NEWS - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Who Will Dethrone The King Of “Live”

Fact: Halo 2 is currently the most popular game on Xbox Live, a position it has dutifully held since it’s debut. It has been more than two years since the title was released by Bungie and yet, while so many other games have come and gone (XIII anyone?) this game still remains; undisputed favorite of the Live Multiplayer world. The question: Who will figure out a way to wrest the deathmatch...I mean death-grip hold on “Live” that Halo 2 has maintained for more than two years? The first challenge lies in the numbers. 7 million to be exact. According to Bungie, that’s how many copies of Halo 2 had been distributed as of November 2005, (the anniversary of it’s debut). While certainly not a record for total units sold, one must take into account that this is an exclusive Xbox title so there are no other systems involved to bulk up that number. With the number of Xbox and Xbox 360 consoles distributed totaling around 23 million (estimated) the math tells you that nearly 1 in 3 of all Xbox and Xbox 360 systems share space in the entertainment center with this game! Now I know what you’re thinking, “Well that’s only about 30%. Heck, Call of Duty 2 (COD2) had an attachment rate of more than 75% with the 360.” True, but considering the lack of Xbox 360 consoles available, that would put COD2 at just over 250,000 copies overall. The second challenge is replicating the way that Bungie just “got it right”. The fact that they were dedicated to this goal is evident in the fact that the title’s release date was pushed back on more than one occasion. In today’s world of buggy software and patches for the patches, this commitment on Bungie’s part is commendable. That’s not to say that it didn’t have any problems. It’s debut on “Live” was hampered by a bug that would cause a terrible delay while waiting to join a Matchmaking game. So what did they do about it? They worked around the clock, and delivered a patch within a week. Most gamers probably don’t even remember the issue, because it was remedied so quickly. And when it was discovered that some unscrupulous players were exploiting bugs in the software to gain unfair and unearned wins, Bungie issued another patch to close the holes. Other proof of the “get it right” factor is evident in the gameplay. It’s “run and gun” style gets the adrenalin flowing without sacrificing the rush one gets when you watch your opponent get knocked clean off their feet through a sniper scope. The maps are beautifully rendered and offer very strategic layouts. Lag is nearly nonexistent. Weapon choices are well balanced and of course, the ability to duel-wield is just indescribably cool. What about maps, you say? How about 20 Multiplayer maps in all. In fact, (as long as you were patient) all of the additional maps that Bungie designed were offered at an amazingly low price of $0.00! Add in some wicked vehicles and, from the FPS standpoint, the game offers fans everything that they could possibly want. Other games offer some of these same features, but none that I have seen deliver the complete package. Now credit where credit is due, COD2 has maintained the position of 2nd place on this list since December of 2005. The question is, does it have what it takes to move into the number 1 spot? Doubtful. There are just too many obstacles in the way, not the least of which is “the patch”. Since it’s release, this game has been plagued by an intolerable lag issue. Programmers at Infinity Ward have been working to develop a patch to correct these problems, but as of this writing, they had still not issued it. Visit just about any Xbox 360 forum and you will find multiple posts from people that are just livid about it. IW might have been able to avoid a lot of the ill-feelings the gamers expressed by being more public about the problem and updating their customers more frequently on how the progress was coming along, but they didn’t. Even with the lag issues put aside, another “Live” Multiplayer weakness exists. It’s overall lack of options. Players are offered a chance to play a ranked or unranked match and then what type of game (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, etc.) and that’s it. No custom matches. No player invites. Nothing. IW reports that “the patch” will also offer up these sorts of options as well, but in the end, it may be too late. With titles like GRAW set to release and the excitement surrounding the upcoming title Gears of War, I believe it’s going to be all they can do to hold onto the number 2 spot. Patch or no patch. So again it comes down to what will it take? Well, market saturation is a must! A studio has to concentrate their efforts on getting their title into as many players hands as possible with heavy duty marketing, promotions, the whole ball of yarn. With the lack of games available, this is not the most impossible task right now. The only issue of concern would come down to the lack of Xbox 360 consoles in play right now. Until all the launches are complete and retailers receive the quantities to keep their shelves stocked, game producers need to preserve the “gotta have it” factor that ultimately decides the success or failure of a title. The way to do that of course, aside from designing a great experience right out of the gate, is expending the resources needed to support the game well into it’s future. Staying in touch with your customer base, timely repairs of glitches and keeping the title fresh by adding content and maps are all extremely important. Also, becoming an active entity in the Xbox Live community such as company sponsored tournaments, downloadable interviews and Marketplace content are all easy ways a studio can keep themselves ahead of the curve. So let’s summarize, shall we. Great gameplay, a continually growing catalog of maps, cutting edge graphics, innovative weapons and terrific customer support. Who in the business has proven that they can handle all of that? Can you say “Halo 3”?

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