Until a few months ago, computer games – or gaming, as the shorthand goes – meant those played on a personal computer for most of us, usually alone. But things have changed a lot.
Online PC games offered by players like Indiagames, Zapak, Jump Games amongst others allows one to play and compete against other players, in what is called multi-player gaming. These are largely casual games of short durations that last anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes. Although good for someone looking for some light dose of entertainment, these are not what would satiate a hardcore gamer, a new category emerging fast on the landscape.
Studies have revealed that the so-called MMOG -- massively multi-player online gaming -- is where the future lay, there weren’t enough options. However, the scenario seems to be changing now.
Microsoft recently launched its online Xbox Live service, Live, a value-added service for users of its game console Xbox 360 that will give them a chance to engage in multi-player gaming involving players in different parts of the world.
The online service now in India was first launched in the US in 2002. Microsoft has tied up with Indian game developers like Dhruva Interactive and production houses like Percept for displaying their content, such as an exclusive two-minute trailer of Percept’s upcoming movie Hanuman Returns on Xbox Live, giving the service an Indian flavour.
Microsoft has also tied up with content partners like Educomp Solutions, an Indian education outsourcing company, that will provide educational content for subjects like science, social science and mathematics for students between the third and 12th standards by March next year.
Downloaded games can be played offline as well.
Users can also exchange ideas and strategies involved for playing and chat using Windows Live Messenger. However, the company is betting mainly on social networking, which is enabling gamers to form groups.
“Xbox Live will have a forum where gamers would be able to post and discuss gaming strategies and personal experiences with others,” Robbie Bach, President, Entertainment & Devices Division, Microsoft, told Hindustan Times.
Sony Corporation is another player popular with console gamers for its Playstation 2, Playstation Portable and Playstation 3 (40GB) priced at Rs 6,990, Rs 8,990 and Rs 24,990 respectively. Even Sony has an online presence with its Playstation Nework (PSN).
"The service has been officially launched in Europe but even Indian users have been logging in by changing the country code,” Atindriya Bose, Country Manager - Playstation, Sony’s Computers and Entertainment division, told Hindustan Times.
Bose believes that while India is Internet-ready, it is not mass market ready in terms of broadband access. Sony is also working on a service called Playstation Home, which will allow gamers to create communities and share videos. It is yet to be launched internationally and India would follow in due course. PS Network and PS Home differ form each other in the sense that while former is more focussed on buying of online content including movies and games, the latter will focus more on community building and sharing.
An Xbox 360 will put you back by Rs 19,999 in addition to which you will have to shell out anywhere between Rs 250 to Rs 6,000 for a broadband connection. You will also have to pay subscription fees for services. Xbox Live has two subscription options: Silver level is free membership; it will allow users access to hundreds of free games but does not allow multi-player gaming. Gold level, on the other hand, comes at an annual subscription of Rs 2,200. “A game on Xbox Live will approximately cost around Rs 199,” Mohit Anand, Country Head, Microsoft Entertainment division, told Hindustan Times.
The online PC gaming space that offers a multiplayer option is occupied by players like Indiagames and Zapak, which is a part of the Reliance ADAG group. Indiagames has partnered with Level Up, a Massively Mutli-player Online Role-playing Game (MMORG) company to launch Ragnarok and Gunz, two of its popular game titles on its online 'Games on Demand' service.
Zapak was launched in India last November and has around 3 million registered users today, and offers mostly free games. The downloadable games come with a sixty-minute free trial and thereafter the cost varies between Rs 99-Rs 249 per game.
However, Zapak does not see online console gaming eating into its chunk of users. The company has set up cyber cafes across Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai and Bangalore and plans to open up another 30.
Reliance has gaming zones at its Reliance Web World outlets where users can create pre-paid accounts for denominations as low as Rs 100 and compete with the PC or another player. To give a feel to the gamers, these zones even have accessories like steering wheels, gaming mouse and pedals.
The biggest challenge for online gaming – whether based on a console or PC – is broadband connectivity, which is yet to match international standards.
Several Internet service providers have started giving out specific monthly broadband packages for gamers. You Telecom, a Gurgaon based ISP charges Rs 343 per month for a 2 mbps (megabits per second) connection. The company has tied up with Indiagames and Games2Win to provide games.
All gamers get to play free games on trial for seven days after which the user can choose to pay Rs 199 monthly to get access to unlimited games. No wonder, Xbox Live will be accompanied with exclusive broadband plans from Bharti Airtel and BSNL.
Hardcore gamers will tell you the difference.
“Both console and PC multiplayer gaming are infinitely superior to what online gaming portals provide, which are basically casual games that can be played for anything from five minutes to half an hour. Most PC and console games on the other hand are much more intense affairs - something like World of Warcraft that can be played for hundreds of hours,” says Nimish Dubey, a gaming expert and reviewer.