With online site allowing consumers to bond and connect over games it’s not a surprise that addiction and obsession seem to be the order of the day. Bhargav Kosuri delves into this virtual world to understand how it works…

In the early 19th century, the English essayist and critic Charles Lamb quoted, “Man is a gaming animal. He must always be trying to get the better in something or other.” A couple of centuries later, this propensity of man has established an industry that rakes in about a 100 billion dollars every year.

Gaming is no longer the solitary activity that it once was as this generation of gamers prefers competing against another human mind, rather than a CPU. Online gaming, in particular, is becoming the stage that gamers are taking to as a survey by the NPD Group in 2010 reported that the average weekly online gaming time was eight hours with a projected increase of 10 per cent every year. It has also been approximated that female gamers account for 45 per cent of the gaming fraternity while another research finding by the statistical blog site thesocialskinny.com in 2012, wiped clean all preconceived notions about gaming by stating that 58 per cent of the global social gamers is above the age of 40.

Innovative revenue model

With interminable story lines and an estimated one billion gamers worldwide, online gaming provides a potential monetary gold mine for game developers, game sites and social networking sites. Console gamers have a massive online community of their own which can be accessed through PSN or XBox Live which costs Rs. 3099 for an annual gold subscription. Likewise, Steam is a multiplayer online platform for PC which also distributes games developed by smaller independent developers to larger software houses, besides acting as an online market to download games. Advertisements appearing as web banners, pop ups or floating ads on the websites contribute largely to the profits made by the social games.

Online advertising functions on the concept of CPM (Cost per Mille) which enables the host to charge a calculated price for every thousand views of the page while displaying the advertisement. Free to play game sites such as Miniclip and Zapak depend hugely on this revenue model for their income. Facebook too has decided to bite its share of the apple by permitting social games such as ‘Candy Crush Saga’ and ‘Bubble Burst’ to be launched on its platform as it receives 30 per cent of the revenue generated by such games.

Bigtime developers that publish games on Facebook have developed a business model called ‘Freemium’ which offers the gamer a free entry into a game but later demands the gamer to pay in periods to ensure continued association along with virtual goods and advanced components. Zynga, the social games provider that developed ‘Farmville 2’ sells virtual coins and items from the game for even $100. Also, certain games employ a ‘Pay to Play’ model that requires gamers to buy an entry into the game which is quite similar to buying a game CD. Comprehensively, it has been forecast that social gaming alone will bring in over $ 6 billion by the end of this year.

Virtual economy: A reality

The progress in internet technology through the advancement of high-speed broadband access has resulted in a mania called ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Games’. Usually, these are role playing games set in a virtual world designed to accommodate a million gamers simultaneously. Players can interact within the game through a chat feature but it is not unusual to encounter misogyny, hate speech, verbal abuse and cyber bullying. Nonetheless, the offenders can be banned from the game if detected by moderators or 'bots' that can automatically recognise anti-social behaviour.

Games like ‘World of Warcraft’ encourage players to accumulate virtual currency, treasures, powers and weaponry which are used to upgrade to new skill levels but the line between the virtual and real is becoming increasingly blurred as overwhelmed gamers are willing to pay real money to fellow gamers to acquire virtual currency, weapons and powers that aids them in rapidly advancing in the game.

Consequent, individuals have begun accumulating large volumes of virtual wealth to sell other individuals for a well negotiated and substantial financial profit in real money. This phenomenon is known as gold farming and has put together an entire virtual economy.

The uncontrollable urge to level-up; a burning need to find the 'boss' or an overriding concern to hoard the wealth around has hooked players into marathon-long sessions. Gambling addicts have been successfully losing their money for centuries, and the same applies here. There is no 'Game Over' in the online virtual world but there is a compulsive drive and a faint hope of falling upon occasional rewards. For those who are unable to limit their gaming time to healthy doses, it is mandatory that they break for 30 minutes to an hour during the course of their session as continuous gaming may result in disruption in sleep, skipping of meals and playing at work, besides developing psychological disorders in the case of pathological addiction.

The online gaming industry internationally is moving from a subscription or retail model to free-to-play and by the end of this generations console race I think the industry is going to totally abandon subscription models. This might bring people from developing nations with a low income economy into this.

Aakash Parameswaran, III Year, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Game Design), Backstage Pass School Of Gaming, Hyderabad

I have been playing the MMOG ‘Maple Story’ for three years now and collected three billion ‘mesos’ which is the currency of the game. Another player from abroad offered me $50 for my entire mesos and sent the money through ‘Western Union’ even before I transferred the mesos to him.

Michel Rahul, Std XII, SBOA School and Junior College

The Indian Gamer

Potentially, India is a lucrative market for online gaming but at the same instance, it is a relatively young destination compared to its western counterparts. There are 137 million internet users in the country but according to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) only 15.13 million have access to speeds of above 256 kbps, which is necessary to facilitate online play.

The real predicament for those in the online gaming business is that most India gamers are reluctant to shell out around Rs.1000 every month on subscriptions since a majority of Indians are casual gamers who are more inclined to download apps like ‘Angry Birds’ and ‘Subway Surfer’ or visit a free-to-play game site. Furthermore, an average American earns around $50000 a year, whereas an average Indian earns around $1200.

Obsession, compulsion and addiction

Game developers have discovered certain engagement strategies that go a long way in keeping its gamers obsessed for immeasurable intervals of time.

Continuous goals: The games assign specific goals for gamers to achieve. As they advance in the game, the goals become more challenging and time consuming.

Gaming capitals: Players are encouraged to earn different badges, trophies, and accolades that indicate their progress and accomplishments. Some achievements are unlocked just by advancing in the game.

Events timed to real world: Popular games even require gamers to wait a certain time period before their 'energy bars' replenish.

Multiplayer Online Games

League of Legends

DOTA 2

World of Warcraft

Guild Wars 2

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Top Games on Facebook

Candy Crush Saga

Farmville 2

Texas HoldEm Poker

Dragon City

Diamond Dash

Top Online Games on Consoles

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

FIFA 13

Battlefield 3

Borderlands 2

Halo 4

Top Games on Free Game Sites

8 Ball Pool Multiplayer

Motocross Nitro

River Assault

Free Running 2

Soccer Stars

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