Gaming today is very closely intertwined with the Internet. Just about everything today needs you to have an internet connection. A decade or so ago, this would have been a big no-no, at least to most of us here in India. But as the Internet began getting faster, cheaper and more accessible to everybody, we’ve crossed that hurdle.
Unfortunately, it looks like there may be a new hurdle heading our way. Yes, we’re talking about FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the FCC repealing Net Neutrality.
What is Net Neutrality?
There might be some of you wondering what exactly Net Neutrality is. We’ll try to explain it to you. In layman’s terms, internet providers used to be categorised as “information providers”, but under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, they were categorised as “common carriers”. Common carriers are regulated by the government, and they basically ensured that there was no discrimination by the ISPs towards consumers. This meant that they ensured everyone got full access to all destinations on the internet, regardless of who was providing them with the connection. All customers and data should be treated equally. This meant that ISPs also couldn’t give special priority to certain websites or web services. This is what Ajit Pai has been trying (and succeeded) to repeal by removing ISPs from the “common carriers” category.
What should we be worried about?
Now you may be wondering, why should we worry about Net Neutrality being repealed in America? It doesn’t affect us. Besides, we recently had our own Net Neutrality problem with Free Basics. Thankfully, Net Neutrality took the win there.
However, Net Neutrality being repealed in the US could have a much more significant impact on the world than if it were to happen anywhere else. For one thing, many of the major gaming companies are based there. Secondly, a lot of developing nations look up to the US as a role model. If this successfully passes in the States, it’s very likely the majority of the world might soon follow suit. India is one such country that’s greatly influenced by the west, so yes, Net Neutrality being repealed in the US might eventually come to bite us in our behinds as well.
How it affects gaming
Like we mentioned previously, gaming today has a huge online presence. The largest player bases are for online games. The majority of which are free-to-play games. We’re talking games like League of Legends which has over 30 million active players a month, or Epic’s latest battle royale game, Fortnite, that’s eclipsed PUBG with the size of its player base. And those are just two of them.
What if we told you that you would now have to pay-to-play? Forget pay-to-win, you’d have to pay a subscription just to be able to properly play the game. Heck, they might let you be able to play the game for free but your connection will be so atrocious you’ll have no choice but to go for the “League of Legends package” at $4.99/month. Gaming services and platforms that are normally free, like Sony’s PlayStation Network, or even using Steam could be put behind a paywall if the ISPs deemed it so.
That’s the scariest part, the power that ISPs are getting. Ajit Pai and the big ISPs in America like Comcast and Verizon are assuring the people that nothing will change and things will only get better. However, people are in doubt. In fact, there have been instances in the past where these ISPs have attempted to bypass the FCCs regulations and have been caught and sued for the same. Throttling connections, false advertising of speeds, tiered internet packages, they’re guilty of all that. And that was while it was illegal. The difference is now, it could all be legal.
We’re sure we won’t see any changes anytime soon. But we’re also sure that there will be long-term ramifications if the repeal goes through. EA predicted that by 2025 or even much earlier, 60 to 70 percent of all its games would be digitally downloaded. And they’re predicted to hit that number sooner.
Then you have platforms like Steam that operate majorly on digital downloads. If ISPs decide to cap data and throttle speeds as they see fit, the number of digital downloads will probably drop significantly. Heck, over here we’ve only just gotten past the phase where we blew an entire month’s quota just to download GTA V or Witcher 3, we really don’t want to go back to those days.
But it doesn’t end there. If a major ISP decides that they want to enter the digital distribution game, it would be very easy for them to compete with platforms not associated with them. They could easily have it so they have no data cap if games are downloaded from their own platform, but have the cap remain for other platforms. They could even throttle speeds for those downloading from those platforms, but provide high speeds for their own platform or associated platforms. If you were in this situation, which platform would you opt for? We’d probably choose the one without the data cap.
careers in gaming
It’s not just the gamers who are affected by this. People with careers in gaming will also be affected. Especially people who are reliant on the Internet for their income. We’re talking about YouTube and Twitch streamers. Imagine if streamers had to pay more in order to stream at better qualities. Or imagine if users had to pay extra in order to watch their favourite streamers. This also affects eSports. All the commentators, pro players and streamers in the industry who were discovered thanks to the open internet will suffer.
Game development will also take a hit. Especially indie game development. A lot of game development takes place with assets being sent over long distances over the internet. This is because many solo developers often collaborate in order to put games out. Not all developers have the money to be able to put up a studio and move to new places just to build a new game.
We can go on and on about why repealing Net Neutrality is bad but it would take way too much space. Here’s hoping it doesn’t eventually begin to affect the rest of world.