24 February 2004

How to make online gaming a success

I have broadband. I have a PlayStation 2 next to the router and cable modem. I have disposable income. I play video games. Yet, I do not have a PS2 network adaptor, and I haven’t played any online games.

I’ve been thinking about why not. I decided to put together some suggestions for Raph Koster, who’s the big cheese at Sony in charge of online PS2 gaming.

  1. Either charge a subscription, or charge for the game, but don’t ask me to pay twice.

    If I need a subscription to play, I’m very unlikely to pay $50 for the game, because if I decide I don’t like it I’m left with a $50 coaster. Games which are offline or online can get away with charging for the game itself, but it’s still a bad idea if the main point is the multiplayer: A high up-front cost to join a subscription game screams “We don’t think you’ll stay a member for long so we’d better get some cash up front”.

  2. Monthly subscriptions don’t work for me, unless they’re really cheap.

    Your market is people with broadband and significant disposable income. To me, that says adults with jobs. Like many adults with jobs, there are months when I don’t really get any time to play video games at all.

    It seems to me that it’s not technically hard at all to have a “per hour” fee, capped at the cost of a monthly subscription. That would encourage casual gamers and people who aren’t sure they will like the game enough to get really into it and spend hours on it every month.

  3. It has to be co-operative.

    I have zero interest in player-versus-player. If I want a competitive challenge, a computer opponent is better for several reasons:

    • You know they won’t cheat.
    • You know it won’t be a hopeless mismatch of abilities.
    • You don’t have to deal with network lag.
    • The computer won’t camp, sulk, or otherwise behave in a deliberately game-ruining way.

    My motivations for gaming are primarily exploration, puzzle solving, and new experiences. Looking at the top selling games of all time suggests to me that the majority of gamers are the same way: “The Sims”, the “Myst” adventures, “Tetris”, the “Super Mario” games—none of them are about combat. There are a few combat games in the list, but they’re the ones that have lots of exploration and a strong plot—“GTA Vice City” and “Half-Life”.

    Furthermore, the multi-player combat game market is glutted already. People who want that already have lots of options.

    • It has to be social.

      This is where it gets hard. There’s no point in having other humans involved in the game unless you can talk with them, but on the other hand there has to be a way to get matched up with players who have similar gaming interests, and to keep out the assholes.

      This suggests to me that an essential part of any multiplayer online game is persistence in user IDs, and some kind of feedback or rating system at least as good as eBay’s.

      That doesn’t mean massive censorship. If people want to talk trash all day, just let ‘em go do it with other people who want to talk trash all day.

That’s all I have so far, but I live in hope that someone will take notice and come up with some multiplayer games that appeal to me.

© mathew 2017