Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Spreading the 'Net Thin

A Guest Article by Ronan the Librarian

Gears of War arrived in the murky depths of November 2006 to a grand fanfare on the Xbox 360. Before this, the console was merely an easier way to manage online Halo 2 matches with the added bonus of being able to play a select few other games to boost your Gamerscore. Apart from Call of Duty 2, the machine played host to very few online games that managed to capture the public’s attention. When Gears arrived, the hype train stopped at the station and you got on to ride it to Fun Junction.

Suddenly the collective LIVE community migrated to this gaming pasture new. The all-out balls of Halo 2 and the tactics of Call of Duty 2 merged, to create a something in-between that felt so fresh. Everyone on your friends list owned Gears of War, eventually, which guaranteed not only a game, but one with eight players you know and love. The game itself was so incredibly simple - and indeed flawed - but that was excused by the raw playability of it. After all, Gears of War only shipped with three multiplayer modes that were merely varying types of deathmatch, and when the lag got tough, the logic got going. Players would find themselves reloading the Hammer of Dawn (a targeting weapon that doesn’t even have ammo to reload) or they would experience the thrill of skydiving (as they plummet through the map’s floor). However, despite these malfunctions, people had fun; a distinct type of fun that can only be had fooling around with friends - chainsawing them in half and having a good giggle about it.

In the year to follow, more games were released and players got their jollies elsewhere. But when the thrill wore off, Gears still wandered up to you, clambering over the quivering pile of new releases and handed to you your slippers with a knowing smile. Your proverbial feet were not to go cold due to Epic’s baby until late September of 2007, when gaming behemoth Halo had another child. Here is where the LIVE community made that second collective migration – this time to Halo 3. Yet something wasn’t right. People packed off their copies of Gears to the Old Games Retirement Home in return for money. But some of those friends you made with Marcus Fenix didn’t follow you to Master Chief’s house party. They were definitely playing the game as your Friends List seemed to stutter “Playing Halo 3” at you with every entry down the directory. So what happened? Everyone seemed to form specific groups of who they played with in Halo, which were not apparent with Gears. You played with everyone before. Why is your party an exclusive guest list now?

Halo 3’s reign didn’t last as long as Gears of War, probably due to the partitions it created in your list of friends. Within a month or two, players were finding new games. The difference with these though is that the community does not make a collective migration anymore. The new games just serve to dilute the amount of players on your Friends List of whom you can play with. They want to play their new game and if you don’t have it, you’re stuck playing Halo 3 or Gears with the only other people on your friends list who don’t have it. There needs to be a new game to cause the next migration. There needs to be a new Gears; there needs to be a Gears of War 2