The IP Shack #7: Obsessed With Social Gaming?

This discussion has been ongoing for many moons now, we briefly touched on the topic a while back in a more reflective article, but now the question arises again with more significance this time. With PSN experiencing the largest down time in its history, millions of gamers were suddenly unplugged from the online community and left in the dark for nearly a month. How did we all respond to that? Ridiculous and unfounded accusations of ‘addiction’ aside, it was a mightily revealing event for the gaming industry.

As mentioned in our previous discussion, some of us buy our games for the sole experience of indulging in interactive and immersive forms of narrative, investing free time into the often masterfully artistic worlds the medium is renowned for. Some of us buy games for the opportunity to dive into a worldwide caffeine high stadium of intense competition, and attach value to our games through how much time they can potentially devour. Naturally gamers are not split cleanly down the middle into one of the two camps, but the importance and distribution of worth between them might not be as balanced as we’d like to think.

When Sony were forced to switch off the entire online system last month, millions of people who would normally settle in for a few hours each evening to link up to some sort of multiplayer server and play some games, suddenly didn’t have that option. They were faced with a sharp reminder of what gaming is built on; you, a T.V, a console, and your collection of titles. Your modest library of interactive entertainment (or art as it is now officially categorized in the US…big step) sitting there waiting patiently to be switched on, but then when you did, the experience was a closed one and arguably more personal.

The trouble is with anything that allows people to integrate into a fully connected community, when you’re not active on it (in it?) you feel noticeably out of the loop, and start getting a strong sense that you are missing out on something. One of the most influential factors in this situation is when gamers purchased their consoles and started playing. If someone has cumulatively played for longer online than offline, and the majority of their game time has been on a multiplayer layer, it would be perfectly understandable that they define gaming in terms on online play and the whole social zeitgeist.

Only in the past few years has online gaming expanded into the living-breathing-super-organism it is today and some of the newer gamers are learning to expect internet multiplayer in all titles. Personally I value both types of game and I’m sure many others do too, but the reaction the industry and the world saw to the Sony hack was aggressive and unsettling. It was a reliable example and indicator of how much of today’s gaming experience is rooted in full time online connectivity, now we should ask ourselves where does that leave the single-player-only games? Despite publishers still keeping a healthy flow of solo titles in the business, is this an early sign that social gaming is set to overtake the type of product it evolved and grew from?

I guess the question PS3 users could all start by asking themselves is: did they feel like they could still game without that mysterious ‘online’ sensation this past month…

I don’t truly believe that single player games are on their last legs, while I think the pure and closed boxed experience is, platforms like Youtube and gaming forums are set to compensate for the lack of connectivity. Competitive multiplayer will continue to draw more and more people in but I suspect that the whole genre of online co-op is going to take off soon alongside both of them. Online co-op can potentially marry the strongest qualities of multiplayer and single player, and as it stands it’s a largely unexplored concept.

Feel free to comment below folks. If you liked this, check out ‘Obsessed with zombies’.