The Future of Massive Online Gaming

by Mike Shea on 31 August 2003

For three years I have spent almost seven thousand hours as Loral Ciriclight, cleric of Tunare, in the massive online game Everquest. I've met dozens of people that I now consider close friends. Everquest has changed my life for the better. These statements seem to feed anger and fear into the mundane cell-phone wielding, SUV piloting yuppies who want the world to stay the same as it was in the 50s. To scare the muggles even more, I predict that 50 million people will be playing massive online games in the next ten years. Entire game systems will be built around it. Massive online versions of every genre from Tolkien fantasy to fantasy baseball will be available. You can be a wizard, a cop, a giant battle mech, an F-15 pilot, a soldier at Normandy, a football star or a dancer at a club.

The technology and sociology of massive online gaming is a subject I am very interested in, sometimes more than the game itself. I've been trying to predict just how this massive online gaming world will form. What types of systems will it be on? How will communication occur? How will it be networked?

First, some predictions. As stated, 50 million people will be playing massive online games, games with one thousand or more players on simultaneously, in the next ten years. Game systems should begin to include high speed internet connectivity. Computers suck, therefore an ideal game console should be the platform. Portable game systems like the current Gameboy Advance SP will get better, perhaps leading to my portable gaming system of 2010 prediction. Sony's portable PSP system is the closest thing I've seen to this prediction.

You walk into your local sandwich shop. You order up your Asiago Roast Beef sandwich and a Vinti Almond Latte Skim. You check your 128 meg flash rom USB watch, the one you store your emacs settings and Rolling Stones MP3s on, and see its time for your Plane of Fire raid. You take out the portable gaming system of 2010 and flip it on. It uses the city-wide high speed wireless internet to log into the server and poof, you've joined your fifty friends at the gateway to Fire.

Now I hit a gap. How do we communicate? Portable systems don't like keyboards. I don't like keyboards. They're fine for desktop computing but they suck for gaming, they suck for consoles, and they especially suck for portable systems. Richard Bartle's Not Yet you Fools! is an excellent article that describes how built-in voice chat, such as the Xbox Live headset, actually ruins online gaming. It removes an abstraction we are all comfortable with. It removes an ability to role play without feeling like we're Star Wars Kid. Voice chat drags along the real world chains of our age, sex, ethnicity, education, dialect, and possible disabilities into a world we are trying to escape to.

If we cannot use a keyboard and we cannot use voice chat, how do we talk? Speech to text was the best answer myself and my guild leader, Juror, could come up with over our iced chai latte and mochas. While the technology is still quite a ways out, and has been for almost twenty years now, speech to text allows us to communicate quickly but without having our voice broadcast to a thousand others. Voice to text is a technology that will be hard to come by, but it is the best bet for online wireless portable massive online gaming.

The beds of technology have been made. Take a look at Xbox Live, the Playstation 2 Network Adapter, EQ Online Adventures, the Nokia N-Gage, the Gameboy Advance SP, Dragon Naturally Speaking, Bluetooth at McDonalds, and Sony's portable PSP system and you will see all the bits and pieces of this future. All we need is someone to put it all together.