Multiplayer gaming has been around for over a decade. In the beginning, it was only available for computer games and even then you had to be extremely literate in order to connect and play with someone else. I remember playing Microsoft Flight Simulator with a friend. After calling each other and sharing IP addresses, when they had to hang up, and start up the modems. Several attempts later, we were flying together. Since there were no weapons, the game basically consisted of playing follow the leader in Cessnas.
First person shooters were the big multiplayer games that everyone wanted to play. However, they were basically limited to deathmatches where you just went around killing everyone else. For me, that was not very exciting. I longed for tactics and teamwork. The first game I played online that really included that was Battlefield 1942. There was no deathmatch in this game. You had to play on one team or the other and the only way to win was to work with your teammates. Plus you got to use vehicles so it was just awesome.
The next phase was coop gaming. Just like playing Contra or Ikari Warriors on the old NES, a campaign is more fun to play through when you are playing with a friend. Rainbow Six Vegas and Gears of War actually let you play the single player campaigns coop with a friend. For a lot of players, that really encouraged them to go online because some don’t really want to play against people they don’t know. Army of Two was designed from the beginning to be a coop game and is still pretty popular. Now massive multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft have become incredibly popular as they give players an alternate reality in which to live and interact with other players from around the world.
While earlier systems had multiplayer capability (the Dreamcast had a built in modem), connecting was still tough. Then Microsoft introduced Xbox Live when they released the Xbox. Though it cost a fee to play, and still had some bugs, by the time the Xbox 360 was released, Xbox Live was a must. Players who had never even tried multiplayer got to see just how fun playing with or against other players could be.
As for the future of multiplayer gaming, it is coming before the end of this year. Ubisoft is releasing Tom Clancy’s EndWar. The main game is focused on multiplayer battles of up to eight players on two teams. At the start, you join one of three factions (US, Russia, or European Union). You are then on that team. If you change teams, you lose all the upgrades and experience your units gained, so it is best to stay with one faction. What really sounds interesting is that the world is divided into territories. Each day there will be set battles you can play. Whichever faction has the most wins for that territory during the 24 hours, wins that territory. Then the battles for the next day are determined based on the previous days results. A game keeps going until one faction completes its objectives such as capturing an enemy capitol or something like that. The concept looks really innovative, so I will be looking forward to playing EndWar this fall.