More and more developers I know are going to move online-only (some have already). But what are the key differences of online vs offline games, both from the developer and the user point of view? This is what I gathered so far. If anyone has any comments/suggestion, is welcome.
As developer, you basically eliminate piracy. People making online games in general make MUCH more money than people making offline games. Also, online enable you to use subscriptions, microtransactions, pay per item, and so on.
As player, you can now compete/collaborate with friends. You can have new experiences otherwise unattainable by offline gaming, like new content/leves, updates, bugfixes.
As developer, you enter a whole new realm. You need to guarantee people are able to play. If your server is offline, your game is useless and this will make people angry, very angry. Also it means you need to learn network programming, which is a pain. There are also increased costs (but as we saw you should also expect increased profits). Usually once you go online, you’ll need to focus on one game. Most online games takes YEARS to make, so be sure to have a backup plan. Also, you enter a VERY CROWDED market: everyone is making MMOs now, so while the potential revenues are much higher, the competition is also more fierce. Online games are mutually exclusive too: people playing WoW are likely to play that for 4-5h a day, leaving no room for other games. This means that if a big player has established a foothold in a certain niche/segment of the market, will be very hard for you to get new players.
As player, you can say goodbye to immersion. Most people playing MMO knows how annoying some people can be. You can meet anyone, from a 60 years old polite university professor to a 16-years old boy always yelling at you. There can’t be a plot in a online game. You’re also going to pay MUCH more, and some games feels more like a scam. With normal offline games you pay a price and know what you get. Online games are designed like mousetrap: they lure you in with the FREE word, and then you get addicted and you’ll end up paying even hundred of dollars for, let’s be honest, what you could get for 1/10 less. You’re also going to spend much more time to a single game and become an addict (that’s exactly what the companies want).
As developer, offline games are much easier to program. Even if you’re not an expert programmer you can easily put a normal downloadable game together. You don’t need to have a dedicated server or be a network expert.
As player, you know what you get. You can have immersive games with wonderful plot and NPCs, like Dragon Age (or any of my games hehe), you can play RTS knowing your ping doesn’t matter, you can play while flying on a plane with a laptop, you can pause anytime, you can play games at your pace (and not be tied to a raid or a online event) and the list goes on. All of this knowing you’re going to pay a FIXED amount (that recently is getting lower and lower).
(Note – I am one of those players. I can’t honestly believe that people pay 15-20 eur a month to play WoW when they can get wonderful games from Bioware for a fixed price!)
As developer, expect to make much less money: except very rare cases, a offline game is always going to earn less than a online one, since you can’t bill multiple time the same person (selling him subscriptions or items for example). Also you have to deal with piracy which is a real pain and will seriously hurt your business.
As player, I am not really sure what are the cons of offline games. I guess stupid/paranoid DRMs are the worst thing you can experience. Apart for that, I can’t really think about any cons, except if you like competition, ladders, etc. But then you wouldn’t be playing offline games at all
That is. As you can see there are several things to consider, both for the developer and the player. I also think that the age influences what people play: I used to play EQ1-2 when I was younger, and had more free time than now. As I grow older, I found I hadn’t time anymore to invest HOURS in a character, or pay for a monthly subscription when I wasn’t sure I would be able to play the game. About the new free to play games, I honestly think it’s plain stupid to pay $5 “for a sword” when you can get complete new games for the price of 2-3 swords 😀 Also I like games with plots and writing, so that’s not really what I want. But know many devs making a fortune with free to play / MMO games.
Will I be making a online game? No, not really soon. But who knows, maybe one day…