New hardware always brings big changes to the online gaming experience. Usually these are positive and expansive, and that doesn’t look to be any different this incoming generation. Microsoft achieved a lot with Xbox Live in the early years and really set the industry target. One could argue both Steam and the PSN compete well or surpass XBL for value or feature reasons now, but that’s all about to become moot as the landscape reforms.
What changes are we likely to see?
XBox Live has had its share of advantages; cross game chat, and the fact that a mic comes with the Xbox360 itself makes the lobbies vibrant. Most advantages will be history come the launch of the PS4. As well as the usual features expected by modern players both PSN and XBL are growing better social media integration and ability to share gaming content. For example; The PS4 allows you to pass control to a remote player or spectate your friends games. These unproven features could mean a lot moving forward, or amount to little used gimmicks.
The PS4 optionally let’s you pull your real name and details from social networks and appear listed as yourself. This isn’t without it’s issues but could be an idea to encourage more responsible online activity, as well as making friends list management less intimidating for new players and simpler for experienced players with massive friends lists.
The double edged sword of online success
Live (moreso than PSN) has a reputation for being full of loudmouths, angry kids, racists, sexism, homophobia and antisocial behaviour. It’s standard to have to mute or enable friends only chat. Sometimes (on any network) you run into hackers and players who take verbal abuse too far. Under Microsoft’s current system these players can get a permanent account ban. On the Xbox1 each game, whether full price or downloaded is paired to your account. Hypothetically, If the same Live TOS applies, being a hateful, aggressive moron could force you to have to re-buy your entire game library. Justice? Or a disaster waiting to happen? It’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft deals with that, as it already happens with online purchases made on the 360. Could this cause a number of more serious offenders to jump ship to the Sony camp if the PS4 presents less risk?
Sony are bundling headsets with the PS4 too, so PSN will get a lot chattier one way or another, but there were some positives to not being the most verbally competitive and open place to game.
Microsoft’s server/cloud systems will likely make lobbies and matchmaking smoother than they have been previously, and some great multiplayer franchises will no doubt continue to be juggernauts on the system. But once the tides begin to change.. If the PS4 takes the market in the same way the 360 has this generation, all those players’ voices are coming too.
Be careful what you wish for.
Meanwhile Nintendo are doing their own thing and somehow seem to have made a friendly, safe online environment on the Wii U. I think they deserve some respect for managing to go about things in such an alien way and usually pulling it off. Who knows what the future of the WiiU’s online services will be, but it largely depends on multiplayer games to use them with in the first place. This idea of purpose built communities with differing personalities is much more appealing to me than a future where one platform had total online dominance. This is also a reason I’m for platform exclusive titles. They give the over-arching community a feel and character of its own. When something becomes too ubiquitous you see standards go out the window and you risk ending up with the game equivalent of YouTube comments. And nobody wants that for their platform.
Tomorrow we’ll begin to see what the big three have planned for their networks. Fingers crossed it’s all good news.