Monday, 15 November 2010

History of Computer games 2000s

Videogames had been pacing along well enough for the past two decades. The gradual balance shift between arcade and console/PC gaming was barely a wave lapping at the bow of the ship compared to the boat-rocking that was to take place in the 2000s. Prominent among these changes were the rise in multiplayer gaming and the commercialisation of the “casual gamer” market.

World of Warcraft features a persistent world
where players may group with others
to fight monsters and complete quests.
All new consoles in the 2000s featured inbuilt or addon modems and offered services for matchmaking in games. Publishers displayed clearly on the box those games which could be played online and gamers began to expect titles to allow them to compete or co-operate online with their friends. Gaming became social.

Internet-dependant games became increasingly popular with Massively Multiplayer Online titles like World of Warcraft boasting more than ten million active subscribers by the end of the decade.

I am unsure whether it was this new social aspect of gaming or the increased computer literacy and abundance of Personal Computers that was the major cause of the commercialisation of casual gaming. I say “commercialisation” since casual gaming has always existed, but few games were specifically targeted at this market and those that were tended to be low-budget, low-cost games.

The Sims was massively popular among new casual gamers, totalling over 16 million sales in the first half of the decade. In the years that followed, Nintendo released the Wii, stating outright that their console “isn't focused on the core gamer”. Hosts of gimmicky peripherals and family- and party-friendly games boosted the Wii to the top-selling console of the generation, firmly cementing casual gaming as equally commercially important as core gaming. Microsoft and Sony have since taken steps to capture some of the casual market with their products.

Games like Guitar Hero feature new peripherals and
split screen modes to appeal to casual gamers
Although mobile gaming wasn’t new to the 2000s, mobile phone gaming was. As phones became more capable, so too did the complexity of the games offered to rival the dedicated handheld gaming devices.

With internet distribution channels like Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and the App Store, the need for publishers eroded still further and increasing numbers of independently developed games reached more gamers’ hands. These “indie” developers with small budgets diversified both the casual and core markets with niche games that rely on compelling gameplay above high production values.

But online distribution was not just used by small developers - additional paid-for downloadable content for popular games allows developers to generate extra revenue for games that are greatly enjoyed by their players.

Services like Steam allow people to purchase entirely
digital versions of games, cutting out distribution and
retail costs almost entirely
Many MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online are experimenting with abandoning the subscription fee and relying entirely on microtransactions to fund development of the game. Services like OnLive are even offering streaming gaming of existing titles for microtransaction and subscription charges.

Retro gaming and ported games delivered through Xbox Live Arcade and Wii’s Virtual Console highlights what made gaming classics so successful.

As the 2000s finish and we press into the 2010s, I feel the games industry has reached a curious maturity. Console manufacturers have chosen to hold back on releasing consoles in the immediate future: a decision which backs the strength of the games developers and their creativity. The next ten years promise to be really rather exciting.

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