We have come a long way in the gaming industry over the past 12 years. Some of the major steps forward have come from the introduction of the Internet, and how users access digital gaming content, downloadable content and make use of cloud services in games.
Back in the day (we are talking about early PlayStation 2 days) video games would release with no further content support at all. The retail version was the final version and if it was buggy or if there was future content planned for it, this would be put into a whole new game. There were no such things like day-one updates, pre-order content, characters skins, season passes, or anything of the kind. What you paid for is what you got and vice versa.
That doesn’t mean that we never had any Internet access on our PlayStation 2s and Xboxes, we did. We made use of our dial-up connections which were relayed through an Ethernet hub, then into an adapter, and then into our consoles. We could play a few matches of Killzone 2, and Halo, and it ran pretty well given that dial-up was 1% of the speed that we use today.
PC games were more prone to receiving downloadable content, but again these were patches intended to fix issues with the game, and these were released every three months or so rather than weekly like today. Due to Internet restriction, distributing patches was difficult, so gamers were more likely to distribute them amongst each other as these patches were all executable files, and didn’t require any sort of IT skills to install. The odd mod for a major release was part of the “digital content”. These mods were created by modders, and added new features to already released titles. Some of these included the world-famous Dota mod for Warcraft 2, and Diablo received a few too.
During the PS2 period gamers were unaware of the potential behind digital content, but at the same time, digital content has become a major issue in the industry.
With the release of the PlayStation 3 and the world moving into ADSL, the opportunity for digital growth was limitless. The PlayStation Networks and Xbox Live were on the forefront of online services. Merging players from around the world into one server to play games with each other, and communicate across contents. Then came the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace – online stores which, for the first time in gaming, allowed users to purchase games and download them straight to their consoles.
These storefronts were an instant hit, offering smaller games that were quick to download which brought some great bite-sized experiences. As the Internet grew, games got bigger and before you knew it, you could download a retail game from these stores rather than go out and buy them. In 2013 Valve released Steam, a PC client built on the foundation of digital content. Which meant that no matter what you owned, there was a digital store where you could access a library of games and download them whenever you wanted to.
As the world grew and gaming became increasingly popular, an opportunity to take advantage paid content in the form of downloadable content came to light. This meant that the game that you bought would receive digital content for the period after the game’s release. This might be extra story missions, skins, expansion packs, and other items.
Not only do video games require a large Internet infrastructure, but they also rely strongly on these DLC items. Most of the time we learn more about these DLC items before we actually see the game in action. The same goes for patches and updates which have become increasingly popular over the years. 80% of titles that release nowadays require a day-one patch. Gone are the days of picking up a game and playing it, now you are subjected to downloading a few gigabytes of data to fix issues in the game before you even start playing it.
With that being said, it is not all bad news, as there are a few advantages to the form of digital content. You can pre-load games onto your platform of choice before the release date, eliminating the need to download the game on launch day. Players can also use this form of digital content to send gifts to friends and family members. You also get times where the downloadable content improves your gaming experience by adding features and content that we do not need to pay for.
We now live in a world where the online aspect of a game is the highlight of the experience. The ability to add hours of content to a player’s experience, and offer incentives to make the game look more attractive when pre-orders open up. Developers all around the world rely greatly on the power of the Internet to support their titles, this goes for patches and downloadable content.
One perfect example of this is CD Projekt RED and its title, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. As a “thank you” to fans, they released 16 free DLC packs, 4 every week following the game’s release. We recently reviewed the massive first expansion pack for the game, Hearts of Stone and we were blown away. To have a downloadable piece of content offer so much variety and hours upon hours of gameplay, made us hopeful for the future of digital gaming content.
Over the past few years we have gone from having next to no Internet access for games and being okay with it, to relying on it completely. The Internet seems to have that effect on not only the games we play, but every other aspect of our lives and we don’t foresee our reliance on it to wither anytime soon. Scientist and gamers are even using the online game, Fold It, to solve real-world problems. One example is where the game can be used to map the structure of the elusive Mason Pfizer Monkey Virus, a problem that could unlock the cure for AIDS.