The Internet has now been pervasive for more than ten years, meaning that a lot of today's gamers can hardly remember a time before they could go online. Those of us who are a bit older remember a very different gaming landscape before the online world was established, and there are plenty of changes beyond simply online multiplayer gameplay. Let's take a look at the top ten ways the Internet has changed gaming.
10. Online FAQs
Before the Internet made sharing knowledge about gaming easy, players' options were limited if they became stuck in a game. And many early games were fiendishly difficult to boot. Some game companies had hint hotlines (Sierra's was expensive!), while others sold full game guides with annotated maps. I remember buying a few guides that used invisible ink markers to allow the gamer to reveal progressively more specific hints as they needed. Nowadays, of course, stuck gamers just have to visit sites like Cheat Code Central for the answer to nearly any gaming dilemma.
The ability to spend money online led to a new way for gaming companies to make money: microtransactions. Currently defined as charges under $10 for digital goodies, microtransactions have proven to be an extremely successful way for online and social networking games to make money. Even traditional console gaming is now riddled with microtransaction game add-ons and even purchasable avatar outfits. Microtransactions are a controversial issue with gamers, but it looks like they're here to stay in one form or another.
8. Piracy Explosion and Online DRM
Don't let the propaganda fool you—game piracy greatly predates the proliferation of the Internet. When my family bought our first Apple IIc from some friends in the early '80s, it came with an entire library of pirated games on floppy disk. Pre-Internet games often had simple forms of DLC-like code words written in manuals or floppy disk encoding. What the Internet allowed was for pirated games to be easily shared between a nearly unlimited number of people. Because of the explosion of online piracy for PC games, legitimate gaming customers now deal with often-obnoxious DRM schemes, especially from the largest game companies.
7. Gaming News
The Internet has changed the gaming news landscape as much as it has the traditional news landscape. Where gaming news was once the purview of a few monthly magazines, it's now a raucous industry populated by several gigantic corporate sites and a plethora of small and medium sites, all providing 24-7 coverage of the industry. The development of many games can be followed in minute detail, and rumors fly around at the speed of light. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the facts from the speculation, but, on the other hand, we have access to more information about our favorite hobby than we'll ever need.
6. Mod Communities
Enterprising coders have been modding games for many years, and the Internet has allowed players to post their gaming mods for everyone to share. Some game companies derive a great deal of popularity from their support of the modding community, with the Elder Scrolls series a particular example of a series with an impressive number of mods. Modding communities are one of the big reasons I remain a PC gamer, since the closed nature of consoles means that player-made mods aren't allowed outside of simple customization options built into games like ModNation Racers.
5. Patch, Patch, and Patch Some More
Has the Internet made game developers lazier? The ease of patching games has certainly led to lax quality assurance in some cases, but sometimes bugs slip through in even well-tested games. We're very grateful for patches in those circumstances, and sometimes game companies even use patches to add fan-requested features to games. Patches also allow for highly competitive online games to remain balanced by giving developers the ability to tweak the numbers behind the scenes as players discover highly effective strategies.