It’s a brave new world on the internet today. Yesterday, a Federal Appeals court struck down net neutrality, and while it’s a complicated subject, the thrust of it is this: internet providers now have the right to prioritize some web traffic over others, meaning they can throttle data or charge different amounts to different companies as they choose. While we have no idea how this is going to effect the world going forward, it could have big implications for companies like Microsoft, Sony and Valve, not to mention the average gamer.
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Games are bandwidth hogs. Downloads are bandwidth hogs. Gamers use a whole lot of data in general, and we just might see the chickens come home to roost with that. We’ve talked a lot about the digital future of gaming, from download-only consoles to game streaming, but this puts some question marks into that vision of the future.
An easy way to imagine new changes this might be a sort of pay-per-service pricing scheme — within your bill, there’d be an extra charge for “online gaming,” or maybe a “bandwidth charge” tacked onto the price of that new 40gb game you were going to download. We might see those charges, or they might be rolled into the cost elsewhere.
That’s not the end of it. Take, for example, Playstation Now, Sony’s new game streaming service and sure-to-be data intensive activity. Let’s say one of the cable companies gets a bee in its bonnet about the chatter surrounding Sony’s deal with Viacom to offer non-cable internet TV. Said cable company can throttle up the cost of Sony’s data and effectively choke any effective pricing scheme for Playstation Now.
But while we’re bound to see the inevitable jockeying for power that comes with struggles between mega-companies, they won’t be the real losers here. Indie developers making online games or trying to distribute their wares through something besides massive corporate storefronts are in trouble. A modding community dealing with large files could be in trouble. Anyone without the clout to deal with the cable companies on their terms might find themselves paying more for bandwidth.
It’s very hard to tell what’s going to happen to the internet after this decision. I don’t think we’ll see the sort of large-scale doom and gloom that some have predicted, but we will see influence exerted in small ways over the next few years (at least until the FCC can figure out new ways to regulate this). Internet Service Providers won very big yesterday, but everyone else is now in a more precarious position. There will be extra costs in gaming, whether companies choose to absorb them themselves or pass them on to consumers.