Oh net-neutrality. The ongoing struggles between internet service providers and internet content creators continue. ISPs like Verizon and Comcast have already tried to get users to pay more for Netflix and other video streaming services. Now, the shift in focus is changing from movies to video games. The days of digital distribution may be at an end.
Verizon Chairman and CEO, Lowell McAdam said (via Network World) that he believes users that use up more bandwidth should pay more, and a key demographic of these users are gamers. He said “It’s only natural that the heavy users help contribute to the investment to keep the Web healthy.”
I don’t know, the web seems pretty healthy to me. I still get my cat pictures without any trouble.
The theory is this: right now, most ISPs don’t place a cap on your internet activity. While certain ISPs have been rumored to throttle your speeds when accessing an enormous amount of data at once, it’s still basically an open field day for bandwidth in the internet world. Your grandma, who barely uses a gigabyte of data a month just to send e-mails to her grandkids, pays the same amount for the same internet that a gamer who downloads multiple 40GB games a month does. Similarly, grandma is only using this bandwith sporadically while gamerdude clocks the intertubes for hours every night vomiting up n00b hate and racial slurs on Call of Duty. Is it fair for them to pay the same amount?
That is a tricky question that’s hard to answer. However, if the answer is no, then that has some heavy implications for the future of our industry. For example, if ISPs start imposing caps on the amount of bandwith you have access to, it will put a hard stop to digital distribution. Depending on where the cap is set, a few downloaded games will easily use up all of your bandwith. In my college years, oh so long ago, we were capped at 2 GB, and we had a fiber optic connection. That wouldn’t even cover a tenth of some downloaded games today. Similarly, if heavy speed caps are instituted then you will likely find your digital download rate slow to a crawl.
Not to mention, if ISPs continue to throttle your connection speeds then it will have a serious negative effect on online gaming. Slow connections will introduce lag in online matches. Depending on the degree of slowdown, connections may drop, in which case you could be punished for ragequitting. Not to mention, restrictions like this will basically put a stop to all Twitch.TV streaming, social networking, remote game control, and all of those other swanky new features that next generation consoles are advertising.
Of course, all of this will depend on how strict these restrictions are, and how much it might cost to surpass them, but if the cost ends up being too crippling, gaming may be set back several generations, back to brick and mortar disk days when you actually had to sit on a friend’s couch to play him in a shooter. To some of us, that might not be all that bad, but anything that impedes technological progress, in gaming or otherwise, certainly deserves to be thought about twice.
Senior Contributing Writer