It’s the year 2000, and Phantasy Star Online is a game I can’t put down. My buddy Andrew and I are attempting to connect his Sega Dreamcast to the internet using my house’s spare phone line. You know, the one my mom got installed because I kept hogging our first line for dial-up internet. Finally, the 15 inch tube television that his system is connected to confirms that he’s online, and we’re kicking off what feels like the best afternoon in world history. Online gaming has come a long way. Seriously, can you even remember the last time a phone line was compromised by your internet usage?
While titles such as PSO may have paved the way; Microsoft’s Xbox Live was a landmark in gaming history. Launched in 2002, it was the first real option that console users had to reliably log on and interact with other gamers around the world. One could even argue that Microsoft’s involvement with the Dreamcast was experimentation – to see what could be done by bringing console gaming online. Not long after the launch of Xbox Live, Sony and Nintendo rolled out their own online services. The online console gaming community has been thriving. With that, games are adapting in varying ways in an attempt to keep up.
Shooting games such as Bungie’s Destiny and Tom Clancy’s The Division by Ubisoft exist solely to serve a community of gamers who seek a world that constantly grows around their experience. Without a demanding online community, these games simply do not exist as we see them today. With that in mind, is it enough to periodically add more content to these titles in an attempt to prolong player interest? At first glance – of course it is. After all, this has been proven to be successful by games such as Batman: Arkham Knight or The Witcher 3. Here, gamers wanted more to do after they completed the main story, and were satisfied when given just that. What place does such an update hold in the scope of an online-focused experience? It is possible that the same approach undermines the potential of a worldwide arena.
Bungie decided to take a shot at shaking things up with Destiny’s Sparrow Racing League: a three-week-long event which introduced players to a competitive racing minigame. The SRL then concluded after those three weeks, regardless of how well you did. During this event, players could earn wearable flair which can be displayed on their avatar and profile at any time. This offers a bit of gravitas to those who decide to display such flair. It’s also an indication of the kinds of things Destiny may offer to players in the future – events that call to the masses for their participation. But, does this really matter? Do players truly care about racing their vehicles for pieces of flair?
Alternatively, it could be that gamers of today merely seek experiences that can be shared. Players need to feel special and powerful in the worlds which they inhabit. So, just invite their equally special and powerful friends to go along for the ride. Why reinvent the wheel? At this point in time, Ubisoft’s announced plans for The Division’s future mirror that of most single player games. Maybe adding missions, new areas to roam, and increasing the maximum player level is the tried and true formula which will usher The Division off into a sunset of greatness.
Either way, it’s a wonderful time to partake in the plentiful plights which online gaming presents. What do you think – are games that focus on online play required to feel different and larger than single player experiences?