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What the end of Net Neutrality means for game developers

Now that Net Neutrality is officially repealed effective today, here are a few points to consider in terms of how this decision could impact the games industry.

Basically, the Open Internet Order (a.k.a Net Neutrality) issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in April 2015, meant to classify the Internet access as a public utility, was repealed on December 14, 2017 by FCC’s Chairman Ajit Pai. Under Net Neutrality, Internet access was on the same footing as gas, water, and electricity supply. This means ISPs were not allowed to regulate bandwidth by charging you more for your Netflix service, for instance. All online data should be treated as the same based on Net Neutrality’s principles. Now that it’s gone, anything is possible, as ISPs can get creative and limit your bandwidth based on what you want to have access to.

The Net Neutrality regulation was not originally proposed in a vacuum. It was strongly backed by public opinion, especially due to the violations committed by companies such as The Madison River Communications, which was preventing its customers from using their service to access a competitor’s services. Even Apple FaceTime was once a target of a similar rivalry when AT&T was restricting access to this app unless users would subscribe to one of their plans.

According to an Ajit Pai’s statement last year, with the repeal, ”the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate” . He even made the video below in an attempt to both explain and conquer the sympathy of those not very happy with Net Neutrality repeal.

But major players in the games industry are not buying it. Fearing the consequences for online gaming, the lobby group Entertainment Software Association (ESA) tried to fight FCC’s repeal in April in the hopes of reinstating Net Neutrality, with no success, though. It represented powerful corporations in the industry, such as Sony, Bethesda, Epic Games, Magic Leap, Nvidia, Warner Bros, Ubisoft, Square Enix, Konami, EA, Disney, Capcom, and Nintendo, which are probably now thinking about what’s left for online gaming now that it’s been jeopardized by the uncertainties caused by whatever ISPs are planning to do with their new carte blanche.

In the coming years, you could be looking at ISPs willing to charge you an extra monthly fee for access to Xbox Live and Twitch or you could even have to pay more to keep on downloading that next Assassin’s Creed that became a new profitable summer hype and your internet service provider decided to take a bite from. If you think is not likely to happen, take a look at the deal Netflix once made with Comcast before the Open Internet Order was issued just to make sure its shared pool of clients would never have their internet connection slowed down while streaming Netflix movies.

For game developers, the future is not looking very bright either. Since development teams are highly dependent on reliable and fast internet connections to telecommute, they could suddenly find themselves wasting their times uploading files to their favorite cloud service under low-budget internet plans you simply can’t avoid when you are, you know, on an indie studio budget.

Not to mention those cases in which you already have a game played and supported by a reasonably big community you’ve struggled to engage and need to constantly upload updates for fixing bugs, adding new features, etc. If downloads of routine updates suddenly start getting slower and slower, who’s to blame? You, most likely.

And if most of your games are running on Steam, let’s hope the most popular and powerful ISP on the block doesn’t strike a deal with Google Play to privilege one platform over the other just to piss you off.

As a whole, this means game over for both players and developers who are engaged in a community highly dependent on streaming services, video production, blogging, and many other aspects of the gaming niche that has only thrived so far because it found no gatekeepers. What’s next? How are indie developers going to survive now that one more obstacle is coming their way?

Now, why don’t you take a look at the Twitter thread below posted by a developer who took it upon himself to explain step-by-step what the end of Net Neutrality could mean for indie game developers. It’s quite an enlightening read.


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Instructional Designer, UX Designer, Researcher, web developer, gamer, and editor at Indiewatch.

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