Online Games: The Future of Gaming?
This hub is going to talk about a phenomenon that has been sweeping the gaming community by storm for the last decade or so. That is, the concept of the online game. While offline games are still prominent, especially for consoles and even more so for handhelds, the video game industry as a whole seems to be shifting to an online game core.
During the course of this hub, I intend to give various reasons as to why the video game industry is shifting as it is. Feel free to give your thoughts on what I write below in the comments section.
So, let us be off!
1: Instant Audience
Perhaps one of the most powerful reasons as to why online games are skyrocketing in popularity is the relative ease in which they draw in their target audience. Since most of the current offerings are completely free to play (they have things you can pay for usually; more on this later in the hub), the only major deterrents for someone to not play any online game is:
- Genre dislike: In my personal case, you're going to be hard pressed to convince me to play a first person shooter, even if it's better than Quake (one of the few FPS games I have actually enjoyed). That's because I dislike the genre itself.
- Inadequate computer configuration: It happens. That game requires more processing power than your PC has. In that case, you'll have to sit this one out. Do keep in mind that games (with a fair amount of exceptions) are going to continue going forward in terms of requirements, so it's in your best interest to upgrade your gaming rig eventually if you want to play the most recent offerings. But, that's besides the point of this hub.
- Time: If you don't have the time to devote to a video game, you just don't have the time. Fortunately, not all online games are as big as a time sink as the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) category tend to be.
So, someone who isn't restricted or otherwise bothered by the conditions above can easily install the online game of their choice and get playing with lots of other people!
However, what's an online audience without an ulterior motive? Here's the second reason why online games are the way of the future.
2: Money, Money, Money!
(Yes, I did just write money in there three times just to make a point.)
To understand why monetization is the name of the game for online games (free to play and not), let's take a quick look at the way things work for retail box copies:
- You go to your video game retailer of choice (if you live in Puerto Rico like me, it's most likely Gamestop; as much for lack of choices as anything else).
- You buy the game at retail, which costs anywhere from 30 to 60 USD, depending on the console in question.
- The game publisher has to cover the costs of publishing the game (such as the box, manual, extra miscellanea), so they don't make the full retail price off of whatever the retailer is charging (then again, the retailer doesn't make full profit either, for obvious reasons; they have to buy the games wholesale themselves!)..
- However, here's the kicker: That's a one-time purchase, per person!
That last bullet is really important for this discussion. See, why get money from somebody once every <insert delay between game releases here> when you can get money from somebody every week! Or every day! Or multiple times per day!
What is Freemium?
Well, besides being an amalgation of free and premium, freemium refers to a game (99% of the time online) that is free to play, but allows the player to buy in-game bonuses to boost their character, unlock additional content, or otherwise leverage their time in their game of choice.
Mind you, I don't have a problem with the concept of freemium myself, although online games that allow you to pay to circumvent the time-effort ratio that keeps most of them balanced tend to put me off. Runes of Magic is a particularly blatant offender in this topic. You can, with enough money, buy yourself so many stat boosters that you can have a Mage that's a better defensive character than a Knight (RoM's tank class). That's pretty disturbing to me, from multiple viewpoints.
Well, that is the basis of the current online game phenomenon of freemium. See the sidebar for details on what freemium is.
Of course, if you have a well-done online game that is a joy to play, the masses will pay you lots of money of their own free will, and that beats the one-time purchase model of retail that currently exists (and probably still will for, at least, the foreseeable future).
Then again, you could go and do something like Zynga does. If you're a video game developer reading this, please do not go that way. You will get filthy rich, with emphasis on filthy. Make a quality game and they will come (your fans that is). Make a game that isn't top-notch and just seeks to get people addicted and, at the very least, you're going to have some disappointed fans down the road.
That's about enough rant from me for now. Let's move to another chief reason why online games are going to be the future of video gaming.
3: Copyright Protection (The Piracy Issue)
Up to a certain point this could also be considered as a monetization scheme but, since I already talked about money in the previous section, I decided to write this one up to talk about some aspects of copyright protection that don't involve money.
See, piracy has always been an issue, and it's not only about video games. Movies, music, videos about things better talked about in an adult-themed blog, and many other things get pirated all day, every day. Before, video game companies made do with copy protection schemes like physical items added to each box copy of the game (you can copy the floppy, but you can't copy that cardboard map) or questions referencing the game's printed manual.
However, we're in the 21st century right now. A few years ago, the entertainment industry was taken by storm with a new (at that time) concept called Digital Rights Management (DRM, for short). These represent the modern-day attempts to combat piracy and include, but are not limited to:
- Special coding on the game discs that prevent burning software from making a perfect copy. Imperfect copies will fail integrated checks in the software and will not run the DRM-protected game in question.
- Dongles. Mind you, I don't think any video game has ever used a dongle set-up, but they do exist for software. Dongles are small pieces of hardware you can connect to your computer (usually through a USB port) to validate that you are using a legitimate copy of the software.
- Activation servers that require you to log in to the Internet and prove to the video game developer (through an alphanumeric code or various other methods) that you have a non-pirated copy of the game.
A variant of that last bullet is what exists for all online games today. See, by having to be connected to play a video game, the game developer gets to make sure that you own a legitimate copy of their game (obviously only applicable if it's buy-able at retail, like World of Warcraft by Blizzard Entertainment, for example). Thus, if the video game developer controls the flow of sales and transactions at all times, they can ensure that they are getting all of the money that they deserve, and that none of it is getting shunted on to third-parties that had nothing to do with the game development.
(Mind you, in World of Warcraft's particular case, there are private servers up that are not Blizzard-authorized. It goes without saying that the big B is hard at working shutting down the most prominent of these).
The last great reason as to why online games are poised to become the future of gaming is related to the first reason.
See, with an instant audience also comes the ability to have all of them connected at the same time. Even if the online game in question only allows people to have limited interactivity with each other, it still makes the players feel like they're part of something big, and not just isolated from the world as one tends to feel when playing an offline game.
That is the reason why so many game companies are targeting social networks such as Facebook for their online games. They are just combining a natural source of potential players with a type of game that will attract large groups of players.
In summary, I believe that online games are going to be the future of video gaming. Whether you like it or not, it will eventually happen. There will eventually come the day where most of our gaming is either directly online, or validated through an online server.
That is our future, but there will always be a counter-culture (made up of smaller and independent video game companies) that will allow you to enjoy some unique video game experiences while offline.
So, whatever your preference, don't feel like you're going to run out of options, because I highly doubt that any form of gaming, online or offline, is going to go completely extinct.
Thank you for reading, as always!
Until the next time, take care and have fun! ;)
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