Clearly the end of the world is upon us. Not only did the New York Times review the new PS3 this week, but in doing so they quoted that bastion of high quality online gaming journalism: Joystiq. The rest of the review went on to skewer the machine. The main complaint? The online service is clunky and hard to use.
I found this odd. Now, I’m as much of a fan of online interactions as anyone. I buy most of my CDs and books online. I sit and chat with my friends online. I spend too much time wanking on this web site. But as far as games are concerned, I just can’t get excited anymore. It’s pretty rare for me to actually take advantage of multiplayer gaming in Xbox Live these days. This was not always the case.
When I got the first Xbox, XBox Live was a great thing. Every couple of nights, eight of us would get on and kill Counterstrike bots for a few hours. The integrated friends list, private servers and the nice invite system made this easy.
After about six months of this, the whole thing died down and has never picked up again. There were two basic reasons for this.
1. People moved. A core group of Counterstrikers now live in the wrong time zone. This makes it hard to pick up a game.
2. People bought different games. Halo 2 and Splinter Cell were the big ones. But not everyone liked to play these games in the multiplayer. Splinter Cell in particular is hard to get into. You die a lot. A lot of people now spend most of their time online playing WoW. I bet this is not an insignificant effect.
As a result, I stopped playing games online. This is because of the Fundamental Theorem of Online Gameplay:
Playing online with people you don’t know sucks.
This cannot be overstated. Sturgeon’s law applies here in triplicate. 99.99% of everyone you meet in a random online game are racist, immature, illiterate assholes. Therefore, it is only worth playing with people that you know or have had previous interactions with to indicate that they are not racist immature illiterate assholes.
The result of all this is that while I appreciate the design and execution of Xbox Live, and the friends list, and the invite system, the truth is I hardly ever use it. Even when there is a great game to try out with my friends (Gears of War), it hasn’t really come together. I did manage to participate in some chainsawing goodness with the people over at GWJ, thus avoiding the fundamental theorem. But even though some in the old Counterstrike crowd have had the game for more than a week, we have not been able to try out the co-op or get into a nice team killing match.
These days, my main use for Xbox Live is downloading game demos so I am sure to never buy another Ubisoft Shooter. All I really need for this is a net connection and a browser interface. No friends list, no online co-op, no developer time wasted on multiplayer modes that are nowhere near as good as Halo anyway, no “gamer points”, no “achievements”. What the hell are achievements anyway? In other words, it seems to me that most of the extras in Xbox Live are just fluff around a core functionality that is hard to care about anymore.
So while there are many reasons to not buy a PS3, a clunky online interface is not one of them. Both Nintendo and Sony will have time to put some polish on their download systems, and that’s all most people will really care about in my opinion. Because ya know, everyone has exactly the same needs as I do.