The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
From the dawning of this console generation, online components of our gaming systems have become deeply ingrained into our psyches. From Xbox Live and its stellar online gameplay to the Wii's Virtual Console classics for sale, online has become almost ubiquitous with our console playing experience. I am fully prepared to break this down and show what it means to us as gamers, both a blessing and a curse it may be. For understanding leads to acceptance, and I hope to accomplish this feat via this blog.
First, it would only be common sense to begin with the most practical aspect of online consoles: we are no longer required to invite friends over for a quick session of multiplayer. The commonplace practice today is being able to hop into a game within a couple of minutes with friends, and being able to interact both as characters and through a headset. Online multiplayer is a double-edged sword however. For while there may be the the benefit of saving a trip to one another's house, local multiplayer has slowly dwindled away in recent years, to the point where you have to send them home in order to play some of the latest multiplayer games. Game developers must try to balance these two distinct styles of multiplayer (whether you're visiting a friend or sitting at home bored) to keep everyone satisfied.
Another aspect of online multiplayer, and quite frankly the one that intrigues me more, is that technology has sufficiently advanced to the point where multiple players can experience the glory of a story/campaign mode together. One example rather fresh in my mind is a Legendary playthrough of Halo: Reach's campaign me and a few other site members (Elisha Muir, JakRatchet79, and Lukedoc321) have been battling through. While tackling this solo, it is a grim and desperate battle for survival. On the other hand however, with four players, it turns into a extremely enjoyable environment, in which one can laugh as some of the most obfusciatingly annoying player deaths take place before your eyes, much like accidentally driving backwards off a cliff. I just went through four hours of it earlier today and I must say I enjoyed tackling it with three friends immensely. A rather amazing aspect started in recent years.
However, invariably, online comes mired with bugs, technical issues, cheating, and inconsiderate players. While there are ways to fix or avoid these, they are still issues that need to be dealt with as we move forward into an age of even more deeply ingrained online consoles. But I feel I have rambled on about this point long enough, it's time to move on to my next bit of thought, which is:
DLC. Whether you love it or hate it, it is a facet of the new online era that is here to stay. While some may cry foul at the money-grubbing of the developers, it is nice to be able to keep a game alive through fresh content purchases. Some games can end up much larger than what the original game disc or its development would allow, most notably the Shivering Isles expansion for ESIV: Oblivion. If you have not heard about this add-on, it is an utterly massive world built on to Oblivion's core world, in which a rich tapestry of new places, people, quests, and experiences has been laid. It significantly increases one's gameplay experience well past the basic game, which outside of lock-on cartridges and special disks could not be done prior to the online era, and for *mostly* reasonable prices as well.
Once again though, there are notable problems with this mode of content delivery, the worst offenders of which are online passes for on-disk content and arbitrary digital content sales.
Online passes are an enigma more suited for a full blog in and of itself, but for the sake of brevity I am sticking to on-disk content being restricted with codes, used as an effort to curb used game sales. It has left gamers stuck in a position wrought with code expirations, misplaced DLC access information, or merely technical hiccups, in which a gamer is left unable to get their full experience available on the disk.
As for arbitrary sales, the most notable offenders are Xbox Live avatar items. These were released in an attempt to keep people's accounts unique, but have devolved into the point where you're spending $4 on a piece of virtual code that gives your avatar a shirt. It's a cheap marketing ploy many gamers would prefer not had happened in the first place.
One of the most notorious effects of increased online gaming is the inevitable patches to sit through as you boot up a new game. Whether by being sloppily programmed, rushed, or other reasons, these are becoming more and more prevalent to the modern-day gamer. While it is nice to have this option available to fix bugs caught late, it must be relegated to last resort and not the norm, as it can only go downhill from here if we're not careful.
And now we come to one of the most recent arrivals to online consoles: shopping. There are a myriad of benefits and downsides to online marketplaces.
The most notable benefit to shopping online is simply ease. You are no longer required to drive down to the nearest game store in order to purchase yourself a new game, you merely add a credit card, click purchase, download, and enjoy! These games can never be sold out, misplaced, or stolen, they're always in inventory so long as the publisher allows.
Another benefit is selection. Since there is really no storefront space to speak of, there is a much wider selection at your fingertips. Aside from the most blantantly obvious big name games, there's a lot of smaller and indie games that would have never seen the light of day if not for online sales.
Last but certainly not least you have the benefit of sales. Since there is no physical packaging, shipping costs, or manufacturing, online marketplaces are able to offer more impressive sales than available on physical media.
Online shopping is still plagued by its fair share of problems however. The most incriminating is merely the fact that it IS digital. You can't let a friend borrow it. You can't take it somewhere else and play it easily. If the hard drive you're using quits working, you're unable to access any of your games.
A second would be the fact that publishers still seem unsure how to handle online pricing. Many games offered online are equal to or at some points far exceeding the price of physical retail copies. Digital pricing needs to be more aggresive and consumer-friendly in order for this to be a more widly viable option.
One of the more simpler online-console era innovations, you are now able to try many games free of cost before buying them. Other than the early demo builds not being on-par with the full game, there really isn't anything negative to these. Many a time I have tried a demo only to discover a new game I like or one to avoid. Definitely one of the better recent ideas.
Last but not least, we are connected more now than at any other point in gaming history. We have video chatting, something long-reserved for PC and higher-priced videoconferencing equipment. We have voice, in which you are able to seamlessly talk to another person through their console. We even have entire virtual worlds in which one can interact with virtual representations of each other. The possibilities are boundless.
In summation, though we may still be as online gamers still a fledgeling group, and there is still much to be improved, online gaming as a whole moves closer and closer to the cusp of perfection. From the humble beginnings of MMOs, to the Dreamcast's first true internet connectivity, and finally to an era where online is synonymous with gaming, we must never lose sight that this hobby has always been foremost about fun. For while there are still problems and issues with online, it is here to stay in a positive way.
(~Author Note: I'd like to thank Mray901 for giving me the push to finish this blog as well as proofread it. Read his blog he posted earlier today, it's great!)