Electronic Games

Computer and Video Games

Electronic gameplay through a computer network, notably the Internet, is known as online gaming.

With millions of gamers battling, purchasing, creating, and selling in various online contexts, electronic gaming worlds have earned billions of dollars. Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was one of the most popular. From 2007 to 2010, the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) attracted millions of users, bringing in an estimated $1 billion in retail sales and subscription fees every year. MMOGs are distinct from regular computer games in several respects. First and foremost, all MMOGs require Internet access, as the games can only be played after logging into the server that hosts the game world (popular MMOGs need dozens of such servers to accommodate their larger player bases). Second, the social networking component of communicating with thousands of people worldwide usually takes precedence over the game’s substance. According to 2006 research, about one-third of female players and nearly 10% of male players had dated someone they met in a game. Third, most MMOGs are subscription-based, with a monthly cost in addition to the original game software purchase price. Some businesses give regular downloaded “patches” of new game material to make these monthly payments more bearable for players. In contrast, others offer their games free to gamers who are prepared to put up with a barrage of in-game commercials.

The emergence of virtual economies

The emergence of secondary economies outside the gaming world is another challenge that game producers have dealt with. The makers of Ultima Online were the first to see this phenomenon at work when a castle in their virtual world sold for thousands of dollars on eBay. By 2006, the market had grown to more than $1 billion. Players spend hours in-game accumulating riches, seeking rare weaponry, and acquiring power and reputation for their characters to sell the rewards of their labors for real money. The buyer and seller agree on a purchase price, the funds are transmitted electronically, and the transaction is completed in the game world. Hundreds of “gold farmers,” who play games in the hopes of hoarding resources that may be sold to gamers in South Korea or the United States, have been employed by certain Chinese corporations. Most MMOG providers attempted to curb this behavior by deleting suspected gold farmers’ accounts (for example, Activision Blizzard has canceled tens of thousands of such statements since World of Warcraft debuted online). At the same time, eBay began enforcing a restriction on selling virtual goods in 2007. When Sony developed Station Exchange, a program meant to make buying and selling virtual items in its EverQuest games easier, it tapped into the secondary market. On the other hand, Linden Lab was the first business to create a game based on a virtual economy. Second Life was the name of the game.

Gaming in a social setting

Developers attempted to capitalize on the potential given by Web sites such as Facebook and Myspace as social media exploded in popularity in the early twenty-first century. They created a Web-based gaming experience akin to earlier home consoles using animation applications like Flash. These games were popular because of their simple gameplay and cartoon-like visuals, and many of them offered incentives for players to attract new players to the game. The most popular “Facebook games,” such as Zynga’s Mafia Wars (2008) and Farmville (2009), and EA’s The Sims Social (2011), made the most money by rewarding players for engaging with advertising partners and selling in-game cash.