If you're like me you've gotten used to the tiny update progress bar at the bottom of your Steam client every time you open it. Mine seems to be busy almost every time I log in to the service. As such, I've just come to accept that Team Fortress 2 will be keeping the download manager busy at least once a week. I may only play the game a few times a year but I like to keep it handy when I get the itch which makes the minor inconvenience worth it.
And so it was last night.
What was strange was the other game getting updated. That being, Unreal Tournament 3 (UT3.) It was odd to see a 7 year old game (arguably the least popular in the "Unreal" series) getting an update. Not that old games don't get updates but they're usually titles embraced by a vibrant modding community and abandoned by developers that have since moved on to greener pastures. UT3 doesn't enjoy that kind of devotion, however, at least not on Steam.
It all became clear with a click on the game's "news" link from developer Epic Games.
"This “patch” is actually a replacement executable that will direct you to the new Unreal Tournament 3 master server which we have moved to the Epic Games server bank along with the Unreal Tournament 99 and Unreal Tournament 2004 servers."
Since the announcement of Gamespy's demise a few months ago the fate of older games that relied on the service for online multiplayer has been hanging in the balance. Many titles like Unreal Tournament 3, Crysis, Battlefield 1942 and Medal of Honor:Allied Assault are either approaching or are already a decade old. More importantly, most were never designed to become another cog in the endless DLC money mill that plagues newer games. That means developers and publishers don't have much of an incentive to support a devoted but unprofitable fan base.
That doesn't appear to be stopping them, however. 2K, Capcom, EA and many other developers have announced efforts to save the multiplayer component of some of their popular older titles.
Which is an interesting change of posture from the days of EA pulling the plug on titles like Need For Speed: Carbon after only a handful of years had passed. You may not even notice if you never played online but considering that LAN play options have all but disappeared it can become a problem if you just want to play with a few friends in the same room. So it seems strange that we now find the company making herculean efforts to get Battlefield 2, Battlefield 2142 and Bad Company 2 back online.
Even Sony seems to have seen the light. Infamous for their NO REFUNDS! policy; in the case of customers who dropped $60 on a pre-order of The Last of US: Remastered (due out on PS4 at the end of July) that policy no longer applies. When Sony announced a price drop to $50 last weekend (which in my opinion is what it should have been at the beginning) it also announced that pre-order customers would get a $10 refund.
Which brings me to this whole renaissance thing...
Is it possible that game publishers have discovered the value of seeing further than the next quarterly earnings report? Perhaps so. In spite of how they've tried to spin it, the simple fact of the matter is that game pre-order numbers are down. Admittedly, the annoying trend of overcharging for games may have something to do with it.
It's far more likely, however, that after half a decade of repeatedly overpromising and under delivering, customer fatigue may be the real cause.
Gamers have been burned too many times by flawed releases, inadequate online resources and poor support after the initial launch of a game. The video game industry has been around for almost four decades but it seems it still can't get a launch day right. Buying a pre-order may as well be buying into a BETA test. That's like paying to be punched in the face...
So what's led to this Renaissance of the Player?
For years game publishers have literally treated their customers like dogs; throwing them a bone with the promise of something new "just over the horizon" to distract you from the screw-ups of today. And gamers keep falling for it...
Or do they?
Nothing is free in this world and it's likely all this effort to support old games has more to do with wooing a diminishing customer base than any act of magnanimity.
No, it's far more likely that a long term business plan focused on a community instead of a single blockbuster release may be taking root. Even the most cyclical of businesses, the automakers, have learned the value of supporting what's come before. Dealerships still make more money off their service departments than their sales departments. Treat the customer right in the service bay and chances are they'll visit your showroom when the time comes.
Which is not the history of the "get rich quick" gaming industry. Years of abusing a customer base will eventually have consequences regardless of how well oiled your hype machine may be. A quick look at the relatively flat sales numbers of the XBOX 1, Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty:Ghosts bear that out. Yes, they sold well but not as well as their makers would have hoped.
Nobody pays upwards of $50 for a game just to dispose of it like an empty burger wrapper in a few days. Gamers are buying into an experience not just a pastime. If you're not providing what they expect they'll vote with their wallets and it seems more and more that's exactly what's happening.
So if we can safely assume that the industry is finally getting a clue then this is indeed a renaissance and the gaming industry is placing the player on a pedestal. Right where they should be and I say it's about time.
Just don't take the player for granted once your fortunes start rebounding, game industry. You can't survive off of .99 mobile games for long and all those annoying little indie developers will be more than happy to eat your lunch.
That's not a threat, it's basic business.