Thursday, July 08, 2004

Online Games and the PC Games Market

I haven't played City of Heroes for a few days, thanks to the plague, but it's made me think about online gaming and the effect it will have on PC game sales. What happens with me when I play an online game is that I don't play anything else, or play other games only sparingly. There's this psychological pressure to keep spending time with the online game because it doesn't end--there's always another level or a new mission. There's no stopping point. It's very sneaky psychologically, what a good online game does to your gaming habits, but in the long run, I think it's a real threat to the gaming industry. It's even more of a threat to PC gaming than consoles are.

If you think I've lost my mind, the line for that starts around the corner. No, not that corner. It goes past that building, across the parking lot (nice tailgating action, if you have time to stop), and winds through the park. Pack a lunch. Or if you're not in the mood walking, there's a bus that runs every thirty minutes.

It just breaks down to a simple issue with time. Let's say that a gamer plays roughly an average of almost two hours a day, or about 700 hours a year. With a single-player game, let's say there's an average of 25 hours of play value. Over the course of the year, that gamer would wind up buying 28 games. If he's playing an online game, and he sticks with it, he's not going to be playing much else. So maybe 500 out of 700 hours goes to one game. He's only buying 8 games instead of 28. That is absolutely going to have an effect on the gaming market over time.

This kind of dedication to a subscription-based game also works very well for the gaming industry. It's a revenue stream. Sure, there are significant infrastructure expenses, but if you do it right you've got a profitable revenue stream from here to eternity--or until the sequel comes out. That's why so many companies are trying to develop online games.

Here's one more factor. It's much more expensive to make an online game, so it's a much bigger bet for the future of a company. If it fails, and most of them will, it's a death blow, not a temporary setback. It's also going to be very difficult for small developers to crack this market, so I think their numbers are going to decline over time as well.

You might be thinking but what about games like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2? Well, they're both going to be huge, but they've also been in development for years. I just don't hear many new single-player games being announced, and the ones that do are almost always sequels.

There's always going to be room for a guy in his garage with a great idea. But I think the general tide of the market is moving toward big-budget, high-profile online games. Which I regret.

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