Xbox Live and beyond

12th April 2004

There are some things in life that tend to come natural. Talking is one of them - you don't need to think before you blurt something out. Sometimes you get lucky and say something interesting and informative - other times you are wasting your breath to avoid an awkward silence. There is no such thing as thinking out loud - it's just talking crap. Thanks to the wonderful innovations recently you can now prove all of the above using a broadband connection to anyone in the world through Xbox Live.

Online gaming has been the next big thing for a good few years now. It's always offered the same things - play against people all over the world. Until recently it missed a big part - you had to type to the other players. With a few nifty keyboard shortcuts you can get what you are trying to say across quickly - probably as quickly as saying it out loud - but that is missing the point. Talking in multiplayer games certainly helps with team strategies - you head over there and cover that while I do this. Which is great.

The thing is though that the MP5 you are firing at the bunch of polygons in front of you isn't going to alter anything. You're playing a game - the same as when jumpers are goal posts, and when you knocking the last red into a pocket at pool. Of course it's competitive, if it wasn't it would be nowhere near as much fun. The competition element is all a big joke though really - it doesn't mean you can't have a chat while you're doing it.

Which is where the wonderful idea of a headset comes in. You can sit and talk about crap. You can even sing. Why? Absoloutly no reason at all. Talking about the football last night to someone you wouldn't mind sitting down with a none-alcoholic beverage with is a thoroughly entertaining experience. Whizzing around a Russian city you've never visited before in an Aston Martin is a nice bonus - but little more.

Whether or not Microsoft and it's competitors are aware of the fact that people get the most enjoyment out of a game when the game is largely a sideline is anyones guess. It certainly isn't how online gaming is marketed though.

Playing against people you know is better than playing against strangers. Everybody who has ever decided that they don't mind looking like they work in aircraft control and strap the headset on knows that. Before you make the dive though, no-one tells you that. Microsoft seems happy to play along with the conspiracy too - "Now YOU can play Xbox Live against anyone in the world" they proudly announce. They don't point out that "Now YOU can play Xbox Live with your mate Dave."

The latest PS3 rumour is that instead of releasing a standard console like the PS2 they are going to release two consoles. One will be broadband enabled with a harddrive and a few other bells and whistles, while the second be closer to a GameCube with just a DVD drive for just movies and games. Which sounds reasonable - the PS3GameCube will be only a hundred and fifty quid - the PS3Xbox will be closer to five hundred. It doesn't take a genius to work out that a person who has never played on Xbox Live or the slapdash Sony alternative isn't going to miss online gaming. Bearing in mind that most PS2 owners will not have played online with their console, how many people are going to splash out on something they will never use? A very small percentage. Now play the role of Game Developer - a small percentage of people are buying the online enabled console, the vast majority will not be able to benefit from online gaming you program - will you include it? Nope.

Of course Sony rumours are usually untrue. If it does happen though the current increase in popularity of online gaming could well come to a grinding halt. Just when it was set to become the next big thing in gaming too...

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