Online console gaming
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Online console gaming involves connecting a console to a network over the Internet for services. Through this connection, it provides users the ability to play games with other users online, in additional to other online services.
The three most common networks now are Microsoft's Xbox Live, Sony's Playstation Network, and Nintendo's Nintendo Network. While Xbox Live is currently exclusive to the Xbox 360, Playstation Network and Nintendo Network features cross platform capabilities which allows users to use a single account. However, the services provided by both are still limited to the console connected (e.g. a Playstation Portable cannot download a Playstation 3 game).
A common misconception about online console gaming is that the industry began with the introduction of the Xbox live network on November 15, 2002. However, there were a number of predecessors which made a run at console gaming but due to a multitude of problems they failed to make a significant impact on the console gaming industry.
The first online initiative, The Sega Net Work System was a network service in Japan for people using the Sega Mega Drive. Debuting in 1990, this service worked with the Game Toshokan (literally Game Library) cartridge to download games on the console (meaning that the game will have to be re-downloaded each time). Players attached a MegaModem (modem, with a speed of 1,600 to 2,400 bit/s) to the "EXT" DE-9 port on the back of the Mega Drive, and used it to dial up other players to play games. There was a monthly fee of ¥800 
Sega then brought a similar online service to North America, The Sega Channel, debuted in the winter of 1994. Sega Channel provided users the opportunity to download new games straight to their consoles with the purchase of a cartridge similar sold through General Instruments. The service cost $15 (USD) per month and at one point had over 250,000 American subscribers while also developing a building following overseas but Sega decided to halt the project and decided to provide an online portal in their new console the Sega Saturn launched in 1996.
Satallaview, a Japan only product was launched in mid-1995 supporting the super Nintendo console. The access provided downloadable versions of hit games free to the user but required the user to download the games only at certain times through a TV antenna, in a fashion similar to recording a TV show.
Right around the same time as the Satallaview an American company, Catapult Entertainment, developed the Xband, a 3rd party peripheral which provided customers the ability to connect with other users and play games through network connections. The peripheral cost approximately $20 (USD) and required a monthly-fee of approximately $5.00 (USD) for 50 sessions/month or approximately $10 (USD) for unlimited use. The Xband supported the Super NES and Sega Genesis console and received good reviews but gamers were reluctant to purchase the extra equipment and with a lack of users online and the release of new consoles the peripheral soon faded into gaming history.
NET Link, Sega Saturn’s version of the Sega Channel provided users with new abilities including the ability to surf the web and check email from their Saturn systems and eventually online game play. However, the modem which required potential users to pay an additional $200 (USD) for the modem peripheral followed by $20 (USD) per month. Soon after its launch the NET Link failed to reach successful numbers after failing to achieve expectations for the online gaming experience promised.
In 1999 Nintendo decided to take another shot at online gaming with the Nintendo 64DD. The new peripheral was delayed often and only released in Japan, it provided users to connect with each other and share in-game art and designs and even play games online, after purchasing the peripheral for 30,000 yen. The 64DD failed to impact gamers as it was released shortly before Nintendo announced the release of its new console, the GameCube, and only nine games would be released supporting the new peripheral.
SegaNet became a short-lived internet service operated by Sega, geared for dial-up based online gaming on their Dreamcast game console. A replacement for Sega's original, PC-only online gaming service, Heat.net, it was initially quite popular when launched on September 10, 2000. Unlike a standard ISP, game servers would be connected directly into SegaNet's internal network, providing very low connection latency between the consoles and servers along with standard Internet access.
In order to play games on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network the game must be programmed in order to support online activity. This can be identified usually on the back of game packaging. For example, Xbox games will show online features available to be used with the game. During the beginning of the Xbox Live era some games were not made to support online play through Xbox Live, most notably, the first person shooter, Halo: Combat Evolved. Players were able to meet together and play with multiple consoles attached over private networks with Ethernet cables and a router/hub, but players could not play online from multiple locations. Xbox Connect, a free shareware software, enabled users to create a virtual network and play online with other players through a tunneling system.
Upon downloading the Xbox Connect software, users connected their Xbox to their internet capable home networks with an Ethernet cable, and were able to match themselves with other players in game lobbies and play various multiplayer games through the System Link function on many Xbox games, in a format similar to playing on Xbox live.
Xbox Live (trademarked as Xbox LIVE) is an online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery service created and operated by Microsoft Corporation. It is currently the only online gaming service on consoles that charges users a fee to play multiplayer gaming. It was first made available to the Xbox system in 2002. An updated version of the service became available for the Xbox 360 console at that system's launch in 2005. The service was extended in 2007 on the Windows platform, named Games for Windows – Live, which makes most aspects of the system available on Windows computers. Microsoft has announced plans to extend Live to other platforms such as handhelds and mobile phones as part of the Live Anywhere initiative. With Microsoft's new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7, full Xbox Live functionality is integrated into new Windows Phones that launched in late 2010.
The Xbox Live service is available as both a free and subscription-based service, known as Xbox Live Free and Xbox Live Gold respectively, with several features such as online gaming restricted to the Gold service. Prior to October 2010, the free service was known as Xbox Live Silver. It was announced on June 10, 2011 that the service is going to be fully integrated into Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8.
The introduction of online gaming, through Xbox Live, ushered in a new and unprecedented level of sociability to the Xbox console.
PlayStation Network, often abbreviated as PSN, is an online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery service provided/run by Sony Computer Entertainment for use with the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita video game consoles. On April 19, 2011 the PlayStation Network (and later also Sony Online Entertainment's network) was put offline due to a "compromise of personal information as a result of an illegal intrusion". At the time of the intrusion, the network consisted of "approximately 130 servers, 50 software programs and 77 million registered accounts". On May 14, 2011, Sony began regionally restoring the PlayStation Network and released a mandatory security firmware update which requires users update their passwords. A new license agreement was subsequently introduced, legally barring users from filing lawsuits and joining class action lawsuits.
The Nintendo Network is Nintendo's second online service after Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to provide online play for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U compatible games. It was announced on January 26, 2012, at an investor's conference. Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata said, "Unlike Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which has been focused upon specific functionalities and concepts, we are aiming to establish a platform where various services available through the network for our consumers shall be connected via Nintendo Network service so that the company can make comprehensive proposals to consumers." Nintendo's plans include personal accounts for Wii U, digitally distributed packaged software, and paid downloadable content.
The Wii console is able to connect to the Internet through its built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi or through a USB-to-Ethernet adapter, with both methods allowing players to access the established Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service. Wireless encryption by WEP, WPA (TKIP/RC4) and WPA2 (CCMP/AES) are supported. AOSS support was discreetly added in System Menu version 3.0. Just as for the Nintendo DS, Nintendo does not charge fees for playing via the service and the 12 digit Friend Code system controls how players connect to one another. Each Wii also has its own unique 16 digit Wii Code for use with Wii's non-game features. This system also implements console-based software including the Wii Message Board. One can also connect to the internet with third-party devices.
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