Are We Ready To Go Online?

The views expressed below are not necessarily the views of N-Sider Media Inc. They represent the views of the original writer only.

The issue of online console gaming has been picked over by almost everyone and their fourth cousin who has an opinion on the matter. But, in light of Xbox Lives launch on the 15th, I decided that there needed to be one more editorial on the market. This isnt really about which system you should take online. The answer is pretty clear, whichever system you own is the one to go with. If you own more than one, Xbox Live seems like the winner.

But, the real problem is not who has the best plan. The real problem, as Nintendo has advocated through their non-committal stance on online gaming, is the question of whether or not console gaming is ready for the online realm. Will people be so enticed by this new online phenomenon that they will buy more consoles and pay to play online? Sega was banking on it with the Dreamcast, but as Sega lost more money (although I believe this has more to do with the PS2s debut) they increased the price of the SegaNet service deterring old users from renewing their subscription and new ones from subscribing. Perhaps it is true that the company was just ahead of its time, but I think the real reason is that the gamers who are really interested in online gaming are already consumed by PCs.

Seriously, what was the first thing you thought about when choosing your console? Was it really whether or not youd be able to take it online? It might have played a minor role, but it certainly wasnt a large factor. Xbox Live is exciting because it is new. I want to experience it for curiositys sake, not because I have an overwhelming need to test my skills against the unknown masses. Sure Unreal Championship will sell Xbox Live kits all over the place, but there isnt really a variety of online options. They mostly boil down to sports or death matches. If thats your thing fine, but for some, too much of the same thing will get tiresome (especially after youve memorized all the maps in a FPS). I just feel that with as much thought that went into Xbox Lives development, more should have gone into developing different titles that will capture a wider audience. Halo 2, and Star Wars Galaxies (along with rumored Fable) will be good enough reasons to spend your 50 bucks, but that is in the future.

As stated above, those who would be most excited about online console gaming is the PC gamers. But, they are already online and most PC gamers shudder at the thought of a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard. What would seem like a perfect console online audience is already entrenched behind glowing monitors. To them, the multiplayer experience IS online, whereas most console gamers think of multiplayer as an experience with four controllers in a crowded room. I just dont see how online gaming will be able to replicate the feeling of competing against foes who are sitting right next to you. It certainly wont permit you to knock scalding liquid onto your opponent to distract them right before they are able to squeeze off that lethal shot or make that game winning break away pass. Some might say that this will make multiplayer fair, but it will make it less fun. Gone will be the smack talk, the shoving, the accidental unplugging of someones controller, and of course the ability to see exactly where your friend is in a round of Goldeneye (they really need to sell TVs with split screen blinders).

Well, Microsoft is trying to recreate this multiplayer feeling via the Xbox Live communicator, but will it really be able to live up to the face to face multiplayer experience. Youll be able to talk with your opponents, but they will remain a stranger (unless, of course, it is a friend) and may as well just be AI, albeit smarter or dumber on a case by case basis.

Online gaming is a wait and see situation. PS2 has had its modem available for quite a while now, GameCube already released its modem and sole game (PSO), and XBL will be available the 15th. Im eager to see what the ratio will be a year from now between the online and offline console gamers. It just seems like online console gaming is a fad (like furbies and beanie babies). It is someones creative attempt to open up the console market to an even wider audience. Its just an accessory, an added bonus, but an industry revolutionizing force it is not. I have this overwhelming suspicion that everyone will flock to the online world at first, but eventually, after their initial subscription has expired to whatever service they signed up with, many will decide it is not worth the hassle. The newness will have worn off, and gradually it will be used less frequently until gamers are only downloading expansions every other month. This may be a pessimistic view, perhaps online will be console nirvana, but my image of console gaming will always be the solo adventure or the mob mentality of a party game. Perhaps, we all will be surprised.

Mary Jane Irwin