I’ve covered the video game sector for more than 15 years, and I’ve been a military history buff my whole life. I bring this up because in many ways what games do today are what wars have done in the past—namely push forward innovation.
Ever since the PC—then labeled the IBM PC—became a real gaming platform in the early 1990s it has been the games that pushed PC development. The fastest, most powerful machines with the best sound cards and graphics processors were gaming machines. As a result, the most expensive computers were gaming machines. A number of companies, including Alienware, Falcon Northwest and Voodoo entered the market to produce high-end gaming machines—computers that weren’t the boring beige boxes that IBM’s engineers felt should be the de facto standard.
So if you have a computer that isn’t beige, you can thank the gamers. Likewise if you can listen to music or play video on your computer you can thank the gamers. These innovations were really pushes to provide a better gaming experience, and thus are standard today.
The next leap forward is with connectivity. While I have already complained that I can be reached in too many ways during the day: with my landline phone, mobile phones, Skype phone, IM on the PC and IM on said mobile phones, as well as other text messaging and e-mail; I find my gaming connectivity to be limited. Should I decide to play a game with a friend I can send an e-mail, but if they’re not at the PC…well, I won’t hear back until they check e-mail again. And if any of them are playing a game they might not check e-mail until they’re finished…when they might not want to play anymore.
I’m left with the option of calling them instead, either on the landline, Skype phone or mobile phone. Once we agree on a game I need to find the same server or host a game. All this can be annoying. Fortunately there are some third-party solutions such as Xfire that allow you to use IM during gameplay. Likewise I like Skype too because you can chat with friends via the PC (although I use a Skype handset myself) and talk while looking for servers, maps, etc.
But this brings me to Microsoft’s gamertags. While many games have allowed you to use an in-game handle during a game, this has typically only been for that particular session. Some titles have persistent handles but this was still only for a particular game. Microsoft with the Xbox Live platform—first for the Xbox consoles and now for Windows Vista—has made this a single handle/nickname across all games. Better still I can log into Live and see what my friends are doing. I can check to see if any of my friends are online and what they are playing. This way I can save the phone calls.
I should add that at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, Electronic Arts as well as Sony have announced similar initiatives with a single gamer ID across all their games. A single user ID is clearly taking over the world of games.