There have been hints of online gaming via consoles in the past most notably Sega.net with the Sega Dreamcast but those efforts did not gain enough support to enter the mainstream. Now more than ever playing consoles online has a chance to break into the mainstream as the big 3 in consoles (PS2 GameCube and Xbox) will all be supporting online gaming in one form or another. Offline blockbuster titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Red Faction II and Splinter Cell are the current life blood of consoles during the holidays but the future of consoles appears to be online.
With that in mind let’s take a look at what each console has in store for online gamers and see if console online gaming can take a bite out of the online gaming industry pie that is currently dominated by PCs.
Sony PlayStation 2
PS2 owners with an Internet connection must buy a network adapter for around $40 to get online. That $40 is not a bad price considering that Twisted Metal Black Online (by mail) and several playable demos come with it. The key thing to keep in mind about the PS2’s online strategy is that it targets all Internet users (not just broadband) and is built on an open network. This open network is the closest thing to Internet gaming via a PC because the developers of the online games control the access to their respective games. Some gamers might not like this idea because it means that each developer can charge them for playing the game online. Thus you could be paying 5 developers if you sign up to play 5 PS2 games online. The upside is that this structure gives developers more of an incentive to make great games. Having games like Madden NFL 2003 SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALS and EverQuest Online Adventures offer just a small sample of the quality of online games that will be available for the PS2.
Caution is the one word that best describes Nintendo’s online strategy. In a nutshell their online plans revolve around one game until they get a better indication of the market. Granted Phantasy Star Online is a great game that has already had an online presence with Sega’s Dreamcast but Nintendo must plan for the future and the future of console gaming is online.
No question about it the Xbox has the hardware to dominate online console gaming with a system speed of 733 MHZ (485 MHZ for the GameCube and 294 MHZ for the pS2) and an 8GB hard drive for new levels and patches. However its plans and a lack of an installed base compared to the PS2 hinder the Xbox’s online presence for the foreseeable future. Microsoft’s strategy of catering only to broadband gamers (Xbox Live) is visionary but not necessarily sound. Broadband is the future of the Internet but not the present. Most Internet users still use a 56k modem or less and Microsoft is alienating those users with this plan. In addition Xbox Live controls all the access to the games instead of the developers. In a way this is great for gamers because they only pay a monthly fee for all Xbox online games. Furthermore the first year of the service is free! The downside is that this structure gives little incentive for developers to make online games on the Xbox. The fact that the PS2 is clobbering the Xbox in terms of console sales does not help developer support either.
Versus PC Online Gaming?
The question remains: Can console online gaming take a bite out of the online gaming industry pie that is currently dominated by PCs? For MMORPGs and shooters I will have to say no because there are no real substitutes for the mouse and keyboard in those genres. Nevertheless I will say that the headset for shooters is a step in the right direction. As far as sports and fighting games are concerned those are two areas that console gaming should eventually dominate. PC online gaming has yet to find success in either of those two genres. As far as which console platform will do the best in online gaming? The PS2 should win the online console wars as it has both the right strategy and the largest installed base of consoles with over 30 million and counting.