This article on the issue of Net Neutrality takes a different perspective than most that I have seen in that it looks at what the potential impacts to online gaming. The author contends that of all the impacted aspects of internet use, online gaming will be the worst.
What will be murdered with no fallback or replacement is the nascent market of interactive entertainment – particularly online gaming. Companies like Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sony Online Entertainment, and countless others, have built a business on the fundamental assumption of relatively low latency bandwidth being available to large numbers of consumers. Furthermore, a large — even overwhelming — portion of the value of these offerings comes from their “network effects” — the tendency for the game to become more enjoyable and valuable as larger number of players joins the gaming network.
With the permanent barriers that the removal of net neutrality will erect for these uses, the worst-case scenario includes three waves of change:
- One or more mainstream ISPs will introduce excessive lag that will effectively prohibit their users from participating in online games. The move will not be aimed at restricting usage per se, but rather to extract a fee from the game operator. However, as the Cablevision and YES dispute of 2002 showed us4, a fee disagreement between a cable company and content provider can effectively lock out the use of a popular service for over a year;
- As online gaming guilds, clans, and partners disappear into the rifts created in the Internet fabric, players that derive value from the community of the game rather than the playing experience per se will drop off. This vicious cycle of scarcity of users will lead to diminished enjoyment for existing users which will lead to still fewer users, until more games follow Asheron’s Call to oblivion5;
- Hardcore users will write strongly worded messages to their ISPs, who will classify them as unreasonable malcontents using more than their share of bandwidth.
I encourage all gamers to read this article in full and make sure you contact your congressional representatives when they meet beginning in February. Those that would favor allowing ISPs to establish different "classes" of internet users will be sure to have new legislation introduced that threatens net neutrality. Last session congress received over 800,000 signatures supporting net neutrality but that level of effort will be needed again this time as well.