Imagine you could only play Call of Duty against someone sitting next to you, or were limited to only playing the single-player campaign of Starcraft II or against the AI in Civilization V.  Those games wouldn’t be nearly as fun – some of them wouldn’t be the same game! But the Entertainment Software Association doesn’t think it should matter. In a comment to the Copyright Office, the ESA has claimed that “it is inaccurate to suggest that multiplayer gameplay over the Internet is a ‘core’ functionality of [a] video game.”

The ESA’s comment came in as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act section 1201 rulemaking, where EFF and I are asking the Copyright Office for an exemption to allow players to run their own game servers after developers shut them down. This month, we filed a reply to ESA’s comments, explaining how important multiplayer functionality is for many games.

Many hundreds of popular games are played primarily in multiplayer mode over the Internet, and Internet play is a heavily marketed feature. Game reviewer Steve Lubitz notes that “it’s becoming such the norm to have, not even a multiplayer component, but to have multiplayer be an integral part of the game.” In fact, many video game writers have actually begun to argue that online multiplayer is playing too large a role in the modern video game industry. Game critics have been reviewing online multiplayer as a core part of the gaming experience for years.

Online multiplayer is especially important for older games, because player populations tend to be smaller. Many older communities actually schedule times to play specific games or modes, so they can gather a critical mass of players. Disabling online play for older games means that people won’t have online communities to rely on, and won’t be able to play.

Numerous game enthusiasts also submitted comments to the Copyright Office, expressing their view that multiplayer play is “critical to the games that I play,” and that most games are “crippled without online play.”

The ESA’s claims about multiplayer functionality show how far outside the mainstream they are willing to go to keep gamers from being able to play the games that they have lawfully purchased. Hopefully, the Copyright Office will grant the exemption so games can be enjoyed and preserved long after publishers have forgotten about them.