The Spy Who Went Into The Cold: Gamespy’s Casualties

By Alec Meer on December 10th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

SWAT 4: Good times in terrifying co-op

Once a rightfully-disliked multiplayer infrastructure for PC gaming, GameSpy of late is transitioning into whatever new, mobile-centric owners GlU intend for it since acquiring it a few months ago. It didn’t take long for the first causalities to occur – the service has withdrawn multiplayer support for games such as SWAT 4, Neverwinter Nights and Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

The standard argument may well be “so what, who plays those online anyway?” but there’s more than principle at stake here. It’s that the option is gone, forever, and that’s an absurd thing to happen to a digital product. Games that don’t rely on third-party infrastructures don’t experience the same issues as they age, but, as Rebellion claim in regard to their Sniper: Elite suffering at the hands of GameSpy’s slow death, “because the game relies on Glu and Gamespy’s middleware, the entire multiplayer aspect of the game would have to be redeveloped by us, again, at the cost of many tens of thousands of pounds… We simply do not have the resources to pay the massive costs of new servers along with redeveloping a seven-year-old game.”

GameSpy’s multiplayer system always seemed like a bad idea used because it was more convenient than creating bespoke multiplayer tech, and now the reaper has come to make his inevitable call. Rebellion also claim GLU told them that getting the servers turned back on “would cost us tens of thousands of pounds a year – far in excess of how much we were paying previously.”

Also affected by the cull, claims Slashdot, are Hidden and Dangerous 2, Wings of War and Star Wars: Battlefront. It doesn’t seem unlikely that more games will join them, dependent on popularity, who’s prepared to pay raised server costs and whatever GLU really intend for GameSpy.

It’s important to note that affected games aren’t necessarily locked out of multiplayer completely, but server-browsing/searching is lost to them, so in some cases direct IP connections are needed instead. Which means getting a game isn’t going to easy, to say the least. Players are understandably upset, and are offering up all their best naughty swears on GameSpy’s Facebook page.

The idea that I might never be able to revisit SWAT 4 co-op unless I can drag people over for a LAN party is pretty distressing, I must say. Though I suppose that’s where stuff like Gameranger and Hamachi comes in.

__________________

« | »

, , .

90 Comments »

  1. Mungrul says:

    Can Gameranger step in here, or is there more going on in the background with Gamespy integration than Gameranger could handle?

  2. CMaster says:

    Gameranger also works very, very well with SWAT4.

    However, a couple of years ago, SWAT4 still had a pretty big multiplayer presence, I was surprised. Although it is one of the finest coop games of all time.

    • slerbal says:

      Until GameSpy shut the multiplayer server browser down there were several thousand people regularly playing SWAT4 online. What really grates is that it isn’t as if they were hosting anything other than a multiplayer server list – the games are hosted by one of the players.

      I would love for someone to come up with an alternate server browser system for SWAT4 as that is such a fine game and the community were really lovely to play with. There was no real notice given, all the contact emil addresses supplied and web urls were broken/dead/never set up. :(

      Bohemia Interactive should look at patching gamespy out of Arma2 and not use it in Arma3 before they get shut down. Gosh – so should Killing Floor and all the other games that use it.

      Glu Mobile are a terrible company imo and will kill all PC support for gamespy. The writing is on the wall.

      • airtekh says:

        I thought Killing Floor used Steamworks for its multiplayer?

        I haven’t played it in a while so I can’t remember.

    • sinister agent says:

      SWAT4 had a very active online presence as little as a few months ago. It’s very disappointing to have support for that withdrawn, as it’s an excellent and popular game.

      • slerbal says:

        ^^ This! The SWAT 4 community was impressively active

      • subedii says:

        Was it?

        I remember getting a craving for “HANDS IN THE AIR!” action maybe 6 months ago and re-installing Stechkov for some action. Could only find one server and it was empty.

        Of course it could be that the browser was bugging out for some reason at the time. Because as you say, the SWAT community in general had been pretty freaking active and resilient for years. Nobody ever released a game quite like it. The whole reason I even bothered to re-install was because the time before that I had played (maybe less than a year), the server list was full and scrolling down the page with people playing.

        Ah well, I guess there’s Hamachi, but it won’t be easy to join impromptu games anymore unfortunately.

        • rockman29 says:

          SWAT 4 has tons of players. I still play that game and can always find a game whether on 1.1 or 1.0 ver SWAT 4 vanilla.

          I hope everyone moves onto Gameranger or whatever the kids use these days. We need games like that to stay alive.

  3. misterT0AST says:

    It seems I’m too late to jump on the bandwagon and say that Gameranger is as nice as everyone says.
    Although I only used it for Icewind Dale, Age of Mythology and Age of Empires.

  4. malkav11 says:

    Once again, and people wonder why I refuse to put up with always-online DRM.

    • Zephro says:

      This isn’t DRM…

    • Tetracell says:

      Oh, do they? You have a group of people sitting around wondering “golly, why does malkav11 not want to use games with always-online DRM?” Even when this has nothing to do with it? What a magnificent life.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        Always-on DRM: Can’t play when the servers are down
        Relying on Gamespy servers for multiplayer: Online multiplayer gone when they shut the servers down
        MMOs: Gone forever when the servers are inevitably shut down (that’s just my little contribution, there)

        There you go. There’s the connection.

        • iniudan says:

          Then you consider central part the web itself to be DRM, has the DNS service is a DRM by your definition, you kind of need a root server for the management of addressing in a way that easy to use for most user. But I admit most game should also be release with software to host custom match server, for those that want to use alternative or cannot use the root server.

        • Tetracell says:

          I had a feeling someone was going to bring that up, and it’s a tenuous connection at best. There’s still a large difference between online-drm and multiplayer master servers. I don’t think it’s a tough fact to accept that eventually, master servers for ancient games are going to start to come down. It sucks, but it’s true. Whether they’re run by Gamespy, parent publisher / developer, whoever. All you can hope for is that there is some other method of being able to play when this happens. And it’s not like it’s the end of the world in this case. I’ve played a shitload of SWAT 4 with my friends – never once through Gamespy. And for those people looking for some random action with internet people, Gameranger has picked up the slack.

          • LionsPhil says:

            There’s also the issue that a metaserver is a technical necessity (a list of games has to be held at some known place), whereas DRM is a completely egregious one: the game could run, but it doesn’t want to.

          • malkav11 says:

            The only difference is how much of the game they shut off when they’re inevitably shut down. With always-on DRM, it’s the whole thing. With multiplayer servers, just the multiplayer. Assuming the multiplayer is inextricably tied to the servers, anyway. In this particular case many of them work with direct IP connections and/or have LAN support that can be emulated. I daresay it would be a sight less trivial to emulate an entire remote server.

          • jrodman says:

            Regardless of any similarity, they’re quite different beasts. Multiplayer servers and services and matchmaking exist to enable multiplayer gaming. DRM exists to prevent unwanted gaming. DRM offers.. nothing. Multiplayer lobbys and servers offer convenience.

            Obviously it gets a bit twisty when people make single player games server-backed, which offers… nothing. So it reveals itself as indirect DRM.

        • rb2610 says:

          The difference being that always-on DRM can be relatively easily patched out by the developer once they’ve gotten to the point in a game’s lifecycle that they aren’t too fussed about piracy risks (which if they’re shutting down servers is likely).

          Whereas Gamespy’s multiplayer is an entire portion of the game that won’t function and would require masses of work to change (as the article says)

          Oh crap, wasn’t Dawn of War’s multiplayer Gamespy based?

  5. Keymonk says:

    Dang… I still play NwN online often enough. :(

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Yeah, and I thought it not being an MMO would make it immune from this shit. But that’s why Hamachi, and other programs mentioned elsewhere in the comments, exist.

    • LionsPhil says:

      NWN’s metaserver’s been broken for a while. Thankfully it still does direct IP connections.

  6. airtekh says:

    Hmm, I never did get around to playing Swat 4 in co-op.

    If it supports LAN though then it can still be kept alive with the likes of Evolve, Hamachi or Tunngle.

    • subedii says:

      It does. I played a few custom games with friends way-back-when using Hamachi, so I know that at least works.

  7. Arithon says:

    This is a strong case for the boycotting of proprietary networking in games. They should be able to run stand-alone, and any multi-player server element should be on general release once the developer stops running their own servers.
    We used to be able to run LAN servers and mod games. Now the policy of greed, with closed servers and zero mod support in favour of DLC, means that as time passes, most historical games will be technically unplayable within a few years – crippled by deactivated DRM servers and lost server code.
    The guys at GOG may be our only hope!

    • MichaelPalin says:

      And the Humble Bundle which release all of their games DRM-fr… oh, wait! And all those indie games that are released DRM-free.

  8. Matchstick says:

    Hamachi – would that be the VPN service that’s decided to squat on an IP address block used by UK MOD after being forced off the 5.0.0.0/8 block they were previously inhabbiting without permission ?

    • bill says:

      Ministry of Defense or some Modders?

    • slerbal says:

      Yeah that Hamatchi – the way those services grab a block of IPs is not really viable – not in the current days of IPv4 being filled to the maximum. Given that several of my friends regularly have external IPs that are in the range that such services grab it is a poor substitute to actual independent server browsers.

      I wish it wasn’t so :(

      • phuzz says:

        Why don’t they use a class B address ( 172.16.0.0/12)? It’s not like anyone uses them for their LAN.

      • Gotem says:

        if oyu have the same group of persons that play, what I’ve foudn more convenient for some games is to setup an openvpn server on one of the machines, plus using some dynamic dns service for the ip.
        it takes a while to learn and setup, but once done it is just as easy as hamachi or stuff like that

  9. AmateurScience says:

    Re: direct ip connections. Me and a few friends have been using a vLAN service called Tuungle to play Baldur’s Gate (the original one) once a week for the last 6 months. It works pretty well, and it has lobbies for a load of games (including NWN). Worth checking out if you’re affected by this.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      And it has plenty of tutorials on how to crack multiplayer DRM, :)

  10. Crimsoneer says:

    I have very fond of Squat 4 in co-op. Lots of shooting hostages in the face with bean bag guns for no reason.

    • slerbal says:

      It was a justified tasering! :D

      SWAT4 is one of my top 5 games of all time – such a great experience. I’ve been hoping it would appear on Gog.com but the death of the multiplayer server browser is a big problem :(

  11. Danda says:

    This is beyond awful.

    Just a quick note: Borderlands 1 (PC) uses GameSpy for co-op.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      I think it’s been upgraded to Steam now…Or was that only the GOTY edition?

  12. jezcentral says:

    This isn’t a great loss to me. I had to buy a second edition of Borderlands, once it had been integrated with Steamworks instead, so I could play with others. Gamespy was awful, almost GFWL awful.

    EDIT: Ninja’d by Danda. Danda is a ninja.

    • malkav11 says:

      More awful, if you ask me. I can’t say as GFWL is perfect, but I could generally get a stable connection to a friend without much trouble.

  13. Unrein says:

    I have been playing NWN 1 & 2 multiplayer on and off since 2002. Lots of great memories.

    Doesn’t seem I’ll be reliving them ever again once the slow death this assures runs its course.

    • Fazer says:

      Actually, NWN fans already created (or are creating) a tool to fix that problem. Look at official forums.

      • Unrein says:

        How many new players will actually go through the trouble to use the thing? I mean, the Neverwinter Nights multiplayer has been on a slow burn for a while, but I really don’t see how this won’t be death by attrition.

        • Gnoupi says:

          To be honest, I don’t think there were a lot of “new players” for NwN. Mostly people who join a community, and have ways to get known about such tools.

  14. GSGregory says:

    Awesome. Fuck gamespy. Never did like them and I guess this was that disaster waiting to happen.
    Wonder if soon we are going to start getting games with lifespans where when you buy it it is only good for x years as drm and ect increase.

    • Fazer says:

      It already happens with EA games, where they close down servers after a year or two.

    • Noburu says:

      I too hate Gamespy, but it is still sad to see the online play for all these games just up and die.

  15. Bhazor says:

    My god.
    People actually care about Sniper: Elite multiplayer?

  16. caddyB says:

    Gah, the original Sword of the Stars also got hit by this. The second one transitioned to Steam for the multiplayer after Gamespy problems arose and it works rather well actually. Both the game and the multiplayer.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      Except for the whole being unfinished and unplayable problem it has, yeah working great. Call me when the game I payed 40 bucks for hit’s BETA.

      • GentlemanRaptor says:

        Well, they gave the all-clear on it being a release product this year, so I’d say to consider this a belated notice of beta-hitting. Personally, I like it, but your opinion is your own…

  17. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    This is another reason to dislike GFWL. Even things such as Steam, Uplay, or Origin could end up ruining games if they are ever abandoned in the future.

  18. ghling says:

    So, how is the legal situation? I’m pretty sure the MP is a big part of the software when you buy it, especially for games like Swat4. Now, they just take this away. I’m pretty sure, somewhere in those EULAs everybody reads is an article which says “we can remove anything we like and don’t care”, but how is the legal situation for that? Maybe we need to make an example that we (as the consumer) don’t tolerate this and companies must be aware of this possibility when choosing gamespy/GFWL/other crap as bundle for their games just to save money.

    • Zephro says:

      It’s a service not the piece of software you own. Your paying them didn’t mean they had to keep a server running 24/7 for eternity just in case someone fancies a game.

      But basically there is no consumer right covering this and there probably shouldn’t be either.

  19. widowfactory says:

    For me, this is the same as people who have never read a book being up in arms about the local library being shutdown. Maybe if you actually used and supported it, it wouldn’t need to be closed. Get over it.

    • Frank says:

      Wow. I think I hate you even more than I dislike (apocryphal?) people who care about this. So, what? You’re basically saying “Ask not what your game publisher can do for you, …”

    • Spoon Of Doom says:

      In this case, the library was a rather shitty place, but people still went there when they had to for certain books that weren’t available elsewhere. Now, the library is not only closed, but burned down with all those precious books in it, and asking the firemen exorbitant sums of money for saving the books, which they, in most cases, don’t want or cannot pay. Sure, some passionate former visitors of the library are trying to repair some of the books with other tools, severs or workarounds (sorry to break the analogy here, but I couldn’t think of anything), but at the end of the day it’s all but certain that a whole lot of former fans of the books either don’t know about those restauration attempts at all or are simply unwilling to jump through the hoops some of them require.

      Really, people don’t care about the library here – it’s the books that are trapped in the wrackage that people are “in arms” about.

      • Baines says:

        And don’t forget that the local bookstore might decide to close down and burn all its books as well… And some already burn their books every few years.

    • Barman1942 says:

      Fuck you, I played SWAT 4 mp.

  20. Frank says:

    I only ran into Gamespy through Civ, and it was a mess, so I’m glad to see it go. It looked like the RealPlayer of gaming: awful, ad-heavy junk that should have died in the 90′s.

  21. MichaelPalin says:

    What I still don’t understand after reading the article and the comments is how exactly a server storing and administering a list of user hosted matches can be expensive at all? Bittorrent, for instance, works on any crappy connection and can generally hold constant communication between hundreds of users at a time.

    • Zephro says:

      Probably a few thousand pounds a year. Depends. But yknow X old games times a few thousand would add up pretty quickly. That’s a rough estimate of Amazon Cloud service cost + staff + leccy bill etc.

  22. bit.bat says:

    See if Irrational just makes SWAT 5 that would solve all of our problems.

  23. TsunamiWombat says:

    Haven’t noticed any changes on my NWN Server. Anyhow didn’t Gamespy support for NWN end years ago?

  24. phuzz says:

    It’s worth noting that GameSpy originally started out as QuakeSpy, which was a server browser built for Quake and at the time, bloody useful.
    Then it got bought by someone wikipedia refers to as “Corporate strategist Mark Surfas” and turned shit.

  25. MikoSquiz says:

    Psst. It sez “the first causalities” in the first paragraph, it does.

  26. deadly.by.design says:

    Gamespy: Hands-down the best way to play Action Quake 2.

    In 1998.

  27. Zombat says:

    Can’t see it being that implausible for a third party server browser to spring up to take gamespy’s place.

    I remember when GameSpy became really really shitty about a decade ago there was a program called The All Seeing Eye, which I think had their own server hubs as well as pulled server info from gamespy’s listings.

    Shouldn’t take that big of a server to handle the few thousand servers of older games.
    If it can work via distributed networking like bitorrent they wouldn’t even need a centralised server.

    • Yglorba says:

      Bittorrent still requires a centralized server; the actual files being shared are distributed over the users, but the basic framework that manages the exchange of file pieces is centralized.

      And since server browsers are already that sort of lightweight centralized list connecting users to do the heavy work directly peer-to-peer, it’s not really useful here.

      • Panda Powered says:

        Unless you use DHT and decentralise the sharing and essentially make every peer into a master server.
        I’m not sure how useless that would be for some kind of game server listing though. Probably very…

  28. slerbal says:

    Anyone tried this Swat4 Server Browser Alternative?

    http://swat4news.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/dexus-swat4-server-browser-alternative.html

    Sounds promising…?

  29. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    This is the same Gamespy who wanted publishers/developers to stop using Steamworks & GFWL for PC gaming ha ha what a joke at least MS & Valve will be around for a long time to come & GFWL especially uses P2P on most games anyway MS probably find it cheaper to run the handful of servers than re-code GFWL to allow IP connections anyway. I expect GFWL will still be around in 3 years infrastructure wise!

  30. killbilly says:

    I discovered the shutdown, and the fact that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. SoC performs a check for Gamespy in single player (and crashes if your network is up and Gamespy doesn’t respond) at about the same time.

    There’s a workaround involving Windows Firewall, but that was rather annoying.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Oh for fucks sake, really? Great! I don’t run the firewall as it’s caused me far too many problems. (Stuff, despite being allowed through, flat out not working).

      So… I guess I’m SOL with SOC.

      Edit: Just read that supposedly copying the xrgamespy.dll from a newer game works as a fix, so just copied one from COP over. No idea if it’ll work, but figured I’d post that for reference in case.

  31. LionsPhil says:

    This is just the beginning, really. Server browsers, you can live without, even if it’s inconvenient.

    When the metaservers start going down for games following the newer “persistent XP, unlocks, and accounts” model of multiplayer, that’s *really* going to knobble things, even if everyone is sunshine and flowers and patches out their DRM systems before turning off the lights.

  32. Citrus says:

    Um, we still play SWAT4 online without Gamespy.

    You can join MYT servers which are usually filled (COOP and VIP Escort).

    I have been playing this game since the day it was released and I bought BF3 so I could finally replace it. Instead, I haven’t touched BF3 for months now (got bored after unlocking everything for Engineer) and everyday go back to SWAT4 for actual tactical MP.

    BTW, easiest way to join the server everyday is to just get Xfire. It allows you to directly join server from the desktop.

    Xfire SWAT 4 page..

  33. DrBomb says:

    What about evolve? No need for hamachi rooms, just register, install, make a party, invite friends to it and you’re all inside a chatroom with lan capabilities

  34. PopeJamal says:

    The solution to this problem was thought of years ago: It’s called opensource.

    If software developers were compelled in some way (monetarily or otherwise) to release the source code for “old” software, it could be kept alive by anyone who loved it enough to keep it around.

    Hopefully we’ve learned a collective lesson.

  35. belgand says:

    And to think that they started out as a little fan-made server browser for Quake called Qspy. If only they didn’t have some sort of odd middleware in there it shouldn’t have even been a problem. Just using it as a browser for servers should mean that you’d only need to point it at a community-run server that registers all the others out there. Y’know, the way it used to be done before they started integrating it and, admittedly, making it far less of a pain in the ass… but also less robust.

    • LeeTheAgent says:

      It was a game-changer in it’s day. Back then, a lot of games needed you to add individual ip addresses to get a game going. Unfortunately, it barely advanced with the times. Nowdays, looking through old games on Steam or GOG, seeing that the multiplayer is handled through GameSpy is a kiss of death.

  36. KenTWOu says:

    It seems that Test Drive Unlimited 1 is also affected. It’s time to convert online profile to offline profile using HEX editor.