The Always-Online Requirement for 'Gran Turismo 7' Jeopardizes a Great Game

A server outage takes the wheels off Sony's racing magnum opus, and reveals a recall-worthy issue.

I'm still smitten with Gran Turismo 7. The more time I spend with it, the more I enjoy the vibes, the cars that are available for collection, tinkering with my ride, competing in online events… it's all pretty terrific and feels like a game I'm going to be happily playing for months or years to come. But I'm also increasingly worried that the game's restrictive always-online requirement, and the clumsy way it's been implemented, are going to kill this experience before its time.

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After wrapping up work yesterday, I fired up my PS5 to play GT7 and got an error message after a long wait to try and connect to the servers. A quick Twitter search revealed the problem had been going on for the entire afternoon as part of a planned maintenance period that had turned into an un-planned extended outage.

After a walk with the dog, dinner, TV, and a brief period of Jokerfication due to a terrible tax accountant, the game was still offline at at midnight Eastern, with no further updates.

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Ironically this was the second time in just over a week that a server connection issue had ruined my time with GT7. Last Saturday, right before bed, I decided to pop back into GT7 to dig into a new series event that I'd started that afternoon. Series events are, like the name implies, short sequences of races where your overall placement depends on how many points you accrue across numerous separate races. The catch in GT7 is that once you've started one of these events, you can't stop. 

I'd started the event in the morning, then spent the rest of the day doing other stuff. When I got back to it eight hours later, my PS5 immediately resumed from where I left off. I spent a few minutes tuning my car, then had three amazing back-to-back races including a photo finish at Brazil's Interlagos track. When I finished, the game directed me back to the Gran Turismo Cafe to get my reward and I got the little loading icon as I headed back to the main menu map. But the screen stayed dark and the icon just spun and spun.

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I knew right away that I was going to lose my progress. Anyone who's ever edited in the CMS, or tried to upload something to an insurance company’s website knows that that long "connecting" hitch means for whatever it is you're trying to do. I went and cleaned the kitchen and 20 minutes later I was still on that same loading screen. I closed the program from the PS5 home menu and relaunched. To my dismay but not surprise, the game loaded to the exact place I'd left it in the afternoon: no races run, default setups on my car.

This was an amazing win that a dropped connection completely erased.

Now always-online "live service features" are par for the course in an increasing number of games. Forza Horizon has basically mooted the Xbox Series X's Quick Resume feature by signing you out and returning you to the main menu if it decides you've been idle long enough. Forza Motorsport 7 is far better on this front: it will alert you that the connection needs to be reestablished but will let me go on with my racing while it quietly tries to connect to the servers in the background. Usually I'm back online after only a small framerate hiccup and, crucially, no sense that the game has stopped working.

I can't recall dealing with anything like GT7's hiccups and outages in those games, and that highlights how uniquely annoying GT7's connection requirement has been made to be. Even though in the scheme of things a lost session or not being able to play for a night is only a minor annoyance, it's especially galling because the online requirement doesn't need to be there at all.

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Seriously, Gran Turismo 7 is one of the most joyfully solitary experiences in games. That's one reason it drew me in so much. I can access multiplayer through a couple clearly labelled options on the main menu, and obviously the game will download updates and additional content over the coming months but I'm just communing with my make-believe car collection here! Why is it even a possibility that I'd lose everything I do in a game that's doing the exact same things I did for years on PlayStations that were sometimes disconnected from the Internet for months at a time?

Not the kind of going in circles I like in a racing game.

A lot of games now require a constant internet connection for even basic single-player functionality. Some build the entire game around this requirement, like the Horizon series, where the conceit is that (whether you want to or not) you're sharing an entire playground with countless other players around the world. But Gran Turismo 7 doesn't bother with a lot of "live services" cruft… and yet Sony has implemented a terrible version of the connection requirement.

Just a couple weeks into the game's release, I'm suddenly more curious about what the end of GT7's life looks like. Will it just stop working one day when servers are shut down, even though it doesn't really need them for the single player? Will they waive the requirement, the way some older games will check for defunct servers or abandoned authentication and then just move into a solid offline single player? More to the question, how long before we're getting "end of life" messages for a game that by all means seems like it could be an era-defining racing game? That's certainly been Microsoft's approach to all the recent Forza games, and Sony set a far worse precedent when the company effectively nuked Driveclub from orbit. It would be more than a shame to see GT7 made similarly unavailable and eventually unplayable for similarly shortsighted, controlling reasons. But at times like this, it's hard not to think that the people who never moved on from modding rFactor and Grand Prix Legends were the ones with the clearest vision of what the future of games would look like.

On the surface, GT7 recaptures a lot of the series bygone glory days on PS2. Behind the scenes, via shaky server connections and nonsensical session restrictions, there's a lot of what makes modern AAA games feel like an expensive lifetime subscription to a product coded in disappearing ink.

Tagged:

Sony, Racing Games, Polyphony Digital, Games as Service, Gran Turismo 7

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