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    PlanetQuake | Features | Articles | ...soon, and for the rest of your life
   

"... soon, and for the rest of your life"
The future of the FPS genre and online gaming
  — by Gestalt

Last week we took a look at the birth of the first person shooter "deathmatch genre" and the reasons why it's happening, and why it's happening now.

This week we break out the crystal balls and take a look at the future...


Four's A Crowd

Breaking into a new market and creating a new style of game is hard enough at the best of times, but the first wave of online first person shooters faces an even bigger problem - they're all coming out within months of each other!

Starsiege Tribes was first past the post back in December '98, Unreal Tournament is due March '99, Quake III Arena is likely to see the light of day around June or July, and Team Fortress II is due some time this spring or summer, depending on who you talk to.

Four very similar games aiming at an unproven market, and all due to be released within the space of about six months... The question is, will there be enough of a market there to support them all? As Tim Sweeney of Epic said, "We sure hope so!"

"There are a lot of theories about how big the online FPS market really is", according to Brian Goble of Monolith. "And it will be interesting to get more data on the subject this year. ;)"

That's hardly reassuring for the games that will be providing the data! And Nathan Albury of Raven isn't optimistic. "I think there's enough market to support some of these games, but I doubt there's enough players out there who play very frequently to give all of them a fair chance."

Katherine Anna Kang of id partially agrees. "I truly doubt that all of the games will make it, but I'm fairly certain that at least a couple will do well. The number of Internet users went from 3 million in 1993 to more than 100 million in 1997. AOL alone has reached the 17 million mark. There are millions of people on the Internet and that number is growing on a daily basis. A good percentage of those on-line play games. The potential is huge and this market is just asking to be tapped."

The problem is turning that potential into reality. All the last wave of first person shooters had the potential, but at the end of the day if you load up GameSpy you'll see there are more people playing QuakeWorld and Quake II than all the other games put together...


Climbing The Ladder

Another factor is that although the games are all multiplayer focused, they're not online only. All four games feature bots, though in the case of Starsiege Tribes the offline game is basically just a handful of training missions to get you ready for playing over the net.

Cliff Bleszinski of Epic explains "that's where the beauty of Unreal Tournament is. Joe Six Pack in Omaha who has a PC but doesn't have net access (or piss poor net connection) will be able to fire up UT and attempt to achieve the title of Unreal Grand Master. He can jump in for a random match against our AI and have a good time, or he can tackle our single player ladder."

The same is true of Quake III Arena, which features a similar ranked bot ladder for the single player part of the game, compared by some to a first person shooter version of Mortal Kombat.

The size of the online gaming market is an unknown quantity, but both Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament are being sold on their novel single player aspect as well as their multiplayer. And that might help them sell even if there isn't the online community there to support all of them.

Which is lucky, because as Cliff points out "the process of getting a PC, hooking it up, getting a game, getting a net connection, finding a server, downloading patches, etc... all to hop on to a server and get your ass smoked by Lord Beavis is far too daunting for the average Joe."

"And he's the one we'll need to hit if we expect a "net only" title to do well."


First Wave

So what does the future hold? Is the current spate of online shooters a mere coincidence, or are these simply the first wave of a new genre?

As Kenn Hoekstra of Raven told me, "success brings success... The success or failure of multiplayer only games like Quake III: Arena will determine this answer for us."

"If the game sells a half million copies and everyone loves it, there will be a mad dash to provide more games for this newly discovered market. If these multiplayer only games aren't received well, I think that people will continue with the current model of SP and MP play for every game."

Though Nathan believes "if they're successful enough, I could see people focusing more exclusively on single player content as well".

So are we heading for a split between multiplayer and single player, or will the majority of games continue to focus on both as most previous titles have?

Nathan thinks a split would be a good thing. "To be honest, I really think such a split would be best for gamers in the long run because the overall products would be stronger... but alot of gamers have come to expect both out of the box, so I guess we'll just see what happens."

"But, for my part, I'd really love to work on either a single player only game or a multiplayer only game... it gets frustrating sometimes not being able to focus your full attention on one or the other, because no matter how good your game is in either way, you always know you could've done a bit more if your time hadn't been split..."


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