by Jessica Mulligan
Im preparing to go on the road again for a while, so this issue Im dashing out some three-dot issues and reprinting a column about online console gaming for later discussion. Yes, that makes me a lazy you-know-what
With six, you get camping privileges
Sony Online and Ubisoft have inked a deal to get EverQuest into mainland China. We must now prepare for an onslaught of Chinese EverQuest addicts. The heirs of Ghengis Khan, getting addicted to EverQuest... I think Im scared now.
Well, it is only fair. After all, we in the West have been eating Chinese food, and experiencing that Im hungry again feeling an hour later, for a long time how. Its about time the worthy Chinese society got a taste of the American version of that.
The Apple of my I
When I began digging out a career in this veil of tears that is sometimes referred to as online services and online games, I was a true, old-school Apple Computer fanatic. My first personal computer was a hand-me-down Apple IIe, given me by my older brother, Bob, in 1985 when he upgraded to the Macintosh. Id already been using it since 1984 to link to Kent Fillmores Draco-Net bulletin board system in San Francisco. I also spent much time on a game BBS called Proving Grounds, based out of Monterey, California, with the resulting $300 per month long distance bills eating my disposal cash and, sometimes, my food money. I was skinny in those days; heroin chic had nothing on my Proving Grounds habit.
As the years passed and Apple de-emphasized appealing to home owners and gamers in favor of business sales and, as my career in games took off, I was forced more and more into using IBM-compatible PCs to play the games I wanted or was responsible for. Finally, there came a time in the mid-1990s when few games were being produced for the Apple, and those few were coming out for the PC first, months or years before being ported to the Apple platform. On top of that, Apple kept losing market share until it was a pale light beside the IBM PC world. I was working almost exclusively on my bulky IBM-compatible PC by 1995. This was a very hard thing for me; I loved my Apple IIgs, Mac Quadra, Mac Notebook and Macintosh SE. I hung on until late 1997, owning several Macs and two PCs, until it became too much of a hassle to haul five or six computers all over the country with me. In October, 1997, the Macintoshes were sold to a reseller; I still get all misty-eyed thinking about it.
Things are much better in with the world of Apple games these days. They are making a concerted effort to get publishers to quickly port games to the Mac, including persistent worlds such as EverQuest, Lineage and, most recently announced, World War II Online. There are now literally dozens of good games for the Macintosh, which is quite a switch from just a few years ago. If you havent been to the company Web site lately, Apple has a very cool set of game information pages at http://www.apple.com/games/, complete with handy info, downloads, the whole schmeer. I went over to check out the trailer for Cosmic Encounter Online, which will run on PCs with QuickTime, by the way.
Of course, in a leftover from the bad old days, youd never know those pages existed by going to Apples home page at www.apple.com; there is no tab or hyperlink to the game information pages anywhere on the home page. Or in the Software Store, where you can buy Mac games; one would think this would be a natural cross-linking opportunity. For that matter, there doesnt seem to be a link to the game information pages anywhere on the entire Apple site. If you dont know to actually type in www.apple.com/games, youd never know they were there. Even using the Search tool with the keyword games doesnt list the Games start page among the first 100 listings.
This is weird; youd think there would be a link to it somewhere on Apples site, but I sure couldnt find one. Just looking at the home page and clicking around a bit, youd never know there was a Games section unless you happened to stumble on it by accident or, as with me, someone sent you a direct link.
And thats too bad, what with so many games now available and the Apple Games group working so hard to get publishers to take the Mac seriously.
Would like you fries with that game?
Electronic Arts announced that The Sims Online would feature in-game placement advertising by chipmaker Intel and McDonalds, the worldwide fast food chain.
The obvious jokes aside, I really dont have a problem with this, as long as the games arent tailored to provide better benefits for the sponsors at the expense of game play. It is one thing to plaster a Reebok billboard in a sports games; it is quite another to ask people who pay monthly subscriptions to have game play altered to benefit a sponsor or advertiser, just so the publisher can make another buck.
Which is why Im a little leery that players in TSO who use Intel PCs in-game will get bonuses to logic skills and the fun factor; that is really riding the edge of letting sponsors dictate content in a subscription game. In this specific case, there doesnt seem to be any harm to it, but it makes one wonder what is coming next. Where does the game end and advertising begin?
An interesting question, and one which we should attend to soon, I think, before advertisers take over online gaming the same way theyve taking over everything else. I dont know about you, but the advertising buzz is so high these days it hurts my eyes and ears.
There must be a column in there somewhere
Gamers Are Hard to Console
Volume Nine, Issue 17
First Published: July 27, 2000
October 1, 2002: Now that both Sony and Microsoft will soon be actively competing in the online console arena, I thought it might be useful to go back and look at two columns I wrote over two years ago. Ill reprint one in this column, then reprint the second in the next, along with some discussion about where I was right and where I was wrong.
Note that the hyperlink for the NetLink included in the column no longer works, at least for me. Sorry bout that.
OK, where are the 12 million?
Back in 1996 and 1997, all the usual suspects that issue those wonderfully glowing and hideously expensive industry analysis reports about the future growth of the gaming industry made an odd prediction:
By 2000, they said, 12 million people would be using gaming consoles to connect to the Internet and online services to play games.
Of course, that didnt happen; it may happen in the future and thats what this column is all about. A little background is in order first.
One reason the report sellers predicted so many online console gamers is that they believed the likes of Sony, Sega and Nintendo when they said theyd be shipping next generation consoles with modems real soon now. Sega had already shipped the separate Saturn NetLink modem and online service for the abortive Saturn console, to a rousing So what? from the overwhelming majority of Saturn owners. One reality of the 1990s was that console consumers werent willing to spend another $100 or so for a modem, after spending $200 or $300 for the main console.
Another reality is that, at the time, neither Nintendo or Sony was serious about shipping a modem-enabled console to compete with NetLink. They were merely engaging in Preemptive Vaporware, a time-honored tradition in the high-tech industry. PV occurs when a company wants to appear competitive and on the cutting edge, while also A) preventing other developers from starting a competing project, and/or B) preventing consumers from purchasing a competitors product, instead waiting for the PV product to arrive.
To engage in PV, you have to have at least a medium strong industry position. For example, if you are well-known as a market leader in cool flight simulators, and Company A announces they are developing a new sim called Jet Mangler to compete with your flight sims, then you might issue a PV press release stating that your next generation sim will come out about the same time as Jet Mangler. Consumers with limited discretionary income will be encouraged to give Jet Mangler a miss and wait for your game. Of course, your sim may not even be on the drawing board yet and probably isnt scheduled to ship for two years, but thats the whole point, eh?
To add to the analysts confusion, NetLink was shipped in a time of console transition. Sony was preparing to ship the PlayStation and Nintendo was going to ship the N64. The transition years of 1995-1997 were also notable for the incredible hype that surrounded the Internet and the potential of online gaming. Suddenly, if your products didnt talk to the Internet, you were passe and headed for the Game Graveyard; it was Internet or Bust and no one likes to bust. For game console executives who understood nothing about the Internet or online gaming (which was 99% of them), there was only one solution; issue thinly veiled hints about Internet connectivity to any reporter or analyst in earshot. From there, it was quite easy for the reporters and analysts to project tens of millions of Internet-able game consoles sold by year 2000, and to assume that 30% or 40% of them would use the consoles for gaming online.
So that was the Preemptive Vaporware reality of yesterday. What about the upcoming reality? There are two critical issues to confront here. The first critical issue is: How many people will actually buy and use game consoles for Internet gaming?
Not having learned their lessons from the mid-90s, the predictions from the analysts on this just keep getting wilder. For example, Datamonitor predicted last November that 45 million console gamers would be playing games via the Internet by 2004, compared to 28 million PC online gamers. They also estimated a total of 165 million consoles sold worldwide by 2003, but fail to make clear whether that number is all boxes sold in years past or just the next generation consoles. Other estimates are of a similar vein. My take on this: These guys are smoking crack. And damned pure crack, at that.
Just take a brief look at the state of the market today, in which one company has shipped an Internet-capable console and three companies are preparing to do so:
So we really wont start seeing any Internet console games until early-to-mid 2001 or any major sales of Internet game boxes until late 2001. Yet we are to believe that 45 million people in the US and Europe will be using those consoles for multiplayer Internet gaming 2 years later?
I have no doubt there will be tens of millions of game consoles sold by 2004. Whether there will be 165 million sold is moot; I have no doubt that at least 50 million will be sold, so the predictions have the potential to come true. However, just having consoles available is not the only key. The second critical issue is; will the Internet gaming experience be good enough to promote console game play? In other words, is the current and planned Internet technology mature enough to make console gaming a good enough experience that people will actually do it?
I highly doubt it. Well discuss why in the next column.