Like it or not, Square Enix's "Core Online" is very possibly how we will be seeing our games offered in the future. It makes a lot of sense to deliver games in this fashion from the developer, publisher and consumer standpoint. The biggest problem is that gamers are cynical and quick to reject any idea that comes from a giant publisher. People are quick to dismiss new ideas as an attempt to snatch some of their hard earned money away. Coming from a company that charges copious amounts of cash for iOS offerings of decade old games, who would blame gamers for their pessimism? Join us in our quest to decipher what Core Online actually has to offer, and take away, from us gamers.
How itís good for Publishers: Publishers have long lived and died by the ďlaunch windowĒ. If a game doesnít sell well out of the gate, itís largely considered a failure. With a service like Core Online however, they are able to receive revenue from these games in the form of advertisement s. What this means is that they are able to generate revenue where there was no revenue before. Theyíve helped solve the issue of used game sales with this system as well, but we will get to that when we talk about how this is good for the consumer. A gamer could be mildly interested in a game, but never interested enough to spend their money on it. As the industry is now, that is simply lost potential. The gamer never pays to play the game, and the publisher never makes any money from that gamer. With Core Online though, they are able to satisfy the curiosity of that gamer, and potentially make a little money at the same time.
currently only Hitman: Bloodmoney and Mini Ninjas as the only titles available
How itís good for Developers: Imagine youíve got a new game in a series coming out, and you are afraid itís been too long since the last entry. Youíre afraid that gamers have lost interest in your intellectual property and itís really going to hurt the sales of your new game. Now, imagine being able to push out the preceding games in the series to the public for free! Of course the publisher would never allow you to do such a thing if they couldnít fiscally benefit from it, and thatís where a system like Core Online comes in. Youíre able to drum up interest in the series, the user gets the play the games for free, and the publisher gets some revenue from the service. Thatís what we call a ďwin-winĒ.
Would you try the original X-Com for free?
How itís good for Gamers: The phase, ďThereís no such thing as a free mealĒ is the first thing most people think of when offered something as generous as a free game. Core Online however is making that a reality. If youíre interested in a game, but have never really been willing to spend money to satisfy your curiosity, this is a perfect solution. Sure, youíll have to watch a few ads, but thatís a very small price to pay when it comes to playing a triple-A game... for free. Whatís even better is that itís a digital offering. This system combines the massive appeal of free games, with the convenience of downloading a game direct to your PC. Sure you could get in your car, drive to the store, pick up the game for $20, drive home and play itÖbut isnít it so much easier to just go to the site and download the game? Whatís even better is that you have a choice. If you donít like the ads, you can always just buy the game. While used games are a very important part of the game industry, a system like Core Online is a major threat to their business model.
Less more of this...
What needs to happen: Itís easy to see the potential in a system like this, but there are also obvious short comings. One of the first things that needs to happen is how/when the ads are presented. A simple time based system can be very frustrating when in the middle of a tense situation. Youíre in the middle of an intense cutscene, then the game suddenly pauses and requires you to watch an ad. Itís a very jarring effect and can completely ruin the tone of the game. These ad breaks need to be incorporated into the loading screens, between chapters, between multiplayer matches. ETC. Not in the middle of gameplay.
The next ďmust changeĒ about the service is its limited library. While this is likely this is just a test to see if a system like this will even work, the true test is when the selection of games is large enough to support an actual community. If done correctly, this kind of service could be the video game equivalent of Hulu or Netflix.
The most important thing Core needs to do is bring the service to a console base. There are plenty who feel PC gaming is largely superior but the numbers donít lie. Console game sales still greatly outnumber PC game sales and there is something to be said for the simplicity and ease that comes with playing games on a console.
Other titles are currently being prepped for the service
Only time will tell if the Core Online system will bear fruit. Honestly, gamers everywhere should hope it does. Given the odds, it can only be a good thing is this type of model catches on. While some would argue that Square Enix has lost their way in innovative storytelling (those people obviously havenít played Neir), they certainly seem to have a staggering amount of potential with their Core Online.