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Internet Gaming: Demystifying the Attraction
An introduction to Internet gaming and what attracts gamers

By: Bruce Bahlmann - Contributing Author (your feedback is important to us!)

Created: January 23, 2002

Published by: NetSuds -- June 2002

Note: This article is based on a white paper written about online gaming for broadband as well as completed research about online gaming. Both of these are available for purchase from Birds-Eye.Net.

Internet gaming is one of the hottest growing markets in the world. Among today’s hundreds/thousands of game titles for personal computers lies the even older (perhaps even larger) isolated market for game consoles played on consumer televisions. The advent of widely available broadband Internet connectivity along with recent game consoles from Microsoft and Sony that now include Ethernet ports present the potential for an interesting merger of the two previously separate industries. This merger creates unlimited possibilities for nearly anyone whose game!

So what is the big deal with having a multitude of games to play out on the Internet? Why is this significant? Furthermore, what drives people to play games, especially Internet games? All questions one should understand before gaming will make any sense to the average person – non-gamer!

Have you ever played pong? You know, the “really” old video game where you would manipulate some device (dial/joy stick) to move a bar up and down a screen in an effort to deflect a ball-like object against a wall. I recall people, including myself, spending hours playing that game – a match of skill against a computer who could actually make each deflection increasingly difficult. After a while you either get frustrated and give up or beat the game and thus the fun runs out. While pong is a pathetically simplistic example of a solo game, this concept of either giving up or the fun running out applies to any game you play against the computer. The computer is simply a boring opponent!

New games out on the market come with increasing intelligence, graphics, and sounds (even voices) that certainly grab your attention and can hold it for hours (if not days/weeks/…). However, in the end, the same thing happens – either you get frustrated and give up or you beat the game and the fun runs out.

The Internet has changed EVERYTHING when it comes to games. Take a small software gaming company called ID, it has 17 employees, two blockbuster games, and 20 million a year in revenue - gaming is big business! ID figured out that gamers eventually find playing against the computer lame, so they developed a way for gamers to play against each other across a network – to make play more interesting/unpredictable. So instead of playing against some computer, you can now play with your friends, your co-workers, pretty much anyone worldwide. As these Internet games evolved so did the variations of play.  Take one game produced by ID and one of its blockbuster hits – Quake. There are two versions of the initial game available: Quake and QuakeWorld. While they are relatively the same game, QuakeWorld was developed more as an Internet friendly game. The Internet version of Quake leverages three pieces of software to offer it on-line: game servers, game clients, and master servers. These three entities play in important roll in the wide spread popularity of the game. The game server actually hosts the game. The master server allows the game servers to post/advertise its games on it – whereby allowing gamers to find these games. The game client allows Internet gamers to play the hosted game.

 The difference between the standalone game distributed to consumers on CD and the games on the Internet are extensive! First of all, its not just a single out-of-the-box game gamers play out on the Internet – virtually anything is possible. Quake supports user modifications (or mods as gamers call them) – a program interface limited only by ones imagination! So the owners of the game servers can select different maps and rotations that the players will encounter along with a multitude of other performance settings and game play environment parameters. You can even build your own maps – there are hundreds of custom maps created by die-hard gamers who have build whole cities, starships, etc. Beyond that you can even totally change the game from one person against everyone to team play, or even change the game play. QuakeWorld for example supports a number of different games (mods) including Deathmatch, Fortress, Capture the flag, paint ball, etc. While all these games fit within the confines supported by the game’s graphics and basic capability (shoot-em-up), they all represent drastically different play and attract different types of players.

The game play of Internet servers goes beyond what of your typical computer opponent is capable – even the most complex/smart ones. The reason for this is because players find a way to push the game to the limits – even cheat at it! Some players are so good they take the game to another level (e.g. shooting while flying, hiding up in the rafters, etc.). These players seek out other players of their skill or greater – which they can only find on the Internet. Thus as players increase their skill, they consistently seek out more advanced players to compete against – Internet games host an endless supply of talented gamers.

Each player can also express him/her self in games. For example they can create and wear different skins (e.g. football uniform, male/female, monster, etc.). Expression can take on a kind of cult where players form clans and play together challenging other clans or groups of players. There is even the capability for players to express themselves verbally – I refer to this as physiological warfare as they can make fun of other players, taunt them, just about anything to distract you.

With the convergence of personal computers and game consoles onto the Internet, a whole new realm of game play will unfold. This next generation of these Internet games will be increasingly rich in multi-media and attract even larger audiences than before. Understanding gamers requires you to understand their passion. I’ve only given you an introduction, but encourage you to experience it yourself. Note the craze will be soft spoken and primarily out of the public’s eye. If you’re not a gamer you’ll never really know what drives them and how powerful and addictive this experience can be.  

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