The Daily Grind: How should studios solve the gaming-while-rural problem?

If you’ve ever read any of MOP’s Andrew’s coverage of Pokemon Go, you’ve probably noticed a recurring theme: One of his biggest pet peeves is that Niantic privileges urban players over everyone else. If you live far away from a large city, you’ll not only struggle to attend events there; you’ll suffer from a lack of hotspots, gyms, raid opportunities, and other players on the daily, and you’ll have to drive between far-flung destinations just to play. A studio obviously can’t fix a population weakness, but it surely could work harder to stop making game opportunities and rewards effectively dependent on where you live.

The same problem’s apparently cropped up in Hearthstone as Blizzard has begun incentivizing what are essentially player-hosted LAN-party events with an ultra-rare Nemsy cards, ostensibly in the service of community. I plugged my current address in and came up with no less than six events over the next month within 20 miles of my home – triple that if I am willing to drive up to 100 miles. But I live in a large city (6M metro area) in the midst of even more large cities. If I plug in my address from back when I lived in New Mexico, there are no events within 100 miles of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Zip. Nada. They don’t even make the top 50 list for metro areas in the US, but they’re the biggest for 300 miles in any direction where they are. And still nothing.

So imagine how truly rural players must feel being screwed over by online games whose charms were supposed to include the fact that you can play them with other people from anywhere!

My gut reaction, and yours probably will be too, was that folks who live in rural areas should take the initiative and host their own, but as Kotaku points out, it’s not that simple as there are a few irritating hurdles to clear first. And even then, is it really all that fair for rural gamers to have to do groundwork that gamers in cities just have handed to them?

What’s the fix for these issues? How should studios solve the gaming-while-rural problem?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Andrew Ross
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Andrew Ross

Late to the party, but I’ll put in a few more words anyway:

Being rural, in general, sucks, and not just for gaming. Events tend to mean driving into the city, which may be near, but the traffic is terrible and the public transportation is worse. Meet Ups I join tend to require me to drive for at least 40 minutes. Having to drive back early to avoid traffic (or crime) makes you seem like a party pooper. And a lot of people there get annoyed by a 20 minute drive.

Adding in gaming, where I feel like we have a reasonable amount of people who are behind screens trying to develop social skills, makes this harder. It’s been cool that I’ve been doing more local multiplayer. I’ve been reminded of one of the big appeals of online gaming: access to the outside world without needing to worry about social fallout. The problem instead is that, well, the communities can fall apart just as easily.

As frustrating as Blizzard is, I think that having incentives to create social gatherings is at least a decent start. The problem, however, is that it’s difficult for rural gamers to start gatherings alone. People are constantly telling me I should start some sort of local group, but outside of Pokemon GO (which has a much different crowd than, say, Smash Bros players), I can’t easily meet locals into the same games as me just by stepping outside.

I think the only thing devs could do is provide regional message boards or even “LF Group” sign ups, where people fill in details like “Can Host,” “Not willing to drive more than 10 miles,” “Can coordinate tournaments,” etc and pair them up as soon as there’s, say, a core of 3 people. Of course, then the company may be held responsible for issues like pairing someone up with a thief, so out-of-game communities tend to handle community building in the real world these days. Naturally, being outside the game means less social media savvy players don’t know how to reach out and find other players, so we’re still left with a vicious cycle.

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socontrariwise

Which means you can host one yourself?
Finding 3 people on two occasions to meet up isn’t crazy difficult is it? You could have your classmates and who knows what come. We’re not talking 100-people-villages, people living in Brooklyn, NY, complain that there is none in their close area …
Seriously?

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Bryan Correll

I’m just glad I finally got DSL service a few years back.

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rafael12104

In my experience, it’s not really about the gaming. Some rural areas are lagging way behind in infrastructure.

It is staggering to an extent because services like eHealth are being compromised.

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Kickstarter Donor
Pandalulz

Honestly, no idea. I live in the suburbs of Atlanta, I’m not even really that rural. But even then, I’m not going anywhere to eat, or buy groceries, or hang out at a park unless I go get in my car and drive somewhere. Unless they make a gym at every other house, I’m not going to be walking for much of Pokemon Go either. I mean, for the Hearthstone issue, there are a couple of local places nearbyish (within ten miles or so) where I can go to play Warhammer minis, Pokemon CCG, D&D, etc. While they’re not currently Hearthstone taverny things, I bet if I asked around, they’d let me set something up if I cared that much. Once you get more rural than that though, I mean, you hang out with people somewhere right? Post a note at a bar or something.
I mean, I’m not gonna get this character because I’m specifically anti-social and don’t go out anymore, but I’m not going to complain about that either.

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Sally Bowls

Some comments from $ perspective on the rural internet sidebar:

1) Since ’95, US taxpayers gave telcoms $100B in subsidies for rural internet.

2) Google, a company that is “not capital constrained” (a/k/a rich) has given up on fiber. I am so sad. If places like LA & SF won’t get fiber, one can only imagine the sad state of rural internet.
https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/10/google-fiber-laying-off-9-of-staff-will-pause-plans-for-10-cities/

3) There was a Ruttles [q.v.] song, “all you need is cash” There are private individuals with 10,000 Mb internet connects.
https://tech.slashdot.org/story/16/10/27/2057251/a-radiologist-has-the-fastest-home-internet-in-the-us

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Armsbend

I don’t like to talk about your number 2. ATT, Comcast, WB won that one. I personally will relish the day those three are crushed for good. I hope they allow us all to take part in burning their corpse publicly.

What will happen though is they will ramp up their funding of congress to bring out anti-trust lawsuits.

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socontrariwise

As long as people vote in a president that installs someone like Ajit there will never be a crash and burn of ATT, Comcast and WB.

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Loyal Patron
Armsbend

True words. NN is the finest example of how you can whip up a base to support something they literally do not, and cannot, understand. Everything a Net Neutrality hot button issue comes up for debate I go on alt-right sites to see just how mind numbingly angry I can get and the lack of knowledge and the fact people will believe anything they are told to believe if they are dumb enough. It is Nazi Germany in motion.

I wouldn’t prattle on about how much I knew about raising chickens – so for someone who doesn’t understand what the internet is or how it works to yell down people who do – is alarming to me.

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Sally Bowls

In support of one of hot buttons, I would like to point out the rural problem is not just gyms and LAN parties. If you design your game so that your ping must be low to play well, that is never going to work well for a lot of places – including rural on slow or especially satellite connections but also servers on other continents (e.g. AUSNZ)

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Jack Pipsam

Yes I imagine that New Zealand gets even more screwed over than a lot due to their location, I believe their web-tubes gotta’ zip across to Sydney before going off into the world if I am not mistaken.

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Robert Mann

The fix is to fish-slap studio executives. Because there is absolutely no excuse for this to get a pass. It’s that simple. They can make such events easily, and should.

They don’t care about gamers who aren’t in a city, because it’s a smaller amount of $ that is not as easy to get to? We should all be saying ‘Nope, you get NO gamers until you fix this. Ever.’

The tune will change faster than superman in a phone booth.

styopa
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styopa

Sorry, but that’s asinine.

You might as well insist that restaurants deliver to EVERYONE EVERYWHERE because they shouldn’t ‘privilege’ certain people that happen to live close geographically.

If person X isn’t willing to pay for bandwidth Y needed to run the game optimally, how the hell is that Niantic (or Sony, or MS, or Blizzard, etc)’s problem?

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Robert Mann

The problem isn’t that they don’t have the net to do it in so many places, but that they simply didn’t bother to make events in locations other than major metropolises. There’s cities of 100,000+ that they just ignored all over the nation.

It’s simply that they are only focusing on the biggest markets, when it’s a fairly simple thing to take these events and make similar happenings all over.

IF it was a bandwidth issue to extremely remote areas, then you would have a point. It isn’t, at this time. It’s ignoring a huge amount of customers because they aren’t in the biggest cities, which is just dumb.

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socontrariwise

Niantic’s game map is set up from Ingress player data. Few people play = little data = few spots. Aka it is the problem of too little interest in the first place. Can’t blame a company that relies on local participation on lack of participation.
For Hearthstone or such LAN parties hosted by players: again, those are based on local interest, can fault only the player for not hosting one them self.

styopa
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styopa

“they simply didn’t bother to make events in locations other than major metropolises. …It’s ignoring a huge amount of customers because they aren’t in the biggest cities, which is just dumb.”

I’d love to see the link to where they said this, because otherwise what you’re saying is ENTIRELY based on bald supposition. You’re asserting, then, that a company is willfully ignoring potentially-easily-gained revenue what, because of some sort of spite they have for “people who don’t live in metropolises”?
Sorry, but that’s ridiculous. You might as well say they hate people that like spaghetti, or people that wear the color green.

“… it’s a fairly simple thing to take these events and make similar happenings all over…. ”
Right. Why do I suspect it’s not as simple as you believe?

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Rheem Octuris

I would like to point out for rural Hearthstone players, you can always host your own fireside gatherings, they tell you how on the website.

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Armsbend

The internet divide is a much bigger problem in US rural areas. Some lawmakers have suggested a large scale public works project bringing high speed to rural areas – akin to bringing electricity to Appalachia at the turn of the 20th Century.

I wholeheartedly support it morally and as a taxpayer.

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squid

I agree, though I think the government should hold back for a bit and see what comes from the various wireless internet projects that are in the works. Though, having said that, they should also enforce existing regulations and contracts regarding rural internet build-out. They’re far too quick to cave to the telecoms and their money.

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A Dad Supreme

I don’t think the government should do that with tax money and I’m a very liberal guy.

If a private company wants to do that with it’s resources I’m all for it, but I don’t think public tax funds should be used to fully fund this kind of venture.

Perhaps tax breaks and some smaller subsidies for private companies is about all I’d want but something like high speed internet to play video games (which isn’t a necessity as much as we like to think it is) shouldn’t be a thing for just entertainment, which most of the people would probably end up using it for.

This is something that should be carried by the customer of those private services, just like I don’t think someone in Utah should be helping to pay my 1Gig internet here in PA.

I’d rather the government paid people in these depressed areas like Appalachia (and some natural disaster zones) some money to move to areas that can’t find enough workers and start over but you know.. “I was born here, my grandaddy was born here so I ain’t movin’!” happens.

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Armsbend

Then they simply won’t do it.

Here is the reason why I believe it should be a government project. Imagine you are a brilliant boy off 11 years old. You have the imagination and intelligence of any of New York’s finest BUT you have access to Dial up and DSL only. You are not given the same library of the world’s knowledge that the city kid gets.

So the kid suffers but more importantly we all do because what if some great mind – one that might progress the human race (or just publish and awesome apple pie recipe) is just languishing because he didn’t have the same opportunities?

AND business suffer mightily because of the divide. You have doctor’s offices that have just as good as doctors and their city counterparts but can’t even file digitally because their network isn’t strong enough. So they are at an automatic competitive disadvantage. So the talented doctors may choose to pack up and go big city – leaving real people who need them behind. That is not fantasy it is an everyday thing – a big deal in my state of Georgia.

That is my personal take as a raging moderate.

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Ket Viliano

The telecom companies like their monopoly control, and won’t give it up. They want to abuse sole access to a utility service to the maximum extent. That is why better internet is opposed by private companies.

They don’t want competition messing up a good racket.

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Schmidt.Capela

A pity Google put Project Loon on the backburner.

Free, if low speed, wireless Internet with global coverage, based on solar-powered routers floated by balloons. It would have been a gamechanger, forcing rural ISPs to improve their offers, just like Google Fiber forced ISPs to drastically improve their offerings in every city it was implemented.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

I agree with you. The Internet isn’t just some optional tool anymore, it’s an integral part of our lives and more integrated each and every day. Can you live without it the way you can live without electricity, plumbing, etc? Sure, but nobody in a supposedly 1st World developed country should have to. As said this is an integral part of our lives now not just a fun diversion or simple place to gather information.

For the country that developed the Internet we’ve fallen behind in speeds and keeping everybody connected. I realize it’s partially because of the size of the US and some of the places people are spread out in compared to other Countries but the Internet has become a basic necessity of modern life and it would be money well spent.

I’m wondering what ever became of those “Free Internet for all Humans” satellite programs from the news 3 years ago about them being in the works. Though I never took the time to investigate the speeds they were going to be and it was more about connecting the rest of the world that wasn’t online at all than fixing holes in the US.

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Armsbend

That’s a good question. I had forgotten about it.

styopa
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styopa

Except you seem to start with the mistaken assumption that it’s a free market. It’s not even close: governments (federal, state, regional, and local) HANDED monopolies to regions to specific companies as carrots to incentivize their investment in capital in those regions.

Those monopolies – largely – predate the internet.

The situation today is quite comparable if governments had somehow allowed Burlington Northern, ATSF, Norfolk Southern, CP/Soo Line, etc all to still hold (after the invention of the car) monopolies on ‘any sort of transport roadway’ over great swathes of land because they’d originally been granted regional monopolies for RAILROAD trackage.

I don’t think anyone would refute the idea that today’s internet is critical to commerce. But I also strongly suspect that if these exclusive monopolies were vacated, Adam Smith would quite quickly build all but the very capillary connections throughout the network. THEN and only then, we should talk about subsidizing those final 5% connections.

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Ket Viliano

Yes, the exclusive monopolies need to go, right along with the bribe payers and bribe takers that set up this system to begin with.

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Robert Mann

How about just removing their monopolies from the list of government supported/enforced things? Let other companies lay line if they want, and let companies talk about using poles and/or existing lines without having to get insane approvals from their competitors!

There’s a whole slew of regulations that actively prevent these things, and the only two reasons the lawmakers are making any noise is increased power for themselves, and P.R.

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Sally Bowls

Theoretically, yes. Real world governments and telecoms, perhaps not.

Since 1995, US taxpayers have spent over $100B on rural telcom internet subsidies seemingly without much to show for it.

Since 1995 the program(CAP – Connect America Fund) has spent $84 billion in real dollars subsidizing rural telecommunications providers. In addition, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) has given out another $7 billion since 2009 in grants and loans for telecom programs. The National Telecommunications and Information Agency gave away another $4 billion as part of the 2009 stimulus package.

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Ket Viliano

Those were free money give aways, with rural service as an excuse for paying the kickback. What we need is for a real, functioning market, one rightly regulated to create competition, not to protect monopoly.

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Utakata

That’s an issue with accountability and not with the idea itself. And one that tends to happen a lot when government is mixes it up with private interests.

…and citation needed.