In the 20 years I have been selecting and buying computer games, they have changed in many ways. However, there is one way in which they have not changed; some are good, others are not. Finding out which game is in which category before you buy is the trick, and while this is not easy, it is easier now than it ever was in the past.
Thanks to the Internet, many developers release demos of their games, and these can be downloaded, or bought as content on the cover discs of computer magazines. This is a great way to “try before you buy” and there are few games I have bought over the last three years without first playing the demo. In some cases, I have bought games I had not considered before, on the strength of the demo.
These days, many games focus their content on the multiplayer aspect. To their credit, many developers therefore release multiplayer demos of their product. This is great for testing the games in the arena in which they will be played.
If it’s all so good, why am I not going to buy games anymore?
Games are not cheap. It takes a small fortune to produce a computer game these days, and this is reflected in the price we pay at the counter. This means that careful choice is necessary when selecting games. Those of you who are young enough and fortunate enough to not have to pay for your games can count yourselves lucky in this respect. Personally, if a game I buy does not last me for at least a year, I consider that game to have been a bad buy. No matter the genre, I have no interest in buying a game with short, limited gameplay, and little incentive for replay. Picking the wheat from the chaff in this respect cannot be done from playing demos alone.
Of my recent game purchases, a couple looked great before I bought them, but quickly soured. Civilization 3, otherwise known as “let’s re-release the same game after six years, overlay new graphics, and hope no one notices!” I noticed. But not before buying it and taking it home. No demo was out for this game, and I foolishly bought anyway. While I got a good four years out of Civ 2, Civ 3 didn’t even last four months. I played the demo, and loved the demo, of Mechwarrior 4. I’ve never bothered to play with the miniatures, but Mechs have always been an area of interest (of course). Having played the demo, and thinking I could go more of the same, I never even got past the third mission of the game. It was just dull. Online play was worse, hardly any players, and what play there was involved a meaningless fire-fest between the Mad Cat and the Atlas. This game also had a short life on my hard drive.
My epiphany came quite recently, just three months ago. I’d been discussing Medal of Honor with some friends, and we decided to go to a net gaming room and play it. What a revelation. These gaming rooms are not net cafes. No backpackers typing emails to home, or caf? latte sippers pretending to type emails while eyeing up the backpackers. These places are for playing games only. I find it easiest to refer to them as “Baang”. The word Baang is a loose translation of the Korean word, Korea being where these places have really taken off. They are also popular in Europe, and here in Australia too.
Quite simply, it is the best way to play multiplayer games. A group of 5-8 is fine for Medal of Honor. Of course, as experienced gamers we can be a little fussy. Others in the room are more than welcome to join, as long as they adhere to our ‘no snipers’ rule. The sniper rifle destroys MoH as a game, and so we don’t use it. Others are aware of this, as they choose to join a game called ‘no snipers.’ Sure, sometimes people will join and start sniping, not always, but sometimes. Unlike on the net, where you can only clench your teeth in impotent frustration, here it is simply a case of getting up, looking around, and giving the culprit a friendly tap on the shoulder and an explanation of the meaning of ‘no snipers’. It works.
After the first session (I have now been back five times) I knew I would never again buy another game. Why bother, when I can play so many for a relatively small price? Certainly paying for four hours play a couple of times a month is better than trying to pick the one game of the genre that will keep me busy for months to come.
Following our first, fun-filled session, a trip has become an irregular gathering. As many as 11 have trooped in at one time. Each 4-hour session costs 1/5th the price of a new game. To put it another way, for 20 hours of play, I could buy the game and play it as often as I like. Plenty of games are available for play, and when you get tired of one it’s easy to switch to a different title. This is the main advantage for me, that over those 20 hours that represent the cost of one game, I can have played many games. The other advantage is that I don’t have to worry about configuration issues, or replacing my hardware to cope with the system requirements of the latest releases. That in itself is a significant saving. As with any other service, pricing will change from place to place. The prices above are for the “early bird” special (in before 1pm!) on a Sunday, which gives us plenty of Baang for our buck.
These places are the arcade halls of the twenty-first century. From a business point of view, they make a lot more sense than arcade halls economically. The basic machines are commoditised, and therefore cheap(ish) to buy in bulk. If you have a hit game, everyone in the room can play it, they don’t have to put down their coins and wait their turn. All the machines can play all the games available, which greatly increases your potential income per square metre. From a player’s point of view, it’s a slice of heaven. Literally dozens of games available for play. FPS games are the most popular, and are all I play while there. Medal of Honor, Battlefield 1942, Aliens Vs Predator 2, and Unreal Tournament 2003 have all been sampled. In other genres, Diablo II, Warcraft III, and others are represented. Internet access is no problem, so games like Everquest and Dark Ages of Camelot can be played, assuming you have an account to access. So there really is no limit.
Not for me the solitary experience of “multiplayer” over the Internet. These are games, and games are meant to be a social experience, are they not? What better way then to play with a group of friends all in one, lag-free location? It is no coincidence that the games we choose to play at the Baang have little to offer the solitary player.
I’d be lying if I said I no longer play games outside the Baang. I still play Diablo II at home, and on Battle.net with my mother (no, really), the long play time easily justifies its presence on my hard drive. I also enjoy the solitary challenge of a good strategy game, and these are best played at home also. Since my first visit to the Baang I have not bought a single game, and due to the longevity of the games I play at home, I won’t do so for some time. Call me weak when I do buy another game. I won’t say I haven’t been tempted, most recently by Medieval: Total War, but then I thought about how much extra memory would cost, and measured this in playing hours at the Baang, and I decided not to buy.
I believe this is the way of the future. Why not try it yourself? Get some friends together, get out of the house for a while, and have a blast. There should be a place near you. There are two other Baang on the same street as the one I frequent, all are doing a roaring trade. Long may they last.
Disclaimer: The Ninth Circle was written by Lorelorn (David Kay) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.