|Battle of the Online Networks: Xbox Live, PS Network and WiiConnect 24Published by patto on Friday, September 29, 2006
And so it begins. With this new group of next generation hardware on the horizon comes some more advanced online features. Not just online-supported gameplay, mind you, but communities that have been specifically built to appeal to all gamers- hardcore and casual. The Xbox Live Arcade service, for instance, has evolved over the past year into a full-blown service, complete with downloads of demos and new games aplenty. But that doesn't mean that Sony and Nintendo don't have something up their sleeves...
So we thought we would take a look at each of the services that you'll be taking advantage of over the next gaming year, and the pros and cons of each. We hope you find this guide helpful, and if you want to add your own opinion and tell us what you think is looking the best for your online needs, head over to our forums and fire off some comments. For now, simply enjoy the fireworks of our online comparison...
The PlayStation Network
The PlayStation 2 was capable of having online play via several games offered for the system, but Sony was at a disadvantage by not prepping a dedicated network for said games. You could still hook up easily via online lobbies and such, but without Sony giving much presence to the proceedings, it almost felt independent instead of company-sponsored. Fortunately, the company's trying to make amends with their PlayStation 3 console, offering up a full-blown service complete with downloads and online-supported gameplay...even if all the details haven't been revealed on it yet.
Pros: For starters, the ability to really implement your personal style into the PS3 community. Sure, some may be turned off by certain kinds of gamers, but you have plenty of options available. You can put together video blogs with the help of the PS3 EyeToy and show the world what's on your mind, as well as customize videos and music. The service will also feature a vast supply of downloading opportunities, both through the PSP and with various "classic" downloads from the PlayStation 1 library. How this will work has not yet been broken down, however. The menu also looks easy to navigate through, and the basic level of service will be free. As for game support, well, it'd be killer to "frag" people in Resistance: Fall of Man. We're still waiting on confirmation.
Cons: The downloadable content through this service still looks kind of iffy. So far, only one game has been revealed for the service- flOW- and it's currently available for free. During the Tokyo Game Show, Sony proclaimed that several classic Mega Drive and Turbo Grafx games would be available through their service, although Sega indicated that such a deal for their Mega Drive library hasn't yet been reached. And we know that the "basic" service for the PlayStation 3 Network will be free, but what is that indicating about an "advanced" service? We need to get more details on that, as well as game pricing.
Overall prognosis: Sony has a long way to go before they can get a service that's on the same level as the Xbox Live Arcade. They have plenty of great promises in the making, especially with their PS1 titles, but with so few titles actually revealed (and in less than two months to the system's release, no less), it's looking kind of lowly right now. Only time will tell how this network shapes up.
Nintendo missed a HUGE window of opportunity when they released the Nintendo GameCube and didn't include any kind of online options. The company released a broadband adapter for the system, and a couple of games, mainly the Phantasy Star Online titles, took advantage of the peripheral. But Nintendo didn't really do anything in terms of a network, leaving the likes of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Super Smash Bros. Melee to be played off-line. Fortunately, the company's been making huge steps since that time, what with the Wi-Fi Connection network for the Nintendo DS, which is a big hit. The Nintendo Wii, arriving in mid-November, will take further advantage of this network with a variety of downloads and features.
Pros: The Virtual Console looks to be STACKED with content. Not only does Nintendo have a vast library of their own games to choose from (NES, Super NES, and Nintendo 64), but they also have the full support of Sega with their Genesis titles, and Hudson Soft with their Turbo-Grafx games. This could lead to hundreds of games eventually available for the service, with ten new titles hitting each month. Furthermore, the menu system looks great thus far, with numerous options through the online connection to check out, including news and weather. And the fact that the Opera browser that the system uses will initially be free upon the system's release is music to everyone's ears, I'm sure.
Cons: The online play of the WiiConnect service has not yet been addressed. We know that the initial launch line-up won't consist of online-supported features, particularly third-party games. We're figuring that Nintendo's waiting to lay out actual online play features with their 2007 releases, including a Pokemon game and the recently delayed Metroid Prime 3. Also, browsing through pages with the Wii-Mote looks easy at first, but scrolling up and down and trying to input messages looks difficult. And where's the "rental" option for these games? When the Virtual Console was first introduced, we had an option to either "buy" or "rent" the games. Now only the "buy" option is there.
Overall prognosis: It's good that Nintendo's finally foreseeing what online features are all about, and the WiiConnect 24 service looks to be loaded with content and goodies. Now if a few things can get addressed, such as online play against others and browsing capability, we could see a great service in the making- just like the Wi-Fi Connection.
Xbox Live Arcade
There's no doubt that Microsoft has made huge strides with their Xbox Live service. Initially introduced on the Xbox console for online play, the service has since evolved on the Xbox 360 as a full-blown community page. Downloadable demos are available around the clock, as well as new videos, features, and Xbox Live Arcade titles. In fact, today's release of Doom should awaken the hardcore gaming community, having players "frag" each other in several deathmatches. And this is just the beginning, as several titles, including original games such as Castle Crashers and classics like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, are making the rounds.
Pros: Microsoft has nailed down the online service of Xbox Live perfectly. It has grown well, allowing users to put together their own pages and download whatever they choose, be it videos, demos, or actual games. The online play works fast and smoothly, with only the occasional hitch with connection coming around. There's also some games that take this community one step further with extra interaction, like Project Gotham Racing 3's televised races. And the fact there are two types of packages to choose from- Silver and Gold- should attract all kinds of gamers, rich or poor.
Cons: This "artist of the month" feature doesn't really do much for the service. Yes, Jessica Simpson is hot. A blind man could see that. But I don't get on the XBLA to download her latest video, I get on there to play games. Some of this content is pretty much unnecessary. Also, the pricing structure of the Xbox Live point system may be a bit much for some. 1600 points for $20? This could be steep, especially for those who dropped half of those points on a decade-old game such as Doom. And lastly, Microsoft still charges a $50 yearly fee for Gold online support for Xbox Live. This is nothing new, but in the face of the "free" competition, it's a pain in the wallet.
Overall prognosis: Even though some of the features are a little bland and the price a bit high for some, Xbox Live Arcade still sets the standard for what online gaming should be. It has a vast library of titles to choose from right now, and several more coming that look to be outstanding. The online play is smooth and efficient, and future games (like Halo 3) should support it strongly.
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