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Building the next consoles: online services

What do I mean by an ‘online service’? My definition is a network in which you can play games against other people and that service may also incorporate downloads and extra features. We’re starting to see this sort of network evolve in the console market.

We can already see the future of these type of services in a current network – Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE. It links up Xboxes around the world in one big service that only Xboxes can access. There’s no web surfing here, just gaming and downloads.

You may say, “so, what’s new, it’s been done before”. What’s different with Xbox LIVE is the fact that everything is integrated. A thing that the big corporations are striving towards. A world where everything works with each other.

What’s integrated about it? Well, all the games work on the same system, and are therefore can work together and this provides the opportunity to incorporate some unique features. There’s a friends list which is a list of people who you like to play with. No matter what game you are in, you can see what game others are in.

It’s this way of working, interaction between different games that is the future. But this isn’t the only thing that’s being tried and tested in Xbox LIVE. Voice is the up and coming star of the online world. Actually being able to talk to people you play is such a refreshing experience. PC and PS2 games have only had a taste, whilst Xbox LIVE gamers have it in every game. Wherever you go, you’re always communicating easily with teammates and opponents.

This may seem like an advert for Xbox LIVE, but what I’m trying to get at, is that this is what we’re going to see in the next set of consoles. They’re all going to have network adapters, and they’re going to have online games from day 1. Hopefully Sony and Nintendo will follow Microsoft and build a similar network, with the same level of integration and features. The way MS have done it makes it so much easier to get into online games. It’s like the online service for dummies – it’s just so easy and it works. The potential for such systems are huge. There’s an enormous amount of features you could build into it. Voice messaging and chat, player profile pages – the list goes on.

Online games are becoming a big business and consoles manufacturers have just started to develop their own networks. The ironic thing is, is that consoles will provide a better online experience than the PC, the father of all gaming machines. No cheats, everyone has the same hardware and copy of the game, you can speak to everyone to play and there’s a seamless integration between games.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future of gaming.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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