Sometimes it's not who does it first, but who does it the best. And no better is that demonstrated than with the emerging Online Gaming war. Even though numerous companies have gone online with their consoles, including Sega, Nintendo, and even Sony, none of them have been quite as ambitious as Microsoft.
The Xbox Live is not just an online service, it's Microsoft's attempt to house all the online games in one place, where friends can talk to each other via a headset, and find each other no matter what game they are playing. Microsoft is also encouraging companies to develop downloadable content, to extend the life of the one-player games, and give us new levels and characters in multiplayer titles.
Released on the one-year anniversary of the Xbox, Microsoft's Xbox Live starter kit has quickly flown off the shelves, almost guaranteeing a future of online console games. While both the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2 are online, it's Microsoft's ambition that will likely put online console gaming on the map.
The Other Side:
Even though Microsoft launched with a number of high quality titles, including MechAssault and Unreal Championship, there were a few titles noticeably absent. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 has quickly become a must-own PlayStation 2 Online title, as have a number of Electronic Arts games. As of this writing, both NeverSoft and Electronic Arts have problems with some of the finer details regarding the Xbox Live, and so far refuse to publish games for the online service.
Reports have pointed to revenue sharing, and the control over the servers, among other problems. But not matter the reason, the Xbox Live has stiff competition if only because the PlayStation 2 Online offers different games. The arguments about the details of these sorts of Online services will likely go on for many years, but for the most part, gamers will be the winner in the long run.
For the first time ever, console gamers are able to trash talk verbally across the country. Now you can hear comments like "dude, what are you talking about, the PlayStation 2 is crap, and you are crap for owning one", or "I am able to play GameCube games on my Xbox now that I hacked the O.S.", etc. I could probably write a novel based on the stupid, rude, and extremely offensive comments I've heard while playing the games.
However, to be fair, when it's good, it adds an element to the games that is hard to match. It will be interesting to see if Sony, Nintendo, and whoever else decides to invest
into the online console market, decides to implement some of the features in the Xbox Live. After the Dreamcast, online console games seemed like a risky venture, but now, the skies seem bright, and the clouds have all gone away.
Where Are They Now?:
The verdict is still out whether or not people are willing to pay a yearly fee to play games. Not to mention the relatively small penetration of broadband in the United States, Microsoft has their work cut out for them this year and next. However, this investment is really for the future, and it is unfair to judge it by it's first few months of life. We'll have to wait and see if Microsoft has the right plan, or if Sony and EA know what is best for the online community. None of which will be determined this year, or even next.