Understanding The Titanfall Situation In SA (And Where To From Here?)
In the annals of history you will find more than one rousing speech the likes of which could have inspired a nation to great new feats. A man (or woman if you want to be pc) stands before a collective and uses his words to create a special moment that evokes fiery emotion in the hearts of all around him. As he reaches the climax of his speech a shared sense of purpose spreads and humanity takes a step forward towards something greater than every individual there — or: Idris Elba in Pacific Rim.
But sometimes those rousing speeches fail. Sometimes they backfire. Sometimes what you thought was fighting the power was actually a humbling lesson in just how entitled you’ve become, where you thought you were bigger than you actually are, and ended up doing more harm than good in the process — or: The real world.
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This was pretty much exactly what happened when early last week a local forum user posted a thread in which he (quite proudly, by the looks of it) stated that he had approached Apex Interactive regarding the current state of local servers ahead of the launch of Titanfall this coming week. This user threw around law-speak and even pulled from the Consumer Protection Act, with the intent of pushing the topic until some answers were issued. And so Electronic Arts reacted and subsequently cancelled Titanfall for South Africa. Yes, although they have recently claimed otherwise (it’s not as if they needed an official filing anyway), that’s pretty much how it actually happened in terms of the sequence of events.
I have to admit that at first I was completely puzzled by EA’s statement that local bandwidth tests were the reason for the cancellation, I mean the Battlefield games got on splendidly and when has Electronic Arts ever admitted to such a thing if it meant they’d lose sales and therefore money? They put out SimCity after all, didn’t they? But then I read about this guy who decided he would like to white-knight on behalf of South African gamers and demand that EA fix up some servers or he’ll sue, and when you throw legal action into the pot then you’re always taking things a step up to the point that it makes perfect sense for me now, to consider why EA decided not to release Titanfall here.
So thanks for sticking up for us, proactive defender of South African gamers man.
Now let’s explain what those bandwidth issues EA mentioned are all about. See, Titanfall runs on Microsoft’s Azure servers which are responsible for most of the company’s cloud computing and applications. My understanding of the servers is that they are what Microsoft was planning on using in order to power their always-online digital world that they were planning when they first announced the Xbox One. In any case, whether or not that’s true, what is fact is that the Azure servers power all of Microsoft’s cloud computing which means that they extend to more than just gaming. Why is there no Azure server locally? Well, actually it’s all of Africa that lacks one. And that’s because our internet infrastructure is terrible.
Borderline pathetic actually, by international standards. But hey, fibre optic and uncapped unshaped internet for all in 2015, amirite?!
Anyway the problem is that without an Azure server locally, gamers would be forced to connect to international Azure servers which then result in a high ping. Now if the recent Titanfall beta proved anything, it’s that the game can run splendidly well even at up to 300ms while connected to EU servers, so why that dude had to complain about not having local servers, I don’t know. I guess he really wanted to have low-latency gameplay, which is understandable but just a liiittle… what’s the word, tricky?
Still, this is one of those situations where nobody could really win.
You see even if they shipped Titanfall and forced us to connect to EU servers, there would likely be a lot of people buying this and expecting to connect to South African servers or expecting some sort of offline mode — owing to the fact that it’s not explicitly stated that Titanfall is a multiplayer-only game which requires connection to the aforementioned Azure servers to run — and that’s obviously not fair on them so fair enough, one can quite easily bring up the CPA in this situation. However on the flip side of things, the Azure servers are used for more than just gaming and they’re expensive to maintain, so why should Microsoft be arsed to come here and set one up purely for the purposes of Titanfall, when the Azure servers are responsible for a lot more than just a single game and likely won’t perform to Microsoft’s own standard anyway. Why anyone would even blame Microsoft here, I don’t know. They’re not involved in this in any way other than that the game they’ve been marketing hard of late, is now no longer making its way here. Finally, EA can’t exactly be condemned for cancelling a game in a country where they likely won’t sell that many copies anyway, at least not enough to risk possible legal action against their already tarnished name. Especially given that the game will likely not perform to their expectations in the first place, owing to said lack of Azure servers, and isn’t even releasing on the main platform it’s being marketed for.
With that in mind, I can’t help but admit that it was a sound business decision to cancel Titanfall. I dare say I would have done it too.
There have been a few opinion pieces on this topic that I’ve read online in the past few days. Here’s one and here’s another if you’d like to also read them. But suffice to say, I agree entirely that the biggest cause for concern right now is that we as a country are painting ourselves in a very bad light. In fact, we have just highlighted yet again to the gaming world that we are a people who love to cry and moan and throw our toys out the cot when we don’t get what we want. I almost laughed after finding out the whole story behind this Titanfall thing because my very first thought was, “What did that person really expect would happen after throwing the Consumer Protection Act at EA? Did he not realise they have the option to just not release the game here? Did that not occur to him at all?”
Electronic Arts acted in their best interests by opting not to release Titanfall in South Africa, and as much I have criticised their business decisions in the past, I can respect them for that. Likewise, Respawn have worked hard on a game and deserve to see it reach its full potential wherever it may release. Microsoft are without blame here because their servers simply cannot exist with the current infrastructure in place so I guess maybe some pressure on Telkom could help speed things up on that front? If anything, the knock-on effect of this action is that Microsoft ends up selling a few more Xbox Ones because those import bundles are now the most appealing way to get Titanfall locally on release, if you have the money. A happy accident.
You guys… I really do wish we could have nice things. I can’t say I haven’t had a go at various publishers, developers and so on for this, that or the other that I had a problem with, but this one was a bit too far. As far as I’m concerned, we are all better than this and we need to start showing it now. It’s quite something to think that there are those who still actively abuse EA and Microsoft about this, without considering why it all happened in the first place. That’s why I’ve opted to do this article; to try and create exposure to what really went on.
We really need to stop acting as if the world owes us a favour. What did we even do to earn that sort of special treatment? Eliminate racism? Please man. Grow up. Half of the gamers in this country likely don’t even purchase games legit, and I can get away with making such a broad-spectrum generalisation because I know for certain that if I pulled actual numbers, I’d likely have undershot that figure by quite a bit. But hey, we’re poor, right? We just like to act as if we’re first-world.
In the meantime if you really want Titanfall to be released in South Africa — or like me, you believe in giving consumers the power of choice — then you should head on over to Change.org and sign a petition that asks Respawn and EA to reconsider, but please do it with a modicum of humility, not that self-entitled arrogant attitude of ‘give us things or we’ll throw a fit’ because as we’ve now seen, that attitude is counter-productive. Failing that, you still have the option of importing or purchasing digitally.
Let this be a lesson to us all that a developer and/or publisher is well within their rights, if threatened, to simply not give us a thing. We must try to be productive and constructive in our criticism, not abusive and disrespectful. I’m not trying to place the blame onto any one particular party because in my opinion, everyone’s a little wrong here, but where I can’t speak to the developers and/or publishers, I can at least speak to the gamers.
Now all I need is for you guys to listen. Can you do that for me?