The life and death of online games

Originally posted at on Fri, 04 Nov 2005

Most of the people I know on the Internet I've met through computer games. Pretty much everyone on my MSN contact list is either someone I've met in real life or met through a common interest in a game. With most it's through TFC, with some it's through Planetarion and with others its through Guild Wars.

Unlike single-player games, multiplayer games need other people. Generally speaking they need a lot of other people.

TFC and other First Person Shooters (FPS) only need around 16 people in total for a good game of 8v8, but for a prolonged experience an FPS needs at least hundreds of people, to form clans, leagues and tournaments and to make new content like maps.

It goes without saying that some kinds of games rely even more heavily on people, such as MMOGs, many of which would not be playable, even casually, without at least thousands of players.

What happens when people stop playing? Taking my favourite multiplayer game, TFC as an example, it's quite possible that eventually a new game with some similarities to TFC will appear (maybe Fortress Forever) and the majority of the TFC community will migrate to this new game. If this happens then TFC in its current state will be unplayable.

The same applies to any other online game. There is perhaps less of a threat to MMORPGs, since the time invested by the player is represented in-game by the character's level or a fortune in GP, increasing the incentive to stick with the game. But the threat is still present; if a game that's considerably better arrives then most people will switch.

What about retro gaming? Retro gaming is pretty popular at the moment and I think it probably will be forever – nothing quite compares to sitting down with a game that you played years ago and reliving the experience. With single player games this is relatively easy, you just plug in your old device or download an emulator. But with multiplayer games most of the feelings tied up with playing rely on other people. You might be able to get away with finding 15 other people on the internet, all eager to reminisce at the same time as you, and get a quick 8v8 out of it. Reliving the experience of more organised multiplayer gaming, however, will probably be impossible. The experience is often less to do with the game itself and more to do with the community. Planetarion, for example, was (at least when I played) largely more to do with politics and group planning than it was to do with the actual process of logging in and launching ships.

In summary, I don't think we will be able to relive the onine-community experience of multiplayer games in the same way that we are able to relive the more simple single-player experience. So make the most of your favourite online game when you can, because it probably won't be here in a few years time!