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Drawbacks of online-only gaming shown by Titanfall failure

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Emptying the clip of a machine gun into a belligerent machine is what many Optus users are fantasising about instead of playing Titanfall this week.

Emptying the clip of a machine gun into a belligerent machine is what many Optus users are fantasising about instead of playing Titanfall this week.

If there's one thing that the annual record-breaking launch of a new Call of Duty proves, it's that online action gaming is very big business. When Call of Duty: Ghosts sold a billion dollars worth in its first 24 hours on sale, gamers weren't buying it for its single-player campaign; they were after the multiplayer. In fact, a huge portion of those buyers never even touched the campaign - they stuck the disc into their machine and got straight into online play.

It makes sense, then, that major new games would be targeting this online gamer market by doing away with single-player altogether. This is precisely what Titanfall has done, telling a campaign story through dialogue before, after, and during multiplayer matches. Before a battle, a couple of characters will talk about what they want to achieve, dialogue during the match may explain how things are developing, and then when the battle is won or lost, these characters will talk about what this means for their war effort.

Titanfall is the debut title from Respawn Entertainment, a new studio formed primarily from staff who left Call of Duty creator Infinity Ward after a public spat with their publisher Activision. Considering this heritage, Titanfall's focus on multiplayer is unsurprising, but the fact that it is exclusively online and has no single-player component whatsoever is a bold step.

In Australia, Titanfall's launch last week was marred by controversy when those many who had purchased the game and who happened to be connected to the internet through Optus broadband were unable to get into the match. Users are reporting that they can load the game up, but when they try to connect to an online server to actually join a match, they would get an error message, or get a never-ending "waiting to connect" message.

These technical issues have thrown a spotlight onto the drawbacks of a game that is played entirely online. The primary issue is that your game experience relies so much on factors outside your control, with your internet connection and the game's online servers both dictating the quality of your experience. In the case of Titanfall, nobody seems to be sure who is responsible, with fans calling on both Optus and the game's publisher Electronic Arts to find a solution. Optus has stated they are working on it, but after almost a week they still have no ETA.

This situation is even worse when you remember that Titanfall had a month-long beta trial, and Optus customers were already reporting back in February that they were unable to get into a game. Optus said they were working on the issue back then, but the beta period ended before anyone could be sure that they had fixed whatever was causing the problem.

The cruel irony is that EA went to the expense of hosting game servers right here in Australia, so anyone not on Optus is finding the game to be smooth and responsive. Most online games do not have local servers, and players in this country have to connect with machines in Asia, USA, or even further afield, and their gaming experience suffers from the distance.

If you've bought an online-only game and have connection issues, then the sad fact is that you have nothing to fall back on. There's no single-player to while away the time as you wait for the problem to be fixed. Then there's the problem of longevity: even if a game launches well, you never know how long people will keep playing it. If the player base tapers off in six or twelve months, even those with a strong internet connection may struggle to find a match, as there won't be enough people to play with.

Titanfall really is a great game, and it's a pity that the launch of such a highly-anticipated title has been marred by technical issues that may have been outside Respawn and EA's control. I have only played it for a few hours so far, but it's a wonderfully fast-moving and fluid action experience. I'll have a full review here on Screen Play in a few days.

That said, I have always preferred a story-driven single-player campaign to short and brutal multiplayer sessions, so I do spend a lot of my time on Titanfall wishing it had a campaign for me to play. My own home internet (BigPond ADSL) is a tad flaky, so when I am playing a fast online game like this, I have to ask the other people who live in my house to avoid downloading big files or clogging up the internet some other way.

Over to you, readers. Did any of you participate in the Titanfall beta, or have you bought the full game? Have you had issues getting into lobbies or games? Have you ever bought another game for its online multiplayer and had connection or performance troubles? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Update: An EA Australia employee on Twitter has pointed me toward an explanation from Optus that the issue is caused by Optus blocking TCP port 80, apparently because this port is necessary to host a website and Optus doesn't want its domestic customers running websites off their home PCs. The trouble is that Titanfall uses the same port for multiplayer communications, so having it blocked makes it near-unplayable. Optus is reputedly working on a solution to allow Titanfall information to go through the port without unblocking it entirely, which appears to be the source of the delay.

Update #2: I have been contacted directly by Melanie from Optus, who said the following: "We’re aware there have been issues for some of our cable broadband customers accessing the game “Titanfall”. Our network engineers are continuing to investigate the issue, but have not been able to consistently replicate the issue and get to the root cause. We’d like to thank the customers that have got in touch and given us traceroute info and other specifics, as this is a great help. We’d encourage other customers still experiencing the problem to contact Optus directly on 1300 300 9371300 300 937 and give us the details, as this will help us gather more information, diagnose the issue and get a fix. We know it’s frustrating not being able to access this new game, and we apologise for the disruption to some of our customers’ “Titanfall” gaming experience."

A big thankyou to Phil Speak who notified me about this issue on Twitter yesterday.

 - James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter Screen Play is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

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27 comments so far

  • optus are a second rate provider, I have worked in their faults dept and they will have no clue nor incentive to fix this issue.

    Commenter
    tito
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    March 18, 2014, 6:31AM
    • In an industry where just about every providers service is "2nd rate" (yes even telstra) that's like saying the sky is blue.

      Commenter
      RocK_M
      Location
      I want chinese take-away!
      Date and time
      March 18, 2014, 11:12AM
  • I haven't bought titian fall but I m immediately reminded of the flak d3 has received and is still receiving now about requiring online connection for play. As a d2 player I understand what they were trying to achieve in preventing dupers and the like but it has limited the way I play as after some early attempts at hardcore I realise that deaths come cheap due to latency spikes completely out of my control.

    Also let's not forget the Sim City debacle that required an online connection!

    Commenter
    Stubby
    Date and time
    March 18, 2014, 7:37AM
    • Online only games are fun to play, but I think the Freemium models are actually better suited for them, that allows you to dip your toe in the water and see if you like how it plays before you invest. Paying full price for a game I usually prefer a full single player campaign, as it is I'm thinking of waiting for a bit before I buy titanfall, price will drop and they'll have ironed out some of the bugs.

      Commenter
      Davo B
      Date and time
      March 18, 2014, 8:38AM
      • Haven't played Titanfall, but I did buy Warhawk (i think thats the name for it), which was an online only PS3 game. I enjoyed playing it, but after a while the online only stuff gets a bit dull.

        The other factor to remember is that they will eventually shut the servers off when the game is no longer popular (for the XBone version anyways, I understand PC nerds tend to start/run their own servers when their fave games are no longer supported) and then you'll be left with a $90-120 coaster.

        Commenter
        beatdan
        Date and time
        March 18, 2014, 8:39AM
        • How odd, I'm on Optus and I've been able to play the game fine (I've been wanting to switch provider for years but it's not up to me). I wonder what's actually causing the issue.

          Commenter
          Raito
          Date and time
          March 18, 2014, 9:25AM
          • As far as I can work out, it's only affecting some customers (a lot of them, though) and it seems to be more the cable connections than ADSL.

            Commenter
            DexX
            Location
            MCDexX on XBLA, PSN, Miiverse, Steam, Origin, iOS, and Raptr
            Date and time
            March 18, 2014, 1:16PM
        • I dont mind online only games as long as I know thats what I'm getting . I have 30 something hours in BF4 MP and less than an hour in the story so it may as well be online only. That said if you are trying to tell a story I'd rather a single player mode dedicated to it and keep the MP for playing

          Commenter
          Mongey
          Date and time
          March 18, 2014, 11:04AM
          • This is why online gaming is never going to sit well with me. The fact that I have to rely on an always online connection doesn't help my situation. Plus online multiplayer isn't my thing anyway, the only game I have played and enjoyed was WoW, but that's long gone now.

            Commenter
            Joka
            Date and time
            March 18, 2014, 12:42PM
            • I've got Optus and it's been dropping out all weekend, just generally, not playing Titanfall.

              Could the launch be the cause or is it specifically a bug with the games program talking to the optus network and my issue is just another display of excellence from one of our telcos?

              I'm so looking forward to the Notional Broadband Network... oh wait.

              Commenter
              ryvman
              Date and time
              March 18, 2014, 1:18PM

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