April 9, 2007

Sweeney Off On Live

Tim Sweeney over at Epic recently spouted off, saying that Live for Windows isn't going to work because developers can implement all the functionality contained in Live themselves. I'm going to go off on a limb and say that is the exact reason that Live for Windows will work. Live for Windows succeeds on three fronts that PC games are notoriously lacking in: uniformity, responsibility and stability.

When you talk to someone about Xbox Live on the Xbox 360, what is one of the first things that pops up in any conversation? Once you've learned how to use Live in one game, you know how to use Live in every other game. Server browsers and multiplayer matchmaking aren't even uniform between titles in the same series, let alone between companies. A uniform multiplayer experience will only help grow the PC multiplayer game market.

When you're playing on Xbox Live, I'm able to quickly tell what other people think of a player by pulling up his GamerCard. Good players (or people who are fun to play with) have high player rankings, while jackasses have low rankings. People have noticed that if someone's a jackass in one game, they're likely to be jackasses in other games...this is a way that their reputation can follow them.

Finally, your master servers are going to be up for awhile, but how often have master servers gone down over the last few years, like Unreal 2 XMP's? Admittedly, EA tends to be a bit dickish about it while they justify the $1 billion spent on EA.com, but there have been several that have shut down completely because the companies responsible for them are no longer around. Microsoft's previous gaming servers, MSN Gaming Zone, lasted for a decade. Live for Windows has a more reliable funding stream than advertising, and has the potential to last for a significantly longer period of time.

And as a side note, just because developers can be implementing these features in their games doesn't necessarily mean that the developers should be implementing these features in their games. What makes more sense: spending ten man-months creating the server software, matchmaking functionality, rankings, ladders, etc. (not including debugging time), or spending two man-months to hook up an external library, call an API a minimum of 15 times per second, and fix the bugs that come up as a result of it?


Jason said...

You should check out the actual interview if you haven't yet instead of the summary, because they did point out the positives that you have.

Their reasoning for feeling it isn't going to work is because the major PC gaming companies aren't going to chose to remove features that are already in their games, and then expect their users to pay Microsoft to get those features back. How many people are going to look at these games negatively when they have to buyback voice for a Battlefield game?

They didn't seem against the idea of the stabilized unifying system that could be implemented into any game at all. One example they gave was that if they created a Halo 2 style matchmaking service that could be dropped into any game on top of the other features then it would be more worth it. It would increase functionality and reduce the company burden of having to come up with these things on their own. Like you mentioned, not everyone should create these systems just because they can try. Those that already have those systems in place don't want to remove them either.

Even then it's still rough on PC user perception. Upgrading to Vista is already a large investment and then on top of it you'd have to pay more to get everything in a sequel that the previous game already had. As someone who's seen how many people won't even pay for a $20 game, you could probably see how it is gonna be hard to swallow for people to pay another $4 a month on top of paying for the game itself regardless of how solid the system is.

Ulf Jälmbrant said...

Although there have been mixed messages probably due to gold/silver division not being finalized. In the Windows live article on 1up.com voice is a silver feature while during the epic interview on 1up yours it's mentioned as a gold feature. I believe the success is down to offering additional benefits with the gold membership and not to require extra payment for what you take for granted.

No-one I know have a xbox live gold account which seems to imply that the silver experience can't be butchered. If I understand the silver/gold division then the online features of counter-strike would fit inside silver with server list, friendslist, voice chat.

The biggest questionmark is stat tracking. Personal stat tracking such as Team Fortress 2 (for personal consumption) and anonymous stat tracking such as HL2: Episode 1 or Day of Defeat: Source also seem like no problem but more extensive and eventful stat tracking such as Battlefield 2 would fall either side-by-side with Live or squarely against it.

Finally I wonder if the upfront live payment would reduce the need for online ingame advertisement.

Andrew Timson said...

Even if master servers go down, at least in the case of an Unreal engine game replacements can be easily created (as XMP shows). The same isn't true for an Live game—once support is gone, it's gone (barring a patch from the developer), reducing the game's multiplayer capabilities to a (possibly empty) subset of those Quake 1 had in 1996.

(I wonder why the XMP server was pulled, anyways; I mean, the Unreal 1 master server is still up…)

Maybe if Microsoft hadn't pulled their Zone servers I'd be more interested in Live for Windows. But paying $50 a year, with no guarantee that I'll still be able to play the game if/when they decide to pull support? No thank you.

Alexander said...

If Microsoft wanted to help developers they could offer the API without the requirement to fit into Windows Live as a service. They could offer only the ability to make use of the codebase and adapt it to their game and the features they want for their game but still use their own servers for it. It is obvious that this is an attempt to further empower Windows over any other platform, to take money from people (and eventually take more and more of it), and to perhaps help boost the 360 rather than an attempt to offer better quality products.