Will online games redefine gaming? Not everyone thinks so.
In my last column, "Online Games Redefine Gaming," I said the Internet is eclipsing the console as the platform of choice for gaming. This topic wasn't easy to write given my personal connection to consoles. Not surprisingly, I received an overwhelming amount of feedback both for and against my opinion. Many readers agreed completely. Many others virtually kicked my teeth in.
With the latter in mind, I decided to address the restless console defenders. To frame this column, I've taken excerpts from ClickZ readers responses.
Keep in mind, my opinion is based on a belief that gaming must appeal to wider demographics to grow and thrive. The consoles, other than the Wii, have not successfully done this. They maintain the hardcore male 18 to 34 gamers but have marginal success beyond that demo.
ClickZ Reader: Your entire column seemed to be written by someone who didn't do a minute of research.
Kevin Carney: I appreciate feedback, even when it is volatile and demeaning. It's important that all readers know that I research in direct relation to my columns and that my entire life has been a gaming experiment. My leisure digital media consumption has been overwhelmingly focused on gaming, from the Commodore 64 through all consoles to my current PC environment.
Additionally, my career and company have been focused on gaming and the Internet for over 15 years. I'm not writing these columns as a job, I'm writing them from a unique vantage afforded by my life experiences, career path, and a true love of the game.
Reader: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii have all done their part in revolutionizing the gaming world, with high-definition graphics, media center capability, and online play being prime examples.
KC: I tip my hat to Wii. Its controller, physical play, and efforts to broaden the gaming demographic from males 18 to 34 to the entire family deserve praise.
Graphics. As stated last time, sometimes there's brilliance in simplicity. Look at the evolution of hockey games. Everyone I've polled believes games have lost touch with fun in favor of realism. Most people don't want to lose unreal kinematics, manage line changes, and many other intricate parts of the real game.
Or boxing. Great graphics sacrificed fun that "Ring King" and "Punch Out" delivered. Where's the upper cut that sends your opponent 20 feet up in the air? Where's the voiceover that embeds itself in your mind...for life. Where's the "stick and move"? The "body blow"?
And online console play. A fairly weak showing that was enough for the hardcore consoler. However, the Internet and online games are rapidly evolving without a limiting base system. A simple download of the newest version of Flash opens new worlds of gaming. I don't see that consumer ease of implementation in the console sector.
Look where consumers are -- defined as all demographics, not just males 18 to 34. They're on PCs and online. It's possible the consoles will move online completely, evolving into online game media properties. Or they can shorten the five-year cycle, release a more online-centric system and ask consumers to pony up, yet again.
Reader: The $500 million week of "Grand Theft Auto IV" should prove to you that you are wrong in your assessment of the downfall of console games.
KC: That's like arguing that the cinemas are kicking ass by pointing to "Titanic." GTA is one franchise among the handful of successful ones. Take a look across the board.
And yes, console ownership is up since 2004. That's because the hardcore players, males 18 to 34, keep buying. However, consoles are in large part failing to capture secondary audiences in mass. And given that all demographics are gravitating to the Web, it's only a matter of time before online games win the hardcore consolers. Check back with me in two years and let me know how that console is working out for you.
Reader: Free online games are nice and all, but the type of long-term programming and development involved in making a game like GTA IV or "Halo 2" make it a necessity to earn an actual profit and not just rely on advertising dollars.
KC: Sure, Electronic Arts, Activision, Rockstar, and the like turn a profit and develop fantastic games for consoles and PCs, but what about the industry at large? Take a look at Midway and its console strategies. Note, too, that "World of Warcraft," one of the most successful titles of all time, is by definition a subscription-based online game.
Another very telling development is Quake Live. Id Software, the father of PC games, open source gaming, the mod sector, and machinima founded by John Carmack, the most respected and powerful individual in the game industry, is making yet another revolutionary move. It's releasing an online, free-to-play, advertiser-funded version of one of the best-selling franchises of all time, "Quake."
"We see an incredible opportunity in the ubiquity of broadband connected PCs and the fact that 63 percent of the U.S. population now plays video games," id Software's Marty Stratton, executive producer on Quake Live, told me. "With Quake Live, we will deliver the excitement and energy of a premium and proven first-person multiplayer game to this broader audience, totally free to play through a single Web site at quakelive.com. With integrated skill-based player matching, practice modes, tutorials, real-time friends chat, and detailed stats, Quake Live players at all skill levels will experience the broad accessibility of a Web game combined with the quality, depth, community, and pure thrill of one of the world's most popular multiplayer games."
KC: Look East, young man...
Online games dominate in South Korea. There, broadband penetration has always outpaced penetration in the United States. South Korean gamers didn't grow up on consoles, so online gaming hasn't had to overcome ingrained psychological connections to consoles. Arguably, South Korea serves as a model for the future of gaming to the world. There, online games drive the game industry with subscription models and microtransactions serving as the primary revenue stream.
A report in Casual Gaming suggests the purchase of gaming add-ons, such as levels and game-play features, totaled $1.5 billion in South Korea in 2007.
As online games gain traction here in the United States and revenues are augmented by advertiser underwriting and sponsorship, we'll watch online gaming explode and console gaming wither.
Thanks for you mindshare.
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Kevin Carney is founder and CEO of GMS, an innovative company that provides interactive engagement solutions to many of the world's most recognizable brands. He began his career at Young & Rubicam and has since developed a proven record in the advertising, new media, and video game industries. He's held management positions within visionary companies, including Broadcast.com, TEN/Pogo.com (Electronic Arts), Vivendi Universal Games, Walt Disney Company, and Ziff Davis Game Group.
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