Opinion: Hackers once again expose frailties in gaming’s online future

The brave new online, socially-connected world of video games is not quite proving as revolutionary as we had hoped.

So this Christmas a group that call themselves Lizard Squad claim to have brought down PlayStation Network and Xbox Live (via the old DDoS attack), which effectively rendered both PS4 and Xbox One useless.

It’s quite a significant issue. There was an astronomical number of both consoles sold throughout the UK over the last six weeks. Many of them were wrapped up and nestled under the tree yesterday.

Not that I’ve bought into the hyperbole in the national press. Parents claiming ‘Christmas has been ruined’ and ‘worst Christmas ever’ might need a bit of perspective. I’m sure if you could afford to buy your child a 350 games console, you can always find something else to occupy their Christmas Day outside of the traditional festive pastime of shooting people in the face. Perhaps they could eat a mince pie, drink a glass of Bucks Fizz, and watch a bit of Doctor Who with the family.

I also don’t follow the angry mums and dads who are blaming this on Sony and Microsoft. Yes, perhaps these companies could build bigger walls around their networks (I don’t actually know), but all that really does is force the hackers to build bigger ladders. If the likes of Lizard Squad want to spend their Christmas Day ruining it for others, then they will. And until the authorities start dishing our serious sentences for such anti-social behaviour, there’s little anyone can do about it.

But that’s not to belittle the issue. It has been another dark day for the new online age for video games. So perhaps now is the time to try and alleviate this industry’s over-reliance on the internet.

I hate to sound like the sort of old person that will ask: Hey, do you remember the good old days when games just worked without the need for endless patches and updates?’ but… hey, do you remember the good old days when games consoles just worked without the need for endless patches and updates?

I think it’s neat that this Christmas marked the 20th anniversary of PlayStation. Because on Christmas 1994, when gamers unwrapped their first PlayStation and plugged in Ridge Racer, after a brief loading screen, it worked. Fast-forward 20 years, when gamers plugged in Destiny into their PS4s, it didn’t.

I believe in the socially-connected, online future for video games. What we’ve seen from Destiny and Forza and Watch Dogs and all the rest is something worth getting excited about. But if this industry’s online infrastructure is going to continually suffer set-backs and come under attack, perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so quick to abandon the offline world.

It is actually one of these moments when Nintendo’s slightly archaic way of making games is a benefit. 3DS and Wii U both allow for updates, but they’re never required. You can plug in your Wii U and Mario Kart 8 and play away without any problems. The updates that are available will improve things, but if you don’t have time to download or if your (or Nintendo’s) online service isn’t working, you can still play.

So next year, perhaps developers and publishers should consider doing a couple of things differently. Namely:

1. Day One patches that improve the game but isn’t needed to fix it. It’s simply not good enough if the disc that’s on the shelf doesn’t work without an update.

2. Games that are built for this online-connected future, but are also jolly good without the internet, as well.

This way, when the likes of Lizard Squad want to come along and spoil Christmas for millions, all they’re doing is forcing those people to play their games offline.

And while everyone is still enjoying their new Christmas gifts, Lizard Squad’s members can do nothing but sit there alone, on Christmas Day, scratching their heads, wondering why no-one is listening to them anymore.

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