Always Online: The Evolution of Online Gaming in Recent Years

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Ever since the inception of video games, the ability to play with friends has been a core desire. Whether it’s Pong on the original Atari, Street Fighter down the local arcades, or a four-player Golden Eye deathmatch on the Nintendo 64, the competitive element of gaming has always been there. These days you’d have to go out of your way to find a game that didn’t have some form of online connectivity to facilitate competitive multiplayer, especially in the so-called ‘triple-A’ market.  But how did we come so far in recent years got to this point in such a short space of time?  Hopefully, this brief article will answer some of those questions!


The Pioneers

As soon as the internet became widely used in the late 90s/early 2000s, game developers were trying to find ways to develop online games. However, the very first adopter of the online space was Neverwinter Nights, all the way back in 1991. This Dungeons and Dragons based Role-playing game, developed by Stormfront Studios, allowed players to compete with each other on the ‘ladder’ system – essential a leaderboard of points. It even had player versus player capabilities years before Call of Duty ever hit the scene! This was truly the first game to take advantage of the connectivity of the internet and acted as the forerunner for thousands of games to come.


Enter WoW

Anyone who knows online gaming has heard of World of Warcraft. This massive multiplayer online game was one of the biggest success of its day, drawing over 12 million players at its peak in 2008. While it certainly wasn’t the first one to take advantage of online play, it was definitely one of the most successful, which is why today people still fondly remember their time questing across Azeroth. It’s loot-based level system was revolutionary, and it’s still one of the best examples of how gaming makes you feel great.

For many people, this was their first experience in online gaming. When it launched in 2005, console gaming hadn’t quite perfected their online presence, while PC games were become more and more popular due to faster internet connectivity. This culminated in World of Warcraft being one of the most successful games of the time, with nearly $10 billion in revenue made over its lifetime. On top of that, there’s no doubt that its subscription-based format has influenced how giants of the industry (such as Microsoft and Sony) operate their online networks today. Without the early success of Wow, which not only proved that competitive online gaming could work, but that it could be financially successful, online gaming would not be as big as it is today.


The Online Casino Explosion

Ever since online gaming was proven to be a viable financial option, plenty of other gaming mediums have jumped on the bandwagon. One of the major additions, which has gone on to become one of the most successful industries in the online gaming space, is online casinos. The first online casino was launched in 1996, but they didn’t really gather the audience they have today until the late 2000s and beyond. Now, with better graphics, server space, and mechanics, online casino games are one of the largest markets on the internet, with hundreds of millions of player worldwide. Furthermore, online casinos have taken cues from other gaming platforms, allowing players to interact with each other as well as the dealer, and introduce live casinos to improve the immersion.


Mass Connectivity, Today

Online gaming now dominates the video game market. Nearly every game, regardless of its genre, has an online element. Some games even require an online connection to run at all! This has led to a new style of gaming, with online features becoming the main focus of games, not only for the players but also for the developers and the publishers. For example, Call of Duty, one of the most successful FPS franchises of all time, is primarily bought for its online components rather than its single-player campaign, which has led to some criticism. Some games, such as EA and Dice’s Star Wars Battlefront (2015) are designed solely for online, competitive play, with no real single-player elements.

Smaller independent titles have spotted this shift in the marketplace and used it to their advantage. Rocket League (2015), a football-inspired driving game, was a huge success in its year of release and was primarily designed around online matchmaking and gameplay.

Overall, faster internet speeds and easier accessibility mean that more people are playing online, and to feed this desire, game developers are putting more online elements in their games. So when we look at the evolution of online gaming, from retro RPGs to massive online experiences, it’s clear that it’s been driven by players wanting to connect with each other. Whether it’s for competitive gameplay like in Call of Duty or Halo, or for jolly cooperation like in Dark Souls or WoW, player demand has seen the online gaming space skyrocket, and it doesn’t look like slowing down.

The Future

With online gaming in its prime, where can we go from here? Well, with the emergence of VR gaming as a viable platform, it makes sense that online VR experiences will be the next big thing. Whether it’s in massive multiplayer communities or on a smaller scale, the ability to interact with friends in a virtual reality space will push gaming to the next level of immersion.