The Weekend Gamer
Thoughts on gaming culture, living among non-gamers, and growing up in the nintendo generation

Web 2.0–Microsoft’s Afterthought, Nintendo’s Blindspot, and Sony’s Only Hope–Part 1

How is Web 2.0 changing the way we play games?

The advent of the Web 2.0–a term that describes the perceived change in the way that people use the internet, and which is typified by increased connectivity as well as freedom in regards to who owns user shared and created content–has had significant ramifications for our lives. The advent of technologies like RSS feeds, podcasts, wikis, and social networking sites have changed who is the focal point of content and information presented online.

This digital revolution is just starting to make its influence felt in the video game market place, and it should be evident to anyone who takes a quick survey of the current landscape to see that the industry is poised on the brink of a large shift in the way that games are developed and played that will take place over the next few years–a shift in which the gamer ceases to be just a consumer and becomes a co-creator of the experience.

The evidence is everywhere. For instance, at the recently held Edinburgh Interactive Festival, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot announced that his company was working on a top secret game that would focus on user generated content (also known as UGC).

“The goal is really to make sure our consumers become creators,”

he said, adding:

“We need to put gamers in the spotlight and recognize their creativity and make sure that our consumers are the stars.”

Add to this EA’s new push involving a Web 2.0 strategy–in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08, players can use the in game feature called Gamernet to post virtual challenges to the world, putting their best displays up for show against the skills of the community. And because EA is allowing a customizable face on your avatar, the sense of playing against the person who posted the challenge is all the more real.

But that’s not all that EA is doing. They recently launched theSimsOnStage.com, an ambitious project that lets users create their own Sims avatar and post videos of them doing karaoke and performing original stories, poems, or even sketch comedy, all designed to tie in with the popular game. This is Gaming 2.0 in full swing.

But when talking about the coming shift, largely I’m speaking of the console market, as most PC gamers would scoff at the notion that user generated content is something new. UGC has been going strong since the 90’s on the back of the mod community–gamers who take the source code for a game and create a new experience with it–and the base elements for social networking have been available since the dawn of the internet. In fact it’s PC developers that are leading the cry for consoles to embrace the user created content that has become such a standard part of game design in some circles of PC development.

However, user generated content isn’t the end of the story. Really it’s the combination of new technologies as well as the integration of UGC with the boom in social networking that defines the Web 2.0. And it’s finally looking like the nearly fifteen year head start PC gaming has had is beginning to be closed by console companies and 3rd party developers who are realizing the potential that this new shift holds. Let’s look at each of the major console companies and how they are implementing a Web 2.0 philosophy into their hardware.

Microsoft

Is Microsoft's online service too restrictive?

The Xbox 360 was the first next-gen console out of the gate, and no one could argue that it had put the most initiative into integrating the online experience for gamers with their Xbox Live service. They made it easy to connect with other Xbox gamers through one login, shared across all game titles, as well as integrating several different methods of communication.

Unfortunately, user generated content on Live has been almost non-existent up to now. The entire framework of service limits and controls the user, offering more of a portal from which to consume developer content rather than a place to create and share their own. Microsoft’s investment in the health of the PC means that even direct access to the internet is denied, as the company has a vested interest in keeping the PC and the Xbox separate (but complimentary) in their functionality. This, coupled with the decision to market a hard drive as optional have placed very real limits on what can be accomplished via a Web 2.0 philosophy.

With that said, there are some initiatives that are being taken on a first party and third party level that show that even the aforementioned hurdles are not stopping developers. For instance, one of Halo 3’s most unique features is Forge, an application that gives users the tools to create their own map designs and share them with other users. This alone would be a good step, but things like Bungie Recommends, a system that will allow the best UGC to bubble to the top and be approved by the community, are further cementing the Web 2.0 mentality on Xbox Live. These kinds of features also serve to prolong the life of a game, adding the elusive replay value that so many titles lack.

A second, more groundbreaking initiative that comes straight from Microsoft itself is the new revelation that XNA developed games will now be able to be shared with all Xbox live users. XNA is a set of tools that users can subscribe to in order to design their own XBLA games. Up till now, those games could only be shared with other XNA subscribers, but soon games made by gamers, for gamers will be able to be played by everyone. This is a huge switch in mentality for Microsoft, and it shows just how much the Web 2.0’s presence is being felt in the console scene.

Next, let’s take a look at Sony…

Go to Page 2

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One Response to “Web 2.0–Microsoft’s Afterthought, Nintendo’s Blindspot, and Sony’s Only Hope–Part 1”

  1. Goody, Microsoft is learning from their XNA membership failure that kept me from developing for the 360 since there’d be such a small userbase.


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