Is the shift to online a fad?

 Posted by (Visited 18197 times)  Game talk
Feb 122006
 

It’s been really interesting to me to see the number of folks who don’t get what I am saying about the way market trends are leading irreversibly away from the traditional single-player game. Many are focusing on the examples I used of current connectivity thinking that “chatting on a messageboard” is all I mean. But it’s not all I mean, not at all… that’s just the current manifestation of things.

One of the key things that everyone seems to react to is the notion that the experiences they can get fom single-player games cannot be had in MMORPGs. But this is a false notion. You can literally embed an entire single-player game — say, Half-Life 2 — in an MMORPG. That’s what instances ARE. Thus far instances have been used to mostly make multiplayter games that are highly similar to the main game, but that’s barely scratching the surface of what can be done.

How is live-ifying things now any different from RTSing things 8 years ago and Doom-ifying things before that? Isn’t it just the latest big thing that the game industry is dogging?
– Mark Asher

  • Those others were individual games and clones thereof. Live (which didn’t start with Live) is a business practice.
  • The core gamer market is pretty well CAPPED and publishers are seeking alternate markets and finding them in casual games, connected games, and so on
  • The cost of the elaborate single-player extravaganzas we all love has reached absurdity, and the complexity is making them nigh-undevelopable. Publishers are looking for alternate models.
  • The traditional retail distribution model is under serious, serious attack. Between SOE’s digital distribution, GameTap, GameFly, Direct2Drive, FilePlanet, Steam, Live, EA’s thing whose name I am blanking on, and so on, there’s an irreversible trend going on.
  • A far larger gamer population than the entire US and Europe population ALREADY lives and plays this way. Numbers talk, niches walk. We’re the niche.
  • The entire next gen of hardware is designed around these assumptions. Even Nintendo, who held out last gen, has made seamless wifi a centerpiece of its latest handheld, and is embracing digital distribution in the next gen.
  • Dude, Live is getting built into WINDOWS. 😛

This is a sea change, not a fad. Here’s a trend of development:

Right now, you launch a single-player game.

Very shortly, you will launch an aggregation service and play a single-player game from within it.

Sometime after that, you will launch a multiplayer game and play a single-player or multiplayer game from within it. cf Korean games, which do this now.

And beyond that, you will launch an MMO-like space with a mix of classic interfaces and virtual spaces, and to play a single-player game you will walk into it.

This latter one is not so outrageous — it’s what you do in WoW to enter a battleground, which is, really, a different game than what you play the rest of the time.

And my contention is that

  • game publishers will make it this way because of piracy
  • and because of new revenue models
  • and because they want to datamine you and market to you better
  • and because they want to reach a larger audience than the current gamer audience
  • and because you the audience want much of it: the profiles, the score tables, etc

So while I was indeed being provocative and outrageous in making the statement that single-player games are doomed, frankly, I still stand by it. In a decade or so, that’s just how all games will work. You won’t buy a game — you’ll buy access to a multiplayer game service with single-player games in it as instances.

  49 Responses to “Is the shift to online a fad?”

  1. Raph’s Website » Is the shift to online a fad? Raph on extraordinary form, as usual. The man’s a damn oracle.

  2. According to Raph single player games are on their way out. So while I was indeed being provocative and outrageous in making the statement that single-player games are doomed, frankly, I still stand by it. In a decade or so, that’s just how all

  3. to grow in popularity.  For many folks, online gaming is becoming their hangout, their nightclub or coffee house.  Ease of accessibility will allow more people to experience the often less inhibited world of online play. Here’s a link toRaph’s blog

  4. up on me a little bit too, saying that I only advocate multiplayer for the money in it, or something. For those just joining this particular multiplayer game, you may want to read these older posts of mine: Are Single-Player Games Doomed?Is the shift to online a fad?Have single player games ever existed? Single-player Singularity

  5. Brilliantly insightful! As a developer, I find myself drooling over that last set of bullet points.

  6. Again with the wanting to make a MMO Game (hell any game) into a Virtual World. Raph everything with you comes down to Virtual Worlds. You want the ultimate VR experience where the rest of us just want to have fun playing games.

    Single player games are single player games whether they are embedded in uber VR environs or not. There will always be single player games. A single player game does not become a multiplayer game once it’s inserted into a VW environment.

    A single player game only becomes a multiplayer game when more than one person can use the games own controls to affect the state of the game while you are playing it.

  7. Certainly no one is saying that “online” is a fad. They are mostly just disagreeing with your language. The “not getting it” is more aptly a refusal to speak Raphspeak.

    As far as how far gaming will shift online, I think you’re overly optimistic. The mainstream, IMO, will continue to be retail. That’s what people are comfortable with and that’s what publishers are comfortable with. We’ve already seen a revolution in music, with iTunes, etc., but most music is still purchased from retailers and there is still a very strong core of “mainstream” music. The people who are getting online and finding their niches are a minority and not the majority.

    For what it’s worth, with casual games I think that ratings and such are overrated. Our company does casual games for mobile phones with prizes. The technology we have developed for this makes it possible to do real-time high score lists for everyone playing our games. We’ve been told directly by carriers, however, that their market research shows that this features makes very little difference in selling games. High score lists tend to end up being an anathema to the “casual” motif in that they serve to point out to players that they actually aren’t very good compared to a lot of other players out there.

  8. Michael:
    If you just want to have fun playing games, there’s always baseball. I hate it when people deride the desire to make things better. And worse, I hate it when they speak for me. And worst of all, I hate it when people decide that what has been done is the bestest and not only can it not be improved, but attempts to do so will royally suck.

    Oh, and you also failed to deny the original message in the post.

    Raph:
    And while I still think you’re wrong in the explicit statement of the doom of the single-player game, it’s pretty clear that you’re right about the movement away from the single-player game as a solitary experience, which is what you seem to be saying is doomed.

  9. […] Comments […]

  10. Michael:

    Again with the wanting to make a MMO Game (hell any game) into a Virtual World. Raph everything with you comes down to Virtual Worlds. You want the ultimate VR experience where the rest of us just want to have fun playing games.

    Of course for me everything comes down to online worlds — that’s what I do. 🙂

    But I’m not really talking about the kind of online worlds that I’m interested in, in these two posts… in fact, I’d go so far as to assert that they’re exactly a sort of online world that doesn’t much interest me personally.

    Single player games are single player games whether they are embedded in uber VR environs or not. There will always be single player games. A single player game does not become a multiplayer game once it’s inserted into a VW environment.

    Obviously, I don’t agree… but this is actually a disagreement that doesn’t matter, in terms of the larger debate. So, fine.

    A single player game only becomes a multiplayer game when more than one person can use the games own controls to affect the state of the game while you are playing it.

    This would seem to preclude all the multiplayer turn-based games, like playing multiplayer on Space Invaders. I’m not ready to write those off. 🙂

    StGabe:

    As far as how far gaming will shift online, I think you’re overly optimistic. The mainstream, IMO, will continue to be retail. That’s what people are comfortable with and that’s what publishers are comfortable with. We’ve already seen a revolution in music, with iTunes, etc., but most music is still purchased from retailers and there is still a very strong core of “mainstream” music. The people who are getting online and finding their niches are a minority and not the majority.

    Train’s new CD debuted at #10 on the Billboard charts, having sold all of 62,000 copies. #1 is Barry Manilow’s Greatest Songs of the Fifties, with a whole 156,000 copies sold. Those are not exactly astounding figures. Meanwhile, the front page of Apple’s site is counting up to one billion songs sold, and the ticker is moving faster than 1 song a second. There’s 86,400 seconds in a day.

    Granted, there’s probably 15 songs on a CD. So digital has to catch up still. Yes, most music is still purchased from retailers. But it’s not like the retail biz is very healthy right now. And that’s a lot of songs moving every day. The writing is on the wall — music is moving away from luxury good and past commodity and into utility.

    We’ve been told directly by carriers, however, that their market research shows that this features makes very little difference in selling games. High score lists tend to end up being an anathema to the “casual” motif in that they serve to point out to players that they actually aren’t very good compared to a lot of other players out there.

    Now, this I completely agree is a big stumbling block.

  11. Michael: If you just want to have fun playing games, there’s always baseball. I hate it when people deride the desire to make things better. And worse, I hate it when they speak for me. And worst of all, I hate it when people decide that what has been done is the bestest and not only can it not be improved, but attempts to do so will royally suck.

    Quite to the contrary, my argument is that by making everything a VW we are actually making games worse. The argument has been that all (now so called) single players games are becoming multiplayer games and thus hinting that this is a good thing with all the invective against single player games. Plus with all the conflating of MMOG’s with VW on this site recently I think there is a general push with all these arguments to declare that VW’s are the be all and end all and that single player games and MMMOG’s are an abberation and we should all see the light that is VW’s.

    I want games to improve. I dont want them all to become VW’s or all perpetualy online experiences. Single player RPG’s have died a long death with the advent of MMOG and VW’s and I mourn their loss, they provided some of the best experience I have ever had playing computer games. The same with the dedicated puzzle games and adventure games.

    I want to play games. I’m not interested in VR and pale imitations of life. For me theres a distinct difference. There still lots of room to grow, innovate and move out of the box without going down the VW path.

    Oh, and you also failed to deny the original message in the post.

    The point being, (I would argue that) most people want to play games and not VW’s and that making everything into a VW wont work in the long run because people want to play games, not imitate life.

  12. Michael:

    To your shock, perhaps, I’m actually going to agree with you on a lot of what you said.

    It may well make games worse to embed them all. I also want games to improve, and not all games are improved by doing that. And there is a ton of room to innovate without going down that path.

    I do think you are ascribing a definition to “VW” that I don’t. When I reference virtual world or online world, that carries zero implications about what playing that world is like. It does not mean it is more “worldy” and it does not mean it’s trying to “imitate life” or any such thing.

    I conflate MMOG an VW because an MMOG is just a type of VW, one that happens to exist to embed games.

  13. St gabe wrote:

    As far as how far gaming will shift online, I think you’re overly optimistic. The mainstream, IMO, will continue to be retail. That’s what people are comfortable with and that’s what publishers are comfortable with.

    People are also comfortable with cable TV… which is a service you pay $50 a month for and get 100’s of channels. Likewise, software companies would love you to pay $50/month and access 100 of their software titles.

    A MAJOR problem with software is that it’s hit based, even business titles. Large companies want/need a constant flow of cash, an annuity. Right now, large companies provide an annuity by producing new versions every few years: Winsdows 95, then Windows 98, then Windows ME, etc.

    Charging $50/month to access 100 software titles (or games) is also a way to get an annuity. Whether it’s packaged into one VW or not is somewhat irrelvant. Whether or not the games are single or multiplayer is mostly irrelevant, but not entirely.

    Single-player games where the entire game is on the player’s PC can be pirated. Single-player games where the game is partly on a server is difficult to “pirate” because it either involves reverse engineering of the server, or someone actually stealing the server code from the company. Multiplayer games are even more difficult to “pirate” because some of the value comes from the masses of other people also playing, and they can’t all be attracted to a pirate server.

    Some more random thoughts on: http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/VirtualWorldSpectrum.htm and http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/VirtualWorldPlatform.htm.

    Here’s another deeply random thought… If you follow Raph’s thoughts far beyond what he has described, and think like a large corporation, you realize that Raph is describing an operating system as well as a distribution/sales mechanism (like cable TV). A VW’s “content” running on virtual world X, is analagous to “software package A” that runs on Windows. There’s no reason that content can’t be produced by 3rd parties. Second Life is already heading down this road, Kaneva also.

    The reason why I say it’s an operating system (business-wise) is this: People don’t buy Windows because they want it; they buy it because they want to run software that requires Windows to be installed. Likewise, people “buy” second life because of the 3rd party content (written by other users, not SL’s team), as well as the community that’s attracted to SL.

    I cant go into more detail if needed…

  14. I do think you are ascribing a definition to “VW” that I don’t. When I reference virtual world or online world, that carries zero implications about what playing that world is like. It does not mean it is more “worldy” and it does not mean it’s trying to “imitate life” or any such thing.

    Actually, I think you’re right in that you and I ascribe different manings to VW. I went and did some reading and I think I was mistaken with my definition. I guess I may also be mistaken in where you are coming from in advocating VW’s.

    I think what I am trying to express is the feeling that I have been getting ever since gaming has started to move into a VW framework. Once developers became enamoured by what you could express in a VW (we can replicate real life, wouldn’t it be fantastic!) they miss that games aren’t about replicating real life experiences but but are a restricted well designed set of rules to generate “fun” and “reward”.

    I’m seeing games being developed that try to bring everyone together but then loose the essence of the games they are trying to mimic. MMORPG’s are a pale shadow to the epic experiences of single player RPGs (except for the expansive world part which has been a boon).

    I also fear that by embedding single player games in VW’s we will end up with a narrowing of the game market like we saw when computer games were embedded in the game arcades. In a space needed to make money and attract customers we ended up with short sharp exciting experiences that faded fast and had no depth.

    I want developers to realise thats it’s the games that make the worlds fun, not the worlds that make the games fun.

  15. Nice to see a follow-on to your earlier comments. With regard to this bullet:

    game publishers will make it this way because of piracy

    I found it particularly interesting as it relates to something I posted recently: “It’s like the virtual world gateway is a form of DRM system.” (Link) Is this what you’re getting at?

  16. I’m seeing games being developed that try to bring everyone together but then loose the essence of the games they are trying to mimic. MMORPG’s are a pale shadow to the epic experiences of single player RPGs

    MMORPGs were not originally created to mimic CRPG’s; they evolved in tandem, and from of the same sources, but many of the critical developments in MUDs by and large predate the critical ones in the history of CRPGs. That is part of why I harp on the idea that that’s not all that VW’s can be.

    I strongly agree that it is the games that make the worlds fun.

    csven, yes, I agree it is a form of DRM. If we get to the distributed user-built world, then that DRM might get upended yet again. 🙂 Technically, doesn’t that FBI warning at the start of a DVD preclude doing what your blog post says happened in SL?

  17. We’ve been told directly by carriers, however, that their market research shows that this features makes very little difference in selling games. High score lists tend to end up being an anathema to the “casual” motif in that they serve to point out to players that they actually aren’t very good compared to a lot of other players out there.

    All the Live games I’ve played allow you to set your high score table to only show your friends on it. Most default to this mode. I’m no “casual” gamer, but I don’t really care how I shape up against the majority of other players out there, only against those I know personally. I suspect the same is true of most gamers, casual or not.

  18. All of the single player games I’ve played in the last few years have been embedded inside a virtual world.

    I think we have a tendency to think of virtual world and think of 3d geography with 3d avatars. A useful virtual world is a functional one. The web currently provides this meta-world for all of our single player games. Thus my leariness when I see it claimed that Half Life should be embedded in an MMORPG. It is already embedded in the web. This second layer of embedding doesn’t add any value as a consumer. All it does is give another person the chance to tax my wallet. Will I soon see a neat new game come out that I want to buy, but decide not to because I don’t want to pay $10/month for yet another game portal?

    Now, to consider this comment: “game publishers will make it this way because of piracy”

    I’ll remember that next time I’m on a plane and unable to play any games because there is no live internet connection. Or when the game company goes out of business and my game stops working. Some solutions are worse than the disease.

  19. I’m with Raph on this one – and more. The issues brought up by people such as Brask and Michael are rather shortsighted. You can embed games in a multiplayer world which are not part of that multiplayer world – Steam does this already. You can have a multiplayer world which does not require an internet connection past the original install verification – most on-line distribution companies do this.

    The amount you gain from having a community around your games is dramatic. The amount you lose, if you are careful, not so much.

    I made a larger post on the matter here. But it can be summarized by: “Yeah, multiplayer’s coming.”

  20. If we get to the distributed user-built world, then that DRM might get upended yet again.

    Such a distributed system does make the situation interesting. One good reason afaic to keep an eye on Croquet.

    Technically, doesn’t that FBI warning at the start of a DVD preclude doing what your blog post says happened in SL?

    Assuming it was ripped from a DVD (may only have been coincidental timing) and assuming that DVD was ripped in a place where the FBI has jurisdiction; we’ll see how it actually works out when a gorilla bearing lawyers finally comes calling for a date. For now, Linden Lab plays the ISP card. And the more SL attracts an international audience, the more interesting the dance is likely to become imo.

  21. Not necessarily saying that Linden would be liable; but the FBI warning specifically says public performance, and it would seem to me that that counts?

    Don’t get me wrong — I think the future IS in DVDs streamed into communal virtual theaters (among other things). I just raise the point to indicate how many hurdles there are.

    A while ago, I plotted out an SF story whereby anime fans showed DVDs of region-blocked movies they wanted to see, through virtual worlds. When the rightsholder came knocking, the anime fans won out, because they were on a distributed platform that had no one point where the data was stored nor served. In fact, by appearing there, the rightsholder was actually participating.

    Events are rapidly overtaking my science fiction. Or else, I am not imagining far enough into the future. 🙂

    Brask, only a few people have tipped, as you did, to the underlying somewhat-queasy-inducing nature of what I am saying is coming. It has huge implications on privacy, on transparency, on notions of ownership… certainly it’s a scenario that the technolibertarian crowd will fight tooth and nail.

  22. I read the longtail too. I just think that, as Kim Pallister said, Music industry 2.0 isn’t going to kill Music industry 1.0. Especially when it comes to where people pick up their information about music. For the mainstream that will be TV and FM radio, not podcasts and internet radio. Meanwhile podcasts and internet radio will aggregate enough to provide comfortable homes for Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys fans if they do come over so that when some people do move over it won’t be nearly the shift that it would be to move over now. Similarly I think that people are going to continue to pick up their Madden ’16 at Walmart. Internet distribution will continue to develop in niches, such as the casual niche. I don’t see blockbuster game development going anywhere. Talking to hardcore gamers, even in places like f13, I find that they are very entrenched into game industry hype and very interested in just how many polygons the next game will have. What we will see in the future is like what we see with indie music and indie movies. There will be interesting work going on outside the mainstream. Occasionally some of it will get enough attention to be incorporated into the mainstream where it will be heavily polished by companies by Blizzard and resold to the masses. And at that point a lot of those on the fringe who liked it before will claim that it’s been ruined by the mainstream, perhaps rightfully so.

  23. Let’s return to the question:

    “Technically, doesn’t that FBI warning at the start of a DVD preclude doing what your blog post says happened in SL?”

    No. Because I neither know where the person streaming it nor the person who told me they’d watched reside.

    the FBI warning specifically says public performance, and it would seem to me that that counts?

    It counts for those of us in the U.S., but your comment raises a bigger, more difficult issue which I’m pointing to: jurisdiction.

    …it’s a scenario that the technolibertarian crowd will fight tooth and nail.

    I suspect a few more groups out there will be fighting. I happened upon a commentary on Ad Age this morning where some guy finally starting getting a clue about where things are going. Only in his bullet points about the future of media and content, he added an extra one that’s very much up for debate at this stage… doubtlessly to protect the old guard and perhaps his own job.

    What’s coming will be difficult for a lot of people to swallow.

  24. I disagree with the idea that in-store retail for computer games has long-term sustainability. More and more we, as a society, are becoming accustomed to buying online: amazon.com, cheapflights.com, e-bay, etc.

    Computer games by their nature require a computer to be played. The CD you buy in the shop is just another means of getting the data onto your PC, onto your game console.

    As home computers become more connected, and as game consoles become more connected, access to online purchasing becomes easier. While a bookshop may well survive in this because you don’t have to have a computer to read a book, you do have to have one to play a computer game. In an environment where having a computer/console means being connected, there’s a very low barrier to online content acquisition even for the most casual computer/console user.

    The idea of ‘walking’ from game to game strikes me as something that won’t happen – for the same reason virtual shops don’t have virtual aisles with virtual shoppers walking between them. It’s easier, quicker and more convenient to browse a catalogue – so we do.

    Online distribution – be it download-and-play or embedded into a subscription-based online service – makes sense for computer games. I see it as the future.

  25. Personally, I think the whole deal of instancing these games into a larger portal will happen. Regardless if we want it or not. First and foremost is companies are looking for ways to fight piracy and it has been well proven that nothing except for MMO’s have had a real dent on it. Mind you that there are mmo’s with pirate servers but they are usually shot down fairly fast due to cost and overall work.

    Now, Ill give a good example. I work at a casino. Same type of environment, lots of games and players. Recently my casino has been switching from coin slots to paper ticket paying slot machines. That has caused alot of uproar with patrons (and employees). Its shot down alot of jobs as well as made the game less enjoyable. Most people prefer coins because it has shape and you can feel it. Part of the fantasy of playing I guess. Anyway, As I said they have been removing coin slots because it costs less to maintain them, require no fills on coins, and it is easier to pay out at a cashier. Older players might still debate about it but the newer age players are adapting to it and accept the change.

    Thats the same thing happening with the game industry in a nutshell. There is ways to say “solve some problems” with it however. Such as if the game company went under. At that time they could sell the service to another company, give the full download to players, or resell the last part of the game.

    Still there is some bad parts about it but most likely it is inevitable that it will happen. The world is becoming more and more connected to the net and it is becoming a more viable option then building anti piracy tools.

  26. I think we’re in a phase like the pop music industry gets into periodically, when there’s creative exhaustion — that’s when unusual genres get a little airplay, — until the Next Big Thing hits in the mainstream. Then those niche genres fade back into the background.

    Much as I like MMO’s, I think they — and the interest in casual games — are both enjoying a temporary suntan during a period of more widespread industry creative pause.

    Once the PS3 is launched with a few great titles…. that pause will be over. Then we’ll have to see where all the dramatic pronouncements about VW and casual games actually end up. I think it’s really that simple.

  27. What about those of us who don’t want a online game? I like to relax and play a game without being bothered by idiots who end up in chat.

    Single player games will not die and Online games will ofcorse increase.

    Tbh HL2 in a instance is impossible and will be for 20 years i say.

    The current mmorpg games list is horribe, the genre hasn’t really evolved from when it started. I think it’s the worst genre of games, sooo boring and grind fests full of doing the same thing and being ruined.

    I hate what SOE/LA did to SWG, with a single player game i wont have to worry 🙂

    I love playing online games with a small group of friends that i know, playing with anyone though is horrible!

    Bring on Elder scrolls 4 thats all i say 🙂 No mmorpg with offer that game for 10 years +

  28. You know Raph, a lot of folks over the years have put their faith in technology driven markets. And some of the folks with the right timing and position have made a lot of money from them. o_O

    But in the long run, all markets are consumer driven.

  29. I happened upon a commentary on Ad Age this morning where some guy finally starting getting a clue about where things are going. Only in his bullet points about the future of media and content, he added an extra one that’s very much up for debate at this stage… doubtlessly to protect the old guard and perhaps his own job.

    What’s coming will be difficult for a lot of people to swallow.

    Oh, come on, you can’t tease that way and not quote the bullet point!

    Much as I like MMO’s, I think they — and the interest in casual games — are both enjoying a temporary suntan during a period of more widespread industry creative pause.

    I think the creative pause is driven in huge part by rising costs… so I don’t see it as just being a hiccup on the road.

    Tbh HL2 in a instance is impossible and will be for 20 years i say.

    I think the only reason it’s impossible today is because it’d be too expensive.

    in the long run, all markets are consumer driven.

    Oh, I agree. I don’t think that walled garden service providers are where this trend ends.

  30. You won’t buy a game — you’ll buy access to a multiplayer game service with single-player games in it as instances.

    This is already here. RealArcade, MSN GameZone, Pogo, etc. Forget it’s just web graphics, forums and leaderboards. The function of graphics is to support what people are doing. It can enable this by being appealing for a lot more people than text. But in the end, people who come together to game together have already made a leap into the above statement.

    They’re not MMO experiences, text underlays with stylized experiential overlays. But they are games played by millions, making lots of money. And even being online, they are far more casual than any MMO has achieved.

    In fact, I think they’re more casual than any MMO can achieve, and still be called an MMO. Persistent worlds are random experiences, “messy” after a fashion, and by that virtue alone, a bit daunting. The only ways to broaden appeal is either to make them even more casual, or to hope more people find an easy first game to play and join the more harder-core games beyond.

  31. Here ya go: “Mainstream media still count, even to the digi crowd.“. Somehow that sounds more like wishful thinking than someone’s well-considered conclusion. But hey, it’ll no doubt help keep their MSM clients off the sauce.

  32. Is the Shift to Greed a Fad?

    Raph Koster keeps rattling a cage that lay wide open on the horizon of the electronic entertainment industry. Frankly, it’s difficult to say if Raph has a mean streak, or a keen interest in saving the world from a surprise that should not be.

    Well,…

  33. While some die hards will cling to single player only games, the publishers aren’t willing to shell out the development costs for single player games. Since the publishers control most of the money necessary for game development these days, the focus is on revenue models that provide them with flowing streams of revenue, and at present, that is the online pay-for-play model.

    Currently, on PC games it’s practically a requirement to have online or multiplayer play.

  34. Glad to hear that you can understand where I’m coming from. It’s not that I’m a techno libertarian. It is that a lot of companies seem very eager to turn me into one!

    Before we laude single-player MMORPGs as the solution to piracy, let’s think through some of the consequences.

    From the viewpoint of the developer…

    1) Your servers are going to have to be a lot more secure. The first obvious response is to start breaking into the companies networks to steal the server copy. This occurs today, but currently there isn’t that much demand (few people want the source code compared to wanting the game). Removing an avenue of piracy doesn’t stop piracy, it redirects it to the next easier avenue. Personally, I’d rather joe-hacker be distributing my game than distributing my source code.

    2) Even if your servers are secure, how secure is your content? A huge expense isn’t necessarily the programming, but the content – the stories, the art assets, the scripts. The more of your game data that exists client side, the easier it is for a group to write an emulator (ie, Exult, UO shard servers, etc). Raph has already mentioned systems to extract geometry from the video pipeline, allowing one to extract even streamed polygons.

    3) Even if content and servers are secure, how secure is the idea of your game? A lot of games are considerably easier to recreate than they were to make in the first place. The hard design and aesthetic decisins have been made, it is just a matter of craft to recreate the experience. Tetris, for example, can be trivially recreated from the memory of having played it.

    The point here is that single player streaming is adding a lot of cost and potential problems and not even necessarily solving the problem. CD checks didn’t prevent piracy, so I’m not sure why this will work any better. I think the main reason why MMORPGs are relatively resistant to piracy (though there are server emulators out there…) is that they require other people playing. They are real multiplayer games (as opposed to connected games). If it was fun to play single player, it would be a lot harder to shut down the unauthorized servers as they wouldn’t have to advertise for new players.

    Now, let me turn back to the doom & gloom prospect from a user side…

    1) Auto-updating. Imagine a world where we have streamed movies rather than DVDs. So much better, right? What about when George Lucas decides to make Han Solo shoot second? You can no longer watch the earlier version of the movie.

    Games are even more frequently patched. Even good, bug fixing, patches would be objected to by some people who liked the bugs behaviour. Currently, one can always “not update”. In a streamed game, the company will understantably only run the most recent version, leaving one with no option to play with pre-casting anymore.

    2) Play by your rules. When I play solitaire, I change the rules mid game. There’s a hierarchy of rules from strict to weak. When the game is unwinnable by the strict rules, I’ll introduce some rules to make the game easier. The purpose of solitaire is not to win, after all, it is to challenge your mind and waste time.

    The same thing is very common in single player video games. One plays by the official game rules, but when stuck, the large number of FAQs and cheat codes and cheat programs on line suggests that it is a common recourse to unstuck oneself. Some games provide in-game cheat codes letting one unstick in an in-game fashion. Some do not. In the streaming world, your ability to unstick yourself (and hence get to the rest of the content) is dependent on the whim of the developer. A developer who may have some crazy vision that only the “best” players should get to the end. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t the proven tendency for this to be enforced in horrible ways. I’m thinking of games like Space Quest where, after a long period of non-realtime puzzle solving, one needs to navigate a speeder through a desert, before returning to non-realtime puzzle solving.

    I think it also somewhat interesting that apparently one of the current business models for “connected”, “streaming” puzzle solving games is to sell an offline version to people. Odd that would be a value add?

    People like tangible items. I’m not at all convinced this is going away. If game developers want to fight piracy, hook up with a cheap manufacturer and ensure your game boxes come with cool swag.

  35. While I think the lighter game experience the Zone et al provide is fine for a certain kind of player — the one who dips into a game for a few minutes as part of a broader overall internet “window-shopping” approach — there’s a level of depth, satisfaction, absorption that both single player games and, some day, MMOs will provide that is more akin to spending an evening with a good novel, great theatre, a good movie.

    You just don’t get that kind of intensity and immersion in the light games sphere, nor do you want it.

    But people will always want something that can take them completely away from their present reality, more now than ever, I’d say. And a light game will never do that.

    An MMO that just resurfaces all the annoyances of everyday life will never do that, either. Hence some skepticism on my part re: the whole second-life approach to the genre.

    An MMO that can lead past the casino-like conventions of grind and levelling we’re so stuck with presently, however, will be a ground-breaker.

    If MMO’s push further towards being more akin to the theme-park/medieval fair nature of light-game websites, like Zone or Arcade, the genre will only weaken rapidly and lose its identity in the process.

  36. there’s a level of depth, satisfaction, absorption that both single player games and, some day, MMOs will provide that is more akin to spending an evening with a good novel, great theatre, a good movie.

    Alas, the games are rapidly approaching the development costs of a good movie, but are bringing in a tiny fraction of the audience. That right there is exactly what is not sustainable.

    One of the first lessons I learned as an executive is that the budget dictates the mandated audience size. If you spend a lot of money, it had better be to bring in a lot of people.

    But the big storytelling extravaganzas are not accessible. Just having camera controls puts most games beyond the level of sophistication of the average person. As casual games continue to penetrate into the broader market, I might even be able to rewrite that sentence to read “the average gamer.”

    I cannot imagine playing some of the cool, complex story-driven single player games without 16+ controls (go count the number of buttons and axes on a PS2 controller. Hell, MOVING in an FPS involves EIGHT). The successful mass market game generally has THREE controls total.

  37. Hasnt there been alot of totally failed “point and click” versions of story driven adventuregames aswell?

    The key has to be with the learning curve, I’d consider WoW fairly successful and it starts with a “point and click” gameplay which evolves into something like 100+ keybindings, toggling panels and complex macros. It appears these control issues are not mutually exclusive, but to make an online game you have to make both into a viable gameplay experience.

  38. Like I said earlier, I don’t think blockbuster games are going anywhere. It’s not like game developers are pushing these — publishers are. And talking to the average “core” gamer you will see that they are very invested in the hype that comes along with these games. Even casual gaming is seeing a large increase in the expected production quality.

    Yes, there are and will be new markets. That doesn’t mean that the old markets are going to go away. Casual gaming is targetted towards a completely different demographic and is able to try out newer distribution models, etc., because it is new frontier without strong consumer expectations (or at least it was) but it too will almost certainly consolidate and budgets will increase. The next evolution in casual gaming may very well be to emulate other gaming markets — to go more retail to target 35 year old Walmaret shoppers, to go bigger budget to create a higher barrier to entry for non-published titles, etc. Meanwhile I see no reason to think that the other demographic of “core” gamers won’t continue to be slavishly devoted to big budget titles.

  39. ROFL on that comic. It’s a pretty good likeness of you too. Now I’m sure that wasn’t how it went down but it’s still pretty funny.

  40. http://www.costik.com/weblog/2006_02_01_blogchive.html#113978080938999614

    Yeah, I’ve read that. EA’s profits are always all over the place. Costikyan ends with: “In general, the benchmark numbers of the industry were up 6% 05 over 06”. Different companies are up and down all the time, but there is still a lot of money being made. Yes, I think EA is being challenged and will have to adapt. I don’t see evidence that this this will do anything to blockbuster games. I said it’s publishers who push blockbusters but I should have said publishers AND consumers. The “core” gamer audience may not be as big as the audience for King Kong, but it is still quite large and very interested in how many polygons are used in the latest games, etc. Just look at the hype and interest in the XBox 360 despite it launching with almost no good games. Yes, people are buying Geometry Wars on it, which is cool, but what they are really interested in and what they bought the system for is the hype and the next Madden, the next Halo, etc.

  41. Blockbuster games via online distribution aren’t a future dream, they’re already here as Valve have nicely proved with HL2, Direct2Drive have also proved the same.

    The idea that online distribution and subsequently having to log in online to play doesn’t make your games any less exposed to hacking than if you put it on a CD and ship it in a box. Your content is always exposed, your gameplay concepts are fundamentally exposed by being what they are.

    The idea that someone could ‘rip off’ a game mechanic and put it into their own game is flattery, not stealing. If not, then an awful lot of current game developers are stealing every day.

    Today we are trained to be materialists – to value tangible things. Yet a generation of pre-teens and teenagers are growing up with music on mp3, owning the right to listen to the data without buying the CD that goes with it. e-books are doing a thriving enough business to stay in business. The idea that data needs to be represented in our lives by a tangible, material thing is not a sustainable concept.

    It is cheaper and easier to distribute online than to distribute through hard-copy retail. If you’re distributing online, it stands to reason your audience is online so it’s a small step to introduce online community aspects into your games for your connected audience. Xbox Live! shows this nicely, and Live! Arcade is the next logical step.

    All in all, online gives the games industry something it’s needed for a while – alternate distribution channels, space for the longtail and a broader sense of community.

    Physical distribution isn’t going to vanish overnight because there are enough of us old fogeys around who remember when the internet wasn’t quite so popular and remember floppy discs. But to people who have grown up on broadband internet the significance is probably lost.

  42. […] For those of you interested in videogames, virtual worlds, content distribution and prognostications, check out Raph Koster’s recent entry, “Is the shift to online a fad?” (Link), – an excellent follow-up to some other follow-ups to a talk he gave recently. […]

  43. There is no upper bound on the cost of creating content. Content is always consumed faster than it can be created. Content-based games will eventually lose to mechanics-based games and multiplayer games in the battle of “revenue generated vs development manhours spent”.

  44. […] Is the shift to online a fad? […]

  45. […] Recently, Raph Koster has been talking a lot about the “shift to multiplayer”. His most recent article about that is here. Usually, I’d just stick my commentary in his comments section, but his blog’s popularity has at last caught up to his actual popularity, so his comments section is officially too crowded for a post of this length.Raph is right about this. There’s a lot of different kinds of multiplayer, and the basic truth is that games are going to involve a lot more people. Sure, they’ll always be a sluggish niche in the back for people who like to play alone, but even those people will find they have a community around their game, whether it is FFXIX or Solitaire of the Future.We’re not talking about being forced to participate, here. We’re simply talking about the capability. It’s going to become universal. Why?Free content.Now, some people don’t consider forum chatter “content”. I do. If it takes your player’s time up and interests them, it is content – at least, for somebody. Whether you’re Morrowind or World of Warcraft, the main thing your community does is create content!Having a community linked to the game is saying, “My artists spent eight hundred hours to make eighty hours of content by creating levels five through nine. My programmers spent eighty hours making eight hundred hours of content by letting all our fans talk to each other.” Which is more efficient? A 10-1 ratio, or a 1-10 ratio?Of course, I’m just making the numbers up, here. They are really much more in favor of player content and communities, since creating an eighty hour game in eight hundred hours is not likely. Seriously, communities – or player content of any kind – is dramatically more efficient and versatile than developer content!People are starting to pick up on this, including Raph. He gives his vision of the future. I don’t think it’s strong enough. Take everything he says, and give it a twist to take it two steps forward and a step to the side.For example, “store retailers in trouble” is a dramatic understatement. Oh, wow, is it an understatement. The early adopters have already abandoned store retailers for anything other than used games and games they’ve got to have right now. Look at a retailer’s selling cycle: game comes out. It gets bought for a week. After that, nobody else buys it much (and it’s getting worse). Do you really think that everyone who wanted the game got it in that first week? Isn’t it slightly more likely that they’re just stealing it?Aside from the GameCube, even the console games are frequently stolen! With computer games, it’s even worse.MMORPGs are great because even if they are stolen, the thief still has to pay the monthly fee. The same with STEAM, for all its other faults. These are the systems of the future. And these systems write out store distribution altogether (or will, in a few years).Another example, “playing single player games in multiplayer space” is also true, and also a misstatement. Because those single-player games are going to be, by and large, made by people in the multiplayer game. They might be devs, or paid level designers… but they’re also probably volunteers and fans. The “game” you “buy” from the “developers” is really a multiplayer world you lease from tool programmers. Inside that game, you’ll probably find games you have to buy from developers.I could go on for pages… I have gone on for pages. Anyhow: yeah, multiplayer. It’s gonna be everywhere. Haven’t you noticed that it’s more fun to play a game when you and your friends can chat about it? […]

  46. […] There has been a move/desire in the gaming industry to replace traditional CD/DVD "brick and mortar" store sold games with online only games (no CD’s you pay to play). If I recall correctly, Smed spoke about moving that direction in the future. I’ll see if I can find the article. Found Raph’s take on the shift – https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/02/12/is-the-shift-to-online-a-fad/ […]

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