Online gaming: the state of the Net
Part Two: The Best Game Networks
By Marc Saltzman
February 12, 1998
In this story:
Web posted at: 2:15 PM EST (1415 GMT)
-- With literally dozens of competent Internet gaming networks, it's
hard to choose only a select few as the cream of the crop. However,
these following renowned companies have achieved the success thus far
based on either their selection of games, free gaming, speed of gameplay,
and ease of setup -- or a combination of all of the above.
Sympathizing with players who are already shelling out $50
for a computer game and monthly Internet time, Mplayer.com
(http://www.mplayer.com/) decided to drop their pricing plan
in February of 1997.
With almost 50 games and game variations (including the
popular "Total Annihilation," "Heavy Gear," "Links LS '98,"
"Quake II," "Risk," and "Panzer General"), Mplayer.com has
one of the largest assortment of games and game genres out of
Mplayer.com software is extremely easy to use to find other
players, chat, alter the settings of the game, and begin a
match. Along with their new colorful channel-based interface,
other noteworthy features of Mplayer.com include voice-chat
capabilities through a standard microphone, a virtual
chalkboard so players can map out their plan of attack, plus
news, contests, events, insider tips and strategies, player
ratings and rankings, and more.
$39.95 a year (or $24.95 per year if players sign up for two years),
Mplayer.com offers a premium Mplayer Plus membership. Special games,
exclusive tournaments, and plenty of promotional prizes are awarded
to these members.
Mplayer.com boasts over 400,000 registered players on the
entire network, averaging over 800,000 hours of gameplay each
month. Individual members average about 15 sessions per month
at roughly 35 minutes per session.
With an additional 25+ games adding to their lineup in the
first half of this year, it looks like Mplayer.com will
continue to draw players looking to play their beloved CD-ROM
games as well as some dedicated online exclusives.
Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone (http://www.zone.com/) has
also made strides since its inception nearly two years ago,
attracting more than 600,000 gamers to date. And considering
it only takes "four clicks" to start any one game, the Zone
is suitable for both casual and hard-core players.
are a number of types of games offered, from seven classic online-only
games (bridge, checkers, go, reversi, hearts, chess, and spades), to
exclusive support for Microsoft, LucasArts, and Hasbro Interactive retail
titles, to premium dedicated online games such as "Fighter Ace" and
"Asheron's Call." "Fighter Ace" is a 3D-accelerated WWII simulation
currently in beta testing, while "Asheron's Call" is a large multiplayer
role-playing game in development set for a fall 1998 release. These
two titles are the only pay-to-play games at the Zone, at $1.95 per
day or $19.95 per month. In addition, access to DWANGO is $.99 per hour,
offering low-latency local dial-up service to Zone members.
All other games are completely free, as long as gamers have
purchased the retail CD-ROM versions first. Some of the more
well-received titles played over the Zone include LucasArts'
Star Wars-based "X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter" and "Jedi Knight:
Dark Forces II," Hasbro Interactive's "Battleship" and
"Pictionary" computer incarnations, and Microsoft's "Close
Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far" and "Age of Empires" -- an epic
real-time strategy game that has already sold close to a
million copies in 55 countries since October 1997.
What's the catch with the Zone? There isn't one, unless you
consider forcing players to use the Microsoft Internet
Explorer browser in order to join in on the fun.
latest trend in online gaming involves the computer game developers
and/or publishers offering free Internet support for their own titles
on their own servers. Blizzard Entertainment has served as a leading
example to the rest of the gaming community with their wildly successful
Battle.Net (http://www.battle.net/), later followed by Bungie's Bungie.Net,
Sierra On-Line's Won.Net and Activision's Active.Net (working title).
In January of 1997, and in conjunction with the release of
the role-playing action game sensation "Diablo," Blizzard
Entertainment launched a multiplayer network that was fully
integrated into the product. Players itching for online
gameplay did not have to download and install special
software, nor did they have to dig into their pockets. It was
one of the first times in computer game history where gamers
could simply connect to their ISP, start a game and choose to
play via the Internet from the multiplayer option screen.
By using Windows 95's TCP/IP support with the retail or
shareware version of "Diablo," Battle.Net quickly became the
largest Internet gaming network with this sole title,
totaling 1.5 million unique users (separate computers)
playing aver 30 million games to date. As of the first week
in February 1998, more than a year after "Diablo's" release,
an average of 35,000 games are stilled played each day in
Various servers littered around the United States, Australia
and the Pacific Rim countries have been handling this immense
traffic, but "serious negotiations" are under way to add
Canada and European countries for more bandwidth.
Paul Sams, director of business development at Blizzard
Entertainment, maintains Battle.Net keeps its head afloat
since the costs to run the free service are embedded in the
retail CD-ROM price (plus selling a million copies of the
game doesn't hurt), along with banner advertising and special
promotions to make up the difference. Unlike Blizzard's
upcoming real-time strategy title "Starcraft," scheduled to
be playable only through Battle.Net, "Diablo" also brought in
extra revenues from licensing deals with other major online
networks such as the Total Entertainment Network (TEN),
Mplayer.com, Engage Games and others.
Besides "Starcraft," Blizzard is also hard a work on "The
Warcraft Adventures" and of course, "Diablo 2," to be
released in December 1998.
With these extraordinary games and services, covering all
game genres and the majority of them absolutely free,
computer gamers really can't afford not to get involved in
this explosive craze. And as modem speeds climb, with ISDN,
Cable, and ADSL becoming the new speed standards in the short
years ahead, it looks like this next generation of
"multiplayer gaming" will continue to soar well into the next
century. Let the games begin.
Part One: Top Games
Marc Saltzman is the author of the new book "G@mer's Web
Directory: Sites, Cheats & Secrets" (QUE/BradyGAMES).
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