It’s that time again; we must languish over the state of always-online games and the inherent issues borne from this structure. 2023 has already given us examples of why always-online complicates the act of simply playing what was paid for. Diablo IV received a lot of flack for it’s internet connection requirement, leaving its passionate community longing for the offline adventures of Diablo III. And then there was Redfall before Blizzard’s major aRPG entry. The buzz prior to launch was full of displeasure surrounding the same always-online condition attached to a developer who historically made rich, single player experiences — I imagine people would still be upset post-launch if anyone actually cared to play the game in its depressive state, but I digress.
Now, Payday 3 has added itself to the year’s list of always-online games and it has immediately highlighted why the design choice can be a complete barrier to those looking to enjoy a game alone or kill time solo until they can join friends. Payday 3 officially released yesterday on September 21st for all buyers and Game Pass subscribers. Early access had been going since the 18th and had relatively few connectivity issues. Even the beta managed a strong showing as the servers kept themselves steady. But that positive streak came to an end on Thursday’s launch.
Around 12:30 PM PST, Starbreeze took to Twitter to address that Payday 3 had come crashing down, preventing everyone from running a single heist. The immediate response from the community pointed the finger at always-online locking everyone out when solo play with the competent AI partners should be possible. The downtime persisted for seven whole hours until a partial fix was deployed, but the matchmaking woes persisted. Starbreeze wouldn’t announce that servers were on their way back “to full force” until a staggering 18 hours later. Needless to say, launch day was long over and players had been effectively kept out.
Here we sit at the heart of the same problem that continues to arise with increasing frequency. So let’s tackle the first sticking point: access. Payday 3‘s online connection reliance not only says farewell to longtime fans who live in more rural areas without a steady, reliable connection, but it also abandons anyone going through a temporary internet disruption. You won’t be waiting out those heavy storms with a few digital robberies if your internet is struggling to hold it together. And certain maintenance being done on your street/building could also prematurely end your budding criminal enterprise.
It might sound like a lot of complaining over what-ifs (and maybe it is to an extent), but there is merit to the problematic design presented. Forcing single players into an online connection to play in a private lobby accompanied by bots is a rigid approach that primarily leaves the consumer at risk of losing access to their purchased product. That same sentiment echoes even louder at the end of the game’s lifespan. Will Starbreeze let Payday 3 die in several years when they’re ready to move on to the next game? Absolutely not. Or at least you’d assume not.
Undoubtedly, Starbreeze will eventually add an offline mode to allow players to keep enjoying the available content long after support has officially ended, if it ever ends — Payday 2 received updates right up to the third’s launch. It’s the same expectation with Diablo IV. These games may launch with an always-online focus, but the demand for preservation will inevitably push these games to host an offline environment so that all the developer’s hard work doesn’t suddenly disappear from existence. That’s what I believe is most upsetting to the community; we all know the feature will exist at some point, so why not now?
It’s frustrating to see a model persist long after we all watched Microsoft find themselves on the receiving end of backlash in 2013 due to the Xbox One’s announcement containing an always-online component (which they later reversed). Time and time again has proven the feature to be wildly unpopular and yet it remains. In our ever-connected world, always-online is a trend that was inevitable, but we shouldn’t lie back and accept it. Not that it’ll make vast changes to the Payday 3 player count, but the extended outage has already dropped the game’s Steam rating to a meager 41% positive with most of the reviews citing the online connection necessity as the core issue.
The best we can do is vote with our money so that publishers distance themselves from such practices in the future or risk not recouping the development costs. To help those of you seeking an offline-capable adventure, we have put together a list of the top shooters you can enjoy without an internet connection.