wallet to pay for the privilege on top of your existing internet package.

So, what could this mean for the future of the video game industry?  It could mean any number of things but many of them could see the industry set itself back a decade.

Video games could begin to come with smaller file sizes.  This could be accomplished by the world sizes being cut down, chunks of voice acting and sound being removed and graphics quality reduced.  Visually impressive huge open worlds like those in GTA V and The Witcher 3 could become a thing of the past, with gamers only being able to download a limited file size or be massively over-charged for it.

This could also impact the success of online games.  I love flying around Rocket League like a firework that should never have passed quality control as much as I enjoy jumping into MMORPGs and avoiding conversation with everyone on the server.  With that being said, if I knew I had to pay an extra $50 a month for the privilege, I’d have to think with my wallet – life is expensive enough as it is.

In time, this could result in video game companies focusing less on multiplayer experiences and more on single player titles – a shift that has been going in the other direction for several years.  Whether modern expectations could be stripped back to a smaller file size and still held in as high regard as modern titles remains to be seen.

What this could mean is a boon for indie games.  Video games by independent developers have generally (but not always) been less focused on having a combination of incredible visuals, a mammoth map and seemingly endless quests.  Many have instead focused on introducing unique gameplay mechanics or a strong story.  The condensed scope of some of these indie games has resulted in some truly brilliant experiences – experiences that would continue to thrive despite bandwidth limitations.

But, suppose that you aren’t ready to let go of your 4K graphics, you like your maps to be the size of a real-world continent and you want to play against people across the world?  Well, there’s a way you could have all of that without your internet provider annihilating your bank account.  Buy the disc.

Physical video game releases could become the norm again.

This could be positive as much as it could be a negative.  With modern video games often being released requiring a patch, video game developers would have an extra onus on themselves to release their games in a near-perfect state, as players will loath downloading a patch.  On the other hand, physical media carries its own expense which increases the price that gamers pay for their games.  It could also lead to games being released without a day one patch being ready to fix issues, which creates its own problems.  What will likely ultimately happen is purchasers of physical media will need to make the decision between upgrading their package to download a patch, or soldier on with a substandard product.  Neither is ideal.

I am firmly for net neutrality and against those who threaten it – internet providers shouldn’t be entitled to censor or charge more for the content that should be readily available to free people in a free country, such as America.  As a gamer, I also fear for the damage it could inflict on the industry that I, and we, hold so dear.  Americans deserve better and we as gamers deserve better.

(Edit: I am FOR net neutrality, not against it…thank you, eagle-eyed readers!  That’s what happens when you’re trying to write, edit and entertain a 2-year-old!  #GrownGamerProblems)

Written by John

I'm a 36-year-old gamer, clinging onto the gamepad despite real life responsibilities trying to pull me kicking and screaming away. You can follow me on Twitter: @johnlevelsup.

Current setup: Gaming PC with a 1080 Ti, Xbox Series X, Steam Deck, and retro consoles, on a Gigabyte M32Q monitor, sitting on a Flexispot E7 standing desk.