(Ping! Zine Issue 18) – In the early 90’s, new and technologically revolutionary concepts started to emerge in the computer gaming market. Once dominated by bulletin boards and text based adventures, online entertainment slowly changed as games began allowed users from around the world to connect and, for the first time ever, interact together in a real-time 3D world. Since the 90’s, hyper-realistic environments and mature art direction has propelled gaming past niche status and into the mainstream. The online gaming market is skyrocketing and computer game players all around the world are playing games more frequently and longer than ever in the history of the industry. Already a huge phenomenon, gaming has pushed through its status as the next big thing – it is the big thing.
Counter-Strike, a first person shooter and the most popular multiplayer shooter in the world, continues to be at the forefront of this expansion. Developed in 1999 by two gamers and later purchased by Valve Software, it has exploded worldwide into a gaming sensation with more than 200,000 gamers playing it at any time. According to an internal survey conducted by Valve Software, Counter-Strike players alone account for more than 4.5 billion minutes of game time a month. Counter-Strike continues to break new barriers inspiring professional gaming tournaments and live television coverage of virtual video game matches. The huge demand behind Counter-Strike alone is a sustainable market, but when you combine it with other games like Battlefield 2 and Quake 3 the profit potential is astronomical.
Throughout its history the gaming market has continued to push expansion through home technology. An example of this can clearly be seen with real time subscription based software and the newly founded concepts of the ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) model. Though software companies are just now starting to create rich, diverse and creative content with SaaS, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) have been using this same subscription model to provide real time content to gamers since 1997. The most popular of these games, World of WarCraft, approaches 7 million subscribers paying monthly to play with thousands of other players simultaneously in an interactive setting. In its second year of service, World of WarCraft has absolutely smashed through the apprehension many software developers have associated with SaaS models.
The Electronic Software Association in their latest marketing report state that regular video game players make up 69% of house hold heads in the United States. According to the same statistics, 44% of those frequent players are now playing online, a huge increase from 19% in 2000. One of the most interesting new finds is the growing balance between male and female gamers. The ESA goes on to say that 48% of online gamers are now female helping to reinvent preconceived notions of who a gamer actually is. Industry researchers say the biggest boom is still yet to come. In-stat, a communications market researcher, predicts the industry to grow from 1 billion in 2006 to more than 4 billion in 2008.
As new players continue to popularize online content, the demand to fill that rises accordingly. As of right now the market is open and anyone can jump in, no matter their size, and provide these servers. While the concept behind running a dedicated web server and running a successful game server might be similar, in practice, they’re managed very differently. Game servers rely on a strong, intuitive control panel that allows users to deploy, start, stop or modify game servers on the fly directly from their web browsers. The quality of experience can be directly correlated to the ease of use on the consumer end. Gamers tend to know exactly what they want. They want high-end hardware, response times of less than 50ms or less and no downtime for any reason is.
An early decision you’ll need to make is who you want your target market to be. From the perspective of an end-user we know the platform itself needs to be strong. Resellers are empowered through a GUI system, basically a control panel, to effectively run and manage their servers. If you give your resellers the power they need to supply the end-user with a positive experience, your end-user clients will have a positive experience by default. Some gaming companies go without a GUI altogether, but eventually become overwhelmed with server changes if no management system is put in place to streamline creation and modification.
Marketing to gamers can be tricky. Gaming has progressed from the isolated gamer in their parent’s basement to youth interacting together socially in a digital way through gaming. Large forums and gaming communities are a mecca for these communications. These resources provide an open space to get to know the personality and thought processes behind digital culture. The more in tune you are with the gaming mindset the more empowered you will be to provide the services gaming clients need and want.
The computer gaming market has exploded past anything we thought it could achieve. Games like World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike have and continue to drive the technology markets into new and uncharted frontiers. It has matured into a profitable sector of server hosting, and while there are challenges associated with this unfamiliar market, the explosiveness of this digital phenomenon awaits those ready to explore.