With the next generation of gaming almost upon us, there have been many rumours as to what the future holds. The most prevalent of these rumours have focused on the suggestion of an always online dependency, which in turn have raised the idea of an end to optical media (and thus second hand sales). The purpose of this blog is not to substantiate these rumours or, in looking at the potential benefits, suggest I relish the proposition of always online: Its merely to look at what benefits always online and download gaming could provide.
The drawback of a prepackaged physical product on the shelves is that it has to be an all encompassing solution. All of its various components are bundled together and shipped at its recommended retail price a price that is a reflection off all that content. What if you dont want all that content though? That limited single product is not tailored to the desires of your various customers. Some people will utilise everything that is on offer, whilst others are only interested in certain elements of the product. To give you an example, I have friends that have sunk hundreds of hours into the Call of Duty series of games and yet, being fans of online multi-player, have never touched the campaign modes. This of course works in the reverse: there are gamers that are only interested in the single player campaign and yet have effectively paid for an online component they wont ever use.
Online digital download removes many of the constraints that occur with a physical product. It enables the publishers to slice and dice the content into chunks, making for a more versatile product. This is a scenario that is beneficial to both the seller and the consumer. The costs involved with hosting download servers and a front end market place are far less than that of producing and shipping physical copy. The consumer should benefit from not only a reflectively reduced price because of this, but also the option to only buy the segmentally priced content they desire. It could be argued that publishers would lose out here, as they gain more from selling you a higher priced product whether you want all of it or not, than they do from selling you just the bits you do want, at a cheaper price. Id suggest that the elimination of second hand sales and also disgruntled consumers who dont want to pay full price for merely a five hour campaign, would negate any of these loses. There is also the benefit of product availability. Retailers only have a limited amount of shelf space and need to be smart with their product ordering. They have to second guess the market, making sure they order in enough of what the consumer wants and as little dead wood as possible. As a consumer, this means your local game shop may not have a copy of a game youre after, as the retailer didnt deem it worthy of the shelf space. Online download eliminates this issue (as files can always be available on a server), with an added benefit of 24/7 opening hours.
So there are some clear mutual benefits around how the product is put to market, but what about the content of that product itself? How can games, gaming and consequently gamers, benefit from being tied to always online? Firstly, it means everyone will be forced into the existing benefits of online gaming. Online social networking and interaction, the most up to date, patched content and bug fixes, news on the latest releases or up coming games and not to mention access to expanded media services like netflix. Then there are the potential benefits that games could utilise by a constant connection. Simulations aim to be as realistic as theoretically possible, using cleverly scripted code to produce a virtual reality. What if some of that coded reality could be replaced with real time data? Weather conditions in a simulation racing game could be as dynamic as the actual weather itself, calling in global atmospheric data as you race. Day/night cycles could be reflective of those geographic locations at the time you are playing. Imagine playing a game based in a location local to you and witnessing the synchronised sunsets both in game and through the window.
Graphics are an area that the industry has seen constant improvement over the years, leaving many gamers keen to see attentions turned to other aspects of gaming, like artificial intelligence. How about actual intelligence? Data, logging peoples actions, constantly being captured then stored in a database and then used to feed back into the AI, updating its behaviour based off those human actions. Even the best examples of AI cant change the fact they are scripted, so running the variables off genuinely unscripted human actions could greatly improve the gameplay, bringing the thrill of the multi-player experience in the solo campaign. This could potentially be applied to range of gaming genres. Real time strategy games where you can no longer capitalise on patterns of AI behaviour. First person shooters where the enemy is as smart and dangerous as you are, and no two enemies react the same. Opponents in a driving game that dont feel like they are on rails and are just as prone to making mistakes as you are. This variety of constantly changing AI means that replay value is vastly increased. Each play-through, in fact each level, would feel and play differently each time its attempted.
These concepts are just the ideas I could think of, so I am sure there are many more. Some may seem ambitious, but none are outside the bounds of reality or feasibility, and all of them are exciting additions that always online would make possible.