Infinity Ward have recently revealed there will be no dedicated servers for the upcoming game, Modern Warfare 2. Instead, a new system called IW.net will offer a matchmaking system similar to that of the console, but with more customisation. The reaction from the community has been overwhelmingly negative and while online petitions rarely seem to have any influence, the 56,000 signatures gathered so far does give an indication that gamers aren't happy about this decision.
What difference does it make?
On the face of it, this may not seem to be a problem. The console matchmaking system generally works well and it makes for a simpler online experience, as there are no servers to browse. Gamers are able to jump straight into a game matching their parameters.
However, there are far deeper implications - one of the strengths of the PC platform is being able to fully control the game's settings and customise the game. This includes community produced maps, potential new weapons, game types and many other extensions. Dedicated servers allow clans to have their own servers for practice amongst themselves and compete with rivals clans without any external interference. The new system will not allow for clan servers which are replaced by 'private matches' which cannot be controlled by a community admin.
Infinity Ward claim that piracy was only a minor reason for choosing to remove the option of dedicated servers. It seems likely that this is a major reason, particularly as they haven't given any other strong reasons as to why they've developed the new online gaming system. While dedicated servers give gamers many more options to choose how they play the game and interact with others, it can also allow games with pirated copies to play online by avoiding any validation system.
The end of PC gaming?
Although Call of Duty has been an outstanding success on consoles, it did originate on the PC and remains a strong PC multiplayer title. This makes Infinity Ward's decision a concern for the PC gaming community in general.
They're not the first to make such a decision either, as Blizzard have made a similar choice by not allowing the hotly anticipated Starcraft II to be played on a LAN. However, it may be allowed in the final game, if the PCs authenticate to Battle.net first. Blizzard are going one step further than Infinity Ward and claiming that piracy had nothing to do with the lack of LAN game support as they believed it had an impact on their sales.
With Red Alert 3, EA have already removed the LAN gaming option and forced gamers to go entirely through the EA servers. Despite being a big fan of this series, I ended up giving up on Red Alert 3 LAN multiplayer with family members, as problems in the central servers were making it very difficult to get any game going at all. The thought of more PC multiplayer games being the same fills me with dread, but as more and more high profile developers move to this type of system it unfortunately seems inevitable.