It's been a bumpy ride for even the most streamlined of games. There are many nights that frustration exploded towards them due to being unable to get a Civ 4 game to start smoothly with only 3 people in it. I'm not bitter. I originally learned about LogMeIn Hamachi and its virtual LAN due to certain games never seeming to sync correctly on the GameSpy servers. It had glitches, but managed to free-up game developers to focus on superb (hopefully) gameplay and let a third-party solution do the work for online connectivity.
The writing was on the wall that this would be happening long before now. 2010 shows a significant decline in games using GameSpy as the multiplayer service. Then, in 2012, they got a lot of flack from gamers due to servers shutting down. Their response showed that this was an inevitability due to publishers not paying for the services provided. With the increase in popularity of multiplayer gaming, it is only natural that publishers were wanting more control of server hardware and software. In-house solutions, when done right, give the publisher a chance to make something special, stable, and completely controlled. StarCraft 2 is a great example of multiplayer done right (well, sort of - balance notwithstanding); total control over complex matchmaking, clan systems, security solutions, and anti-hacking tools are all major reasons to build in-house. The final nail in the coffin was in January 2013, when GameSpy stopped licensing their software at all.
This decision is going to reach far and wide, especially for older titles that people still enjoy playing but may be EOL (not getting more patches to replace the technology). It is suspected that this may be the reason behind Nintendo Wi-Fi, which used GameSpy for its online hosting, to announce earlier this year that it is shutting down effective May 20, 2014. Epic has been working on a solution for the Unreal series, and Capcom is in the process of trying to work through it for their titles. For games that don't natively support new services, it is likely that virtual LAN connections or hacked alternatives will arise.
It'll be interesting to see what games effectively die as a result of this, and whether or not community-driven solutions, like FAF, spring-up to take their place. Whether you loved or hated GameSpy, it is always sad to see one of the formative giants of the early competitive multiplayer gaming community fall to the ground and slowly get buried by the sands of time.
Then again, good riddance.
- Scott "Abibiliboop"