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by Andrew Welch

[Andrew on Harley]

What Networked Games Should Be

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and suggest two things that may be a controversial when it comes to today's games. First, in terms of the actual game, multi-player networkable games are far less interesting than most single player games.

Before you dismiss me as crank, let me explain. Multi-player networkable games, by their very nature, are designed to bring people together. The game itself doesn't have to be all that interesting, because it provides a vehicle for something much more compelling: interaction with other people, both in terms of playing games with them, and in terms of being social.

Most of the popular networkable games are quite simple in design; by the author's own admission, Quake is little more than multi-player whack-a-mole (albeit with large guns). A game like Quake just isn't all that interesting to play solo. The fun in Quake comes from human opponents. Older games didn't have the luxury of having such interesting opponents available, so they had to focus on compelling content and gameplay.

Because of the fact that people from all over the world can now play games together over the Internet, game designers can rely on making a cool arena for people to play in rather than designing an interesting game. I realize this may seem like splitting hairs, but I do believe there is a distinction between the two.

Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's a shift in what game designers need to do to captivate their audience. They don't need to invent a fun game, but rather provide a fun gaming environment, and leave the "fun" factor up to the participants.

What I'm really looking forward to is when game developers start making games which rely on both old school game designing principles and multi-player interaction to create some truly exciting games. It's already starting to happen; hopefully the days of a game having a shelf life of 3 months are coming to an end.

This segues nicely into my second rant. Many new games are merely glorified eye candy, designed to sell to more computer hardware and keep consumers caught up in the profitable "only the latest thing is fun" mentality. Don't believe the hype.

Yes, graphics, sounds, music, etc. are all important to making a cool game, however they are not a substitute for it. Historically, it's been most profitable for gaming companies to try to tell you that only the latest games are fun. They do this in order to get continued sales.

I do agree that many games get boring over time, but this is merely a part of the vicious circle of fast development cycles to get product out the door to sell. What's the quickest way to make sure people will want your game? Make it visually attractive. They'll play it for at least a few weeks, while it's the "hot title" and the software company will get their sale.

With the dawn of online gaming (let's be honest, it's still quite in its infancy), perhaps development cycles will slow down a bit as the business model changes from selling a product to selling a service.

If developers were more concerned with keeping you interested for a long period of time rather than hyping a product for a few months, then ditching it for the next new thing, I think we might actually end up with games that deserve to be played for more than a few months before they are retired.

I personally am looking forward to this the most: graphics used to complement compelling gameplay, not as a substitute for it, and games sold as a service where their job is to keep you interested, not generate a few brief hours of lust.

Oh sure, networkable games will still be just a thinly veiled excuse to bring people together, just like their board-game brethren are, but they'll be quite a bit more enduring. The possibilities in online gaming have barely begun to be tapped.

[Andrew's Signature]

Andrew Welch
Ambrosia Software, Inc.

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