Online Gaming Services

Many people by are familiar with the likes of XBox LIVE, PlayStation Network and Steam. These applications share a lot in common:

  • Through download stores, you can purchase and download additional content for games, or if you’re so inclined, entire games altogether. XBox LIVE and PSN also allow for the download of other types of media, such as digital comics, movies, etc..
  • PSN in particular now allows you to purchase and download PSP games, rather than having to utilize UMD media.
  • XBox LIVE allows you to use Facebook. I guess it counts.
  • You can maintain a friends list. This list can be simple or highly sophisticated, i.e. allowing you to create a party of friends for multiplayer games, form clans, report players for cheating and/or misbehaviour, and so on.
  • Online leaderboards and trophies. You can acquire trophies primarily for bragging rights, which you can compare with other players who are playing the same games.
  • Earlier forms of gaming services traditionally had chatrooms–this was because at the time, the user base in online gaming was not as immense as it is today, so players typically had to organize games through online lobbies. Dedicated server networks, such as the software used by QuakeWorld, render this obsolete.
  • On that note, dedicated servers are also becoming increasingly obsolete. They are still used by Steam, but Xbox LIVE and PSN rely on matchmaking instead for players who want to play immediately without looking for friends.
  • Some games normally do not support VoIP (Voiceover Internet Protocol) directly–in these cases, one would have to rely on third party software, such as TeamSpeak or Ventrilo, to actively communicate with friends via VoIP. Gaming services such as Steam, however, negate the reliance on third party VoIP software by implementing it directly through their own application.
  • I haven’t ever felt like setting mine up, but you can display a card presenting your XBox LIVE Gamertag, PSN ID or SteamID, as well as their respective statistics, as an extra feature on your website, a forum signature, and so forth.
  • You can create a three dimensional avatar. On XBox LIVE, avatars can be used in certain games; Same with the Wii. (i.e. Mario Kart Wii)
  • Online services act as a sort of DRM system–owners of pirated games are very unlikely to possess the same online capabilities as a regular user would. This would limit them to, at best, playing on virtual LAN networks such as Hamachi. (Curiously, DRM solutions like SecuRom and StarForce can still be found on certain Steam games)

These may seem like nothing more than gimmicks to a person who rarely or never plays games. Features like these were present in older forms of gaming services, such as MPlayer.com and Kesmai (as a kid I was always excited about Battletech, but I never ever played this particular game hosted by Kesmai), which were not as successful as the above three gaming services for a wide variety of reasons–primarily because they were not as profitable.

Today, however, online gaming has become a staple of mainstream gaming. It’s indicative of the increasing need for multiplayer gaming–the Resident Evil series, for instance, was initially a single player endeavour. However, upon Resident Evil 5‘s release (initially on the PS3 and Xbox 360), splitscreen and online co-operative play was introduced in order to compete with other mainstream titles at the time. As another example, the Metal Gear series was also primarily a single player adventure–however, by the time of the release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, online multiplayer was one of the primary selling points of Subsistence. Metal Gear Solid 4 expanded upon MGS3′s multiplayer system, and the upcoming Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for PSP is incorporating co-operative gameplay on top of competitive play.

And in turn, with the increasing need in mainstream gaming for multiplayer, there also comes an increasing reliance on social networking. Videogames today are also relying increasingly on the social networking capabilities of online gaming services in order to increase their longevity and popularity–this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it also lessens the incentive to play older games, or games which will most likely never assimilate itself into the functionality of online services. (i.e. computer games not tied into a system such as Games for Windows or Steam; Nintendo Wii counts because it for the most part lacks many of the features described above of the XBL and PSN)

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