Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the loss of generativity and the loss of community


My friend Dan at Ausgamers has a great review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Lots of interesting information, but what strikes me is the way that Infinity Ward / Activision have worked to seize a lot of control over PC gaming – a trend we may be seeing more. Dan says:

Lastly, no dedicated servers for Modern Warfare 2 also means no more modding so we're not likely to see anything like pro mod – leaving tournament play to rely only on the features provided by IW out of the box. It's not like it was a trivial matter for Infinity Ward, they've had to create the IWNET system specifically for this purpose. As for why? The official word is that it's too hard for new players to figure out how to join a server from an in-game browser list. Nothing to do with the fact that the only way for players to get new maps and content now is to pay for downloadable content, right? It's not like it's even going to do much to stop cheating – instead of Punkbuster, MW2 now uses Valve Anti-Cheat, but without dedicated servers there's no localised moderation so the community has no ability to police itself.

No matter where you purchase the game from, you'll still need to activate with Steam and once you do that, the game is tied to your Steam account just as if you had bought it from Steam in the first place. Now I'm not sure of the technicalities on that, but I presume this effectively knocks out the secondhand market for the game. Who is going to want to buy a disc that is linked to someone elses Steam account? For no good reason they've also removed the drop-down console for PC users that like to type in their in-game commands. The game is in complete lock-down, the ultimate consolification.

This 'consolification' is another example of what Zittrain calls a loss of generativity (see his article in (2006) 119 Harvard Law Review 1974 or his great book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (ars review) (full text for both available).)

This trend, as Zittrain explains, is pretty unfortunate, for a whole host of reasons. I'm interested in another point, however – Dan talks about the loss of a sense of community that is harder to maintain with this locked down model. The dedicated servers for games allowed innovation, in that people could create mods and new maps to their tastes – obviously, this gave us Counter Strike and a bunch of tournament mods, to name just a very tiny fraction – but it also allowed communities to grow around those servers, something which seems to be lacking in the console model. It's harder to form lasting relationships in the random pick-up console multiplayer games (although when you find someone who isn't a jerk, you can add them to your friends list and seek them out later). Dan makes this point really well:

Another big issue for me personally is what it does to the sense of the game's community. I admit I'm probably biased on this point since my employment with AusGamers was a direct result of years of gaming with the guys that pay my salary – people I may never have met had it not been for those late nights on PowerUp Quake and Quake 2 CTF dedicated servers. With dedicated servers, it's a trivial task to do a quick check and see who's playing and jump in the same game as them. You get to know people that frequent the same servers and rivalries, friendships and communities form. With the peer to peer model, it's still easy enough to play with friends already on your list but everyone else is just a random seed. Sure, this is how console platforms have done things for a long time and they're used to it (arguably because they know no better), but for PC stalwarts it's really not good enough.

I think that this loss of community is a bit saddening. If it is a trend, I hope that gamers are able to realise the importance of community before it gradually becomes phased out.