Title: Halo 2, Windows Live, and the Future of PC Gaming
Posted: May 21, 2007 (07:26 PM)
Every online PC gamer has to answer the same question. Do you pay to play, or do you play for free? It’s a powerful question that literally determines the games you play, but sooner or later, it may not be your decision to make. Subscription-based MMOs are some of the hottest tickets in town, and success always brings in the copycats. This is especially true in gaming, where the smallest ripple can quickly become a tidal wave.
If you play Battlefield, Command & Conquer, Guild Wars, or any number of other free, online games, you might be wondering what subscription-based MMOs have to do with you. Just take a look at World of Warcraft. With low-ball figures of 8 million subscribers each paying $13, Blizzard is pulling in over $104,000,000 every month. That is a lot of zeroes, and they have not gone unnoticed. If nothing else, World of Warcraft has almost single-handedly proven just how lucrative the online PC market can be.
On May 22, 2007, Halo 2 will drop for the PC, along with the debut of Microsoft’s new online gaming venue, Windows Live. While online play will still be free through the Silver Membership, the full-featured Gold Membership for $49.99/year will offer multiplayer achievements, TrueSkill matchmaking, and cross-platform play with the Xbox 360 (beginning with Shadowrun, May 29, 2007). You will still have the choice to pay or not, but for how long? Microsoft isn’t exactly known for missing an opportunity for profit. After all, this is the company that won’t let you play Halo 2 without first upgrading to Windows Vista – perhaps the most gamer-unfriendly operating system this side of Unix.
Windows Live may remain free in the years to come, or it may be step one of a larger plan. I simply do not know. One thing that I am certain of is the precedent being set. Online PC gaming is like a vast desert with a tremendous oil reserve lurking beneath the surface. After that first hole is drilled, it shouldn’t be long before others start staking their claims. It is fully possible that we will even see individual games charging monthly fees. The initial cries of “foul” would be deafening, but I know a number of people who would pay $5, $7, or even $10 a month just to play Battlefield 2.
It may be hard to imagine that game developers and publishers would simply roll over on their loyal fans and start charging for online play. As gamers though, we often forget that our hobby is also a business. Xbox Live and MMOs have shown that there are millions of people willing to play for online gaming, so it almost seems unfair to criticize any companies that decide to pursue a pay-to-play system in the future. Perhaps we should simply be thankful for the free online play that many game companies have offered thus far. Just because they’ve been picking up the tab all these years does not mean that we’re entitled to the same treatment forever.
On one hand, a pay-to-play system can offer gamers numerous benefits such as matchmaking, heavier restrictions on cheating, and stable servers. On the other hand, most gamers don’t have the good fortune of an unlimited budget. Additional charges mean that gamers will have fewer funds to take chances on new titles, making it more difficult for lesser-known developers to stake their claim. As for Windows Live in particular, who will determine which games make the cut and how downloadable content will be handled? We can’t decide the route that game companies will take in the future, but regardless of which side you stand on, it will be your dollars that determine the outcome.
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Posted: May 21, 2007 (11:29 PM)
I don't like paying for online games so you'll never see me play WoW or anything like that. I don't care about some point system, doesn't mean much to me. Plus most major online games have their own stat tracking and ranking systems, which is more than enough.
Posted: May 22, 2007 (03:33 AM)
Well said! You are one of the very few out there who recognises that PC gamers still get everything they already get for free, and only have to pay for the extras. In my opinion, Live is not worth it for just the one game. Shadowrun may well be a great game when it is released, but it won't hit the masses the same way that Command & Conquer 3 would have done. That right there is a missed opportunity.
Pay to play is going to happen. (Sega even did it with the DreamCast!) Reason is, it is only the hardcore PC brigade with their heads up their asses who are moaning about it. The casual market, which DWARFS us 'hardcore' gamers, are happy to pay. Consider the success of PopCap games, if nothing else.
I am happy about the whole Games For Windows Live thing, basically because I now get extra games on which to achieve. Also, I now have absoultely no reason to get Shadowrun on the 360 instead of the PC!
Posted: May 24, 2007 (04:41 AM)
Microsoft is actually actively pursuing Windows Live by giving developers a hefty amount of money IF they make a Live-exclusive title - at least, Microsoft is in the process of doing so. Sure, cross-platforming, unified friends lists, and handy feature like those come with the required Gold membership for Windows Live, but third-party software like Xfire already does this for free. That and most developers have already established substantial networks of devoted fans, so unless they give all that up for being on Live (read: very low chance), Windows Live will fail to integrate everyone. In the end, I just have problems with charging people for something (legal) that never needed to pay for in the first place.