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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artrain11
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artrain11

Veldan Makovorn They need to learn to deal with it the same as they would in real life. Ignore. Or do game devs have to play nanny these days?

artrain11
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artrain11

Well looks like all people from unblocked countries are in full force in the comments section here, labeling Chinese as hackers, Russians as jerks, Brazilians as I dunno what, and all. Must be a saintly place from where they come. 

I’d have liked to see what state WoW or GW2 would have been if they had this IP region locking stuff. Probably would be dead/close to dying by now, just like TERA. BDO seems to be going the same way as TERA, and I won’t be surprised when it ends up the same way. People will forget about it, and quit it the moment even a marginally better game comes out. Like it or not, there are usually not enough gamers in any one region to keep it alive and well for a long long time like WoW has been for example. You might crow about getting good ping, or not having to deal with “spammers/idiots/hackers” from other regions, but after a year or two, there will be very few left that you can crow out to. 

By the way, always getting a good ping in any MMO is a biggest joke of a reason I’ve ever heard. Tell me one game, one game where people don’t face ping issues ever. Mind you I’m talking about MMOs, not MOBAs (since I’ve no experience, and don’t care about MOBAs). If you’re playing an MMO, “lag” is probably the most commonly used word, whether it be as an excuse or an actual issue. I’ve been playing a variety of MMOs for 15 years now, so this is not a total newbie speaking. 

But are you guys notice this funny trend? Games developed in US/EU are the ones that don’t seem to feature this region locking at all, when in fact, judging from the comments, it is their gamers who are most in favour of IP locking. On the other hand, Korean games, which I’ve been a huge fan of since I started playing MMOs, are increasingly opting for this IP lock. Feels to me too much like there is some licking up going on. Whether it is because of money, or to appease a section of gamers who are banging on about wanting no Asian/South American/African/Russian gamer spoiling their gameplay, I cannot say. 

One thing I’m totally sure of. If BDO continues like this, I’m giving the EU server 3 years tops shelf life. Then it’ll start dying. NA generally has more players, so might last couple of years longer. Have fun during that time guys!

ernis701
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ernis701

All I can say is – I hate IP-Blocking VERY much…

MewmewGirl
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MewmewGirl

For me IP blocking often saves a game from a lot of drama and issues.

A lot of the time people will have a game in their own region, have played it for years, and then we get a version and they rush over here to dominate us with their knowledge of the game while we are still learning.  They rush to the top as we are getting to know the game, and that really isn’t that fun for us.

Another thing is quite a lot of the time many of them form their own guilds that exclude everybody else other than their own ethnicity and language.  They are playing an English game, but don’t want English people in their guilds.  They want to join the game in our region and then keep us out of their groups.

So much of the time they also just completely spam the chat lines with other languages totally taking them over with what amounts to the same as someone typing a bunch of garbage spam over and over to us.  These are games that have English rules for the chat lines, but large groups of very chatty people just don’t care in most games I’ve played that don’t enforce the language rules.

I find it more annoying than “magical” to play with people from all over the world really in my own experiences.  Maybe it’s the types of games I play that a certain type of player joins that causes this.  

I’m all for IP blocking – at least if they have or will have the game to play in their region sometime along.  If it’s a game they won’t ever have, I feel sort of bad for them and don’t care if they join, but I still would rather they actually follow the chat rules and don’t join and then exclude us when they do.

I really find nothing wrong with regional games and IP blocking at all.

AGx
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AGx

I agree with Brendan. Additionally, IP blocking will stem the flow of RMTs. Say what you want about that particular population but the majority of RMTs come from China, Korea, and the like. As an NA player, I still expect to see them but I imagine the volume will be much smaller.

Fathdris
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Fathdris

This is 2015… If your game or console contains region locking, it is a bad game or console. No, I’m serious. Let’s look at why…

With regards to games, most MMOs and even modern military shooters contain other methods to communicate with your team. World of Warcraft has in world markers, and both WoW and TOR have the ability to place a marker on specific enemies.

The language barrier also is lifted by groups of people that speak the less common languages (no offense intended, I just mean languages that aren’t the games main language) converging on specific servers. In SWG days, I believe one of the servers was unofficially a Spanish community.
People find ways around the language problems. It’s that simple, and a LOT of non-english speakers do have the ability to understand certain english terms… especially in regards to MMOs after being exposed to them for a while.
As for pings? I used to play WoW with a ping of 200-600 depending on the day. This was back in the cataclysm and Mists days when I ran heroic dungeons. I survived. I did fairly good. Any death caused by me was skilled based, not ping-based.
I’ve also given Battlefront 3 a try and even with a ping of 200, I found that all my deaths were skill based, not ping based (Trust me, I suck at MMSs)
Cultural things might have a meaning… but I play games with American references in them all the times. I am not american, if a game uses an american term or refers to american culture, I get by… I can still figure out what I am supposed to be doing, and can fill in the blanks with the story.
Consoles? Consoles have no excuse. What the <beep> do you mean I can’t buy an Xbox One game or a Bluray/DVD during my visit to the US and play it on my Australian Xbox One?
I can’t even fathom any particular reason for this. I mean, language? I’m not going to buy a game that’s not in a language I can’t understand AND if I do, It’s my fault. Piracy? Pirates are going to have your game on illegal sharing sites within a week no matter what you do. That is no reason to punish legitimate customers.
I’ve even noticed this <beep> rubbish on Steam. Certain games that are unavailable to certain regions. As I have said before, piracy is something you can’t defeat. It’s a service problem, not a price problem. So if someone can’t get the game they want on Steam in their region, they are more likely to pirate the game. Thus you lose money.
We are dealing with a decade of global releases and world wide connectivity. Stop region locking. Stop it with DRM. Stop it with IP locking. Just stop. Sell your game to the world.

Denngar
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Denngar

It’s only necessary for those trying to make big bucks quick. How many times do games get shut down in one region only to survive in another? Wouldn’t it be easier and, in the longer run, better for the company and players to ensure the highest population possible? Auto-translation isn’t perfect, but it’s a start, and really, we’re in the global age. People NEED contact with people from other cultures. We need to ensure people remember that different people are still people. It helps cut back on some of the stupid things people are doing to each other these days (sorry France is currently on the receiving end of human stupidity =( Hopefully it’ll lead to some progress in the long run, rather than more mistakes).

jonny_sage
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jonny_sage

kgptzac jonny_sage I dont know of any that do it. Thats the point.

TukutoThePumpkinGod
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TukutoThePumpkinGod

i think its neccessary, but at times it sucks, especially when yuu wanna play eastern games.

Dystopiq
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Dystopiq

GW2.