Massively Overthinking: Is IP-blocking in online games a necessary evil?

    
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This past week, news about Black Desert’s IP blocking has reminded me once again how IP-blocking, region-locking, and the resulting isolated MMO communities are becoming far too normal and making it harder than ever to meet and team up with people around the world, which is part of the magic that brought so many of us to the genre in the first place.

It’s also brought some community ugliness to the fore.

Some people argue that IP blocking and the ensuing regionalization of MMORPGs is necessary because it ensures that groups can communicate in the same language and aren’t forced to suffer the side-effects of low pings from groupmates far away. And others… well, there’s no other way to put it: Some people are openly, proudly xenophobic in their desire to keep servers free of one specific nationality or other.

Are you as weary of IP blocking as I am, or do you think there are cases when it’s justified and more of a help to an MMO community than a hindrance? These are the questions I posed to the MOP writers in this week’s Massively Overthinking.

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): Region-blocking servers to prevent language barriers only makes sense for games with strong competitive or co-operative components that rely heavily on teamwork and communication with random strangers. EVE Online has been a great case study in what happens with multiple nations mixed together in the same server, the result being that players self-organise into groups based on language and timezones. That works in any game where communication is only required between guildmates or friends, even if those guilds are in competitive gameplay with one another. The moment you throw random strangers together through any kind of queue or matchmaking system, you’re forcing people to rely on each other without self-selection for the ability to effectively communicate. That (in addition to the obvious latency problem) is why English-speaking MOBA players tend to rage when they’re matched up with a Russian player. Given the ongoing trend of MMOs adding queue and matchmaking systems, I’d wager that regional blocking will have an even bigger part to play in the years to come and we’ll eventually think nothing of it.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I loathe IP-blocking and region-locking, it will surprise probably no one to hear. These are relatively new practices that are the result of greed, not the result of benevolent consideration for language or ping. Gaming companies are carving up territories into tidy little virtual duchies for the purposes of making more money from each other with localization and licensing and publishing agreements, and government protectionism greases the wheels of every deal.

When I first began with MMOs, being able to link up with people from far-away places, get their perspectives, and play with them as equals was an incredible gift for me that I cherish, and the open nature of MMOs back then made it all possible. Nowadays, my overseas guildies and I find more and more games are doing their best to keep us all apart. This is a disturbing trend not just for gaming but for all the gamers who will miss out on a global perspective for what is and should remain a global hobby.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): There’s never really a good player-positive reason to have IP blocks in place. There are lots of good reasons, most of which center around the idea that a successful game can rake in some extra money via licensing fees to another company, but none of them translate to being a net benefit to players. Sure, in theory this ensures that I don’t wind up grouping with players who speak a language I do not, but I’ve met a number of players in my time playing MMOs who clearly do not speak the same language as I do despite speaking English.

I’m actually consistently impressed with how Final Fantasy XIV and Final Fantasy XI have handled the issue. Both games feature auto-translation text that’s sufficient to communicate necessary game concepts to someone who speaks another language while indicating certain servers as located in (and intended for) certain audiences. But they’re suggestions, not rules. I have friends from all over the world playing on the same server that I do. That’s a good thing.

Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): From a personal perspective it’s never justified because one of the original draws of MMOs was the opportunity to do something fun with someone on the other side of the planet in real time. I’m guessing that companies regionalize because of licensing and lawyers, but if there’s an IP-blocked game that I really want to play, I can do it for less than the cost of a monthly sub. Thanks Mr. VPN!

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): This issue is a little tricky because of the legal issues often involved. I doubt that there are ever cackling devs sitting in a darkened room going, “Oh ho ho, we won’t be servicing those filthy people, oh no.” But laws can throw up walls, which is understandable, and companies can decide that it’s not worth it to make the effort to open up to more regions, which is less understandable.

I doubt very much that anyone would make a case that IP blocking is a helpful thing. Segregating players is not going to help the growth or reputation of your game, and everyone should clearly see that. I can only imagine how frustrating it is to be an MMO player outside of one of the typically supported regions (North America, Europe, Russia, China, Korea, Japan, and sometimes Oceania). Games for all, I say!

Now, if having someone talk in a foreign language in your general chat is so irritating as to drive you into a rage that demands for a purified server, well then, I can’t help you. Maybe get over yourself and perhaps use the opportunity to learn a second language? Make friends across the world? After all, that’s one of the best things that the internet gives to us, other than daily Groupon reminders.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): IP blocks seriously aggravate me. For one, my best friend is in England, and we have had trouble playing together in any other games regularly since Star Wars Galaxies. I also have folks I have met that I care about in many other countries, from Australia to Germany to Brazil, and I hate when we cannot play together. Insulating people into little geographical hubs is not the way to build communities, ping be darned. It prevents folks from interacting with others and — IMO — exacerbates the whole xenophobia problem; if people can’t have interactions with others different them themselves, how will they ever come to visualize them as just regular people?

Your turn. And it pains me that I feel I have to reiterate this, but no racism in the comments.

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