If you’re old enough to remember what a LAN party is, then just take a couple of seconds to remember just how far we’ve actually come.
For a lot of early adopters, games like Doom and Unreal Tournament were incredible forays into multiplayer games that didn’t require a split screen, and the first true examples of games requiring co-operative gameplay, and tactics and strategies that didn’t rely on knowing what the AI was going to do next. They also created true, real-time competition between players, something that has become the foundation for modern online gaming.
Online gaming didn’t really become mainstream until home internet caught up. In the late 90s and early 2000s, dial-up home internet was allowing gamers to widen their choice of games, and the way they played them, with the help of dedicated servers and better modems that enabled relatively smooth online multiplayer in titles like Total Annihilation and Counter Strike. But, you’d need a decent PC, and network cards weren’t exactly cheap in the days before ultra-mass-produced PCBs and chipsets.
When the PlayStation 2 and eventually first generation Xbox hit shelves in 2000 and 2001 respectively, the true online gaming revolution could finally happen. Final Fantasy XI, Call of Duty: Big Red One, and eventually FIFA 06 harnessed the power of broadband internet, creating the first stepping stones for the fast-paced, 3D gaming that we enjoy today.
From FUT to Fortnite, the sheer choice and quality of online titles has gone on to create a gaming industry that has changed from an individual pursuit, to one that can be shared not only friends who spend time together locally, but with people in different time zones and countries too. Games are sprawling, deep and sometimes more challenging than a sole play-through (just look at the complexity of GTA online), and can actually be the main selling point, especially for series’ like FIFA and Call of Duty where the solo aspect has almost become secondary. Where we’ll go next with online gaming has some pretty exciting avenues, and we’re already seeing some next-level tech that will govern the way in which we’ll game online over the next decade or so.
The elephant in the room for the whole gaming community at the moment is definitely virtual reality. Although PlayStation’s headset is the first true mainstream VR headset, after the expensive and specialist Occulus Rift proved the demand for VR. With now well over 2 million sales, the uptake has been slow and steady for PlayStation users, partly due to the lack of big-name gaming studios jumping straight on the technology. The reliance on ‘experiences’ and independent titles means that the content on PSVR is still lacking significantly, and the slow death of 3D Blu-Ray isn’t allowing it to show off its 3D movie capabilities either.
The big change we’ll need to see for VR to truly take off is a more affordable solution that brings big name titles to online gaming. And VR may not even be the medium to do it. Augmented reality, or AR is being touted as the next big online gaming revolution, and we’ve already got extremely successful titles that have shown the potential for AR. Pokémon Go was a smash hit a couple of years back, and this kind of interactive, physical-environment multiplayer gaming could be the next step away from consoles and PCs – just careful you don’t end up in jail playing where you aren’t supposed to. Microsoft are already developing an AR headset, but it looks like its gaming capabilities will be limited, with more of a focus on corporate and productivity applications.
The changes that we’ll see on console and PC games will echo and develop on what we’ve seen over the last 2 or 3 years. Instead of churning out big annual console titles like Assassin’s Creed, bigger studios are now focussing on the long game, taking breaks and working on blockbusters like GTA V, Fallout 4, and Red Dead Redemption 2 over several years. The online elements of these types of game (with exception of Fallout) are designed to last multiple years, especially in the case of GTA Online, which is still making millions of dollars each month for Rockstar. With big breaks in between titles, the whole additional content and levelling up system is certainly what will dictate how big studios will gear their online additions, rather than one-trick ponies that get boring after several hours of gameplay.
Mobile gaming has a very exciting road ahead too. Multiplayer and co-working has become a big aspect of app-based gaming, and this could be a much bigger focus when it comes to both freemium and paid games. One area of mobile gaming that has been incredibly successful and a big money maker for the companies involved, and could take big steps into the future with an additional focus on community and multiplayer, is online casino gaming, particularly online poker. Online poker isn’t a new idea, but it’s certainly ripe for change. The format lends itself perfectly to multiplayer, and adding in some new gameplay elements like VR or AR could create a poker app that appeals to the next generation of gamers. Real money poker apps recently got the green light from both Apple and Google app stores too, so expect to see a real influx of new apps from both established gambling companies, and start ups who will continue to develop app-based poker, as we know it. Imagine sitting in Vegas, playing a game of Texas Hold ‘Em and going up against players from around the world, all through the use of a Google cardboard or a dedicated VR headset.
The only problem that the gaming industry faces is a positive problem for gamers. Keeping things fresh and exciting is costly and time consuming, but ultimately having the next big thing in development is the driving factor for game studios of all sizes. What we’ll definitely experience in the immediate future is a generation of games that focuses on interaction with fellow players, and the rebirth of the MMO. Game studios like Bethesda are nailed on to produce the next instalment in the Elder Scrolls series, and upcoming pirate title Sea of Thieves will certainly build on the community driven, multiplayer elements seen recently in Fortnite, League of Legends and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It might be time to invest in that faster internet connection after all…
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