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Persuade, don't force me, to be 'always online'

Monday muse: Compelling online features - not server gates - will push players online, writes Andy Robinson

Forget the troubled launch which saw EA's servers crumble; my biggest problem with SimCity's 'always online' game features is that they simply aren't compelling enough.

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Lack of offline mode aside, the promise of mates' cities on the horizon and the ability to borrow a garbage truck doesn't exactly have me sprinting towards the closest Starbucks offering wi-fi - especially when it's in sacrifice of sizable cities and the ability to manually save my game.

SimCity should have an offline mode, but then it should also have more meaningful online features if EA is to justify the networked ecosystem it so dearly craves.

Its implementation of persistent network play feels slightly cynical, with business - not consumer - interests in mind. However, in the future I personally see a healthy place for this type of game - but only if it's done right.

In 2013 millions of video game players are 'always online', and titles such as Dark Souls - an excellent game offline, but an even better one with network-enabled social features - offer a pertinent example of how games can be too.

FIFA 13, with its real-world stat changes, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, amplified by the brilliant leaderboard system Autolog, are two more titles that don't need a server gateway to push players towards a network, they let meaningful online integration do it for them.

The choice to play these games offline is of course another important facet of their appeal - but that's also because consumers understand that the ability to struggle through Dark Souls alone is technically feasible, while in World of Warcraft it is not.

On the horizon two of the biggest titles announced for next-gen consoles, Ubisoft's Watch Dogs and Bungies super-ambitious Destiny, also promise to integrate online features into their single-player experiences.

As somebody who doesn't sit in online game lobbies very much these days, I find this social splicing of the solo game incredibly exciting - but only if it's laser-focused on enriching the experience, rather than a cheap way of keeping me away from the pre-owned counter.

Instead of locking their toys behind a server gate, game developers could find far more success by creating online hooks so irresistible that no right minded player would consider playing offline.


The Phantom Mystery Deepens

Next Wednesday, March 27, Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima will hold a 90 minute 'Photorealism through the eyes of a Fox' session at GDC in San Francisco.

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The title and length of the lecture already suggests a sizeable announcement from the acclaimed designer, but there are other sources pointing to a GDC megaton.

The mysterious Joakim Mogren, supposed CEO of The Phantom Pain developer Moby Dick Studio, broke cover to hold a rather baffling interview with US publication Game Trailers last week.

During the chat the heavily bandaged exec confirmed that a new Phantom Pain trailer will be shown at GDC this month, claiming that it will "answer all of your questions".

A set of new screenshots seemingly cemented the mysterious title's connection to the Metal Gear series, but now an even more incredible rumour has begun to circulate internet forums.

Users on NeoGAF speculate that the 'Joakim Mogren' seen in the GT interview is in fact a CGI creation powered by Kojima's Fox engine. This would explain the bandages and also why Mogren and host Geoff Keighley are never seen in the same shot together.

It would also make for a pretty amazing reveal and showcase of Fox engine's ability to produce "Photorealism", don't you think?

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