On Thursday, December 14, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the net neutrality rules that had been in place since 2015. These rules defined broadband service as a utility, which gave the F.C.C. more power to impose regulations on them.
This included prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or throttling legal content. It also made it impossible for ISPs to create pay-for-speed programs, where companies and users would pay more for faster load times.
What does this mean for the game industry? It has the potential to harm the growing indie game scene. Indie game designers depend on an open, equal internet for networking and for promoting their games. As the game market becomes more saturated, it becomes more difficult for smaller companies or designers to get the word out about their products. They depend largely on social media and word of mouth.
With the end of net neutrality a real possibility now, indie designers will be unable to compete with larger corporations who have the funds to pay for visibility. Indies also depend on small and niche stores to distribute digital copies of their games. These smaller stores could be driven out by behemoths, like Amazon, who have the vast resources needed to pay for fast speeds and visibility.
Aside from the financial costs, there are any number of potential issues. With only a few corporations controlling the flow of information on the internet, there’s a real threat of censorship. For example, Comcast is the largest internet service provider in the United States. Comcast also owns NBC and its related channels (MSNBC, CNBC) and Universal Pictures. If a game with a political bent took aim at some of Comcast’s holdings, they could throttle the speed to its website, making it difficult for people to learn about or acquire the game. They would also be able to charge extra to any storefronts that carried the game.
This might be an extreme example, but it illustrates the many dangers facing indie game creators in a world without net neutrality.