2003 saw a 182% increase in the number of online-capable console titles sold in the US, and we think this demonstrates that the market is finally taking off.
Predictably, the majority of the sales have been first person shooters (FPS) and sports games. Sports games, such as EA’s Hockey and Football offerings are immensely popular in North America, much more so than in Europe and the rest of the world, and so they claim 69% of the market. FPS games, with 22% of the online console game market, have long been popular online (or at least on corporate LANs) ever since the early days. This is because they are easy to pick up and play and appeal to the demographic who are buying most of the games – there is an easy shift for those brought up playing multiplayer Marathon and Doom on PCs and Macintoshes to picking up a console FPS.
Role-playing games (RPGs) take up only 4% of the online console market as they are more traditionally in the realm of the PC: requiring a hard drive, a huge commitment to learn the rules and world involved, and, of course, absolutely all of your spare time. Not many publishers have taken the risk of investing in online RPGs – Final Fantasy XI and Everquest Online Adventures being notable and popular exceptions.
Racing games are currently worth 15% of the market – but watch this change dramatically when an online version of Gran Turismo finally hits the shops.
Almost all console games currently on sale with online components can be played offline – it’s a brave publisher who will make a console game that cannot be played off line, and the aforementioned Everquest Online Adventures is the only exception we can think of. This will change as consumers get more used to the idea.
However, not all games with online functions are bought because of that feature: Richard Ow, senior industry analyst, The NPD Group comments: “It’s important to note that the increase in sales for online-capable games does not mean that the masses are moving to online gameplay, in some cases, consumers aren’t necessarily aware they’re buying games with online capabilities, but whether they’re aware or they aren’t, the onus falls in the laps of the software developers to provide games with multiple playability features.”
Now, Nintendo – why is it just about impossible for us to get the broadband adapter for the GameCube in the UK? Think we’re going to play Phantasy Star Online on a dial-up?