Online gaming service GameRanger recently celebrated ten years of existence, so I got in touch with founder Scott Kevill, who's based in Australia, to get his thoughts on the past decade and see what the future has in store. "It feels like just the other day that I was even deciding on the name," Mr. Kevill says. "If I had known then that I'd be still going 10 years later, I might not have started, but I'm very pleased with how things turned out."
In the press release he sent out to commemorate the event, he noted that in 1999, 70 percent of users played games over dial-up modems connected to computers equipped with 128MB of RAM and 8GB of hard drive space. Age of Empires II was, and continues to be, the most consistently-played game. In addition, he produced a list of similar services that have either long since bitten the proverbial digital dust – such as Sierra On-Line's The ImagiNation Network, which ceased operation in 1998 – or that have yet to produce the same track record for longevity, such as Microsoft's Xbox Live.
Mr. Kevill attributes GameRanger's long-term success to his stubbornness, noting: "Most of the other services died due to bad business models, poor technology, and failure to improve or re-invent themselves."
On that last note, GameRanger began as a Mac-only service but opened its doors to PC gamers last year, a move that Mr. Kevill says "just made sense." With Apple's move to Intel Macs, he discovered many Mac gamers were using Boot Camp to play games in Windows, only to realize "how bad the situation was 'on the other side' and how good they'd had it on the Mac with GameRanger," he notes. And with "a lot of requests from PC gamers that had used GameRanger at friends' houses," he realized he had a large untapped customer base looking for what he had to offer.
Unfortunately, computer gaming has stagnated, thanks to "mass console migration," he says. All of the current-generation videogame consoles and handhelds can go online, and Mr. Kevill sees "a growing trend of publishers delaying or cancelling PC versions of their games to prevent piracy harming the console sales, which means even less choices for Mac games. Strategy games, especially real-time strategy, are still going strong, however, and that's where most of the initial focus has been with PC games in GameRanger."
He has no plans to abandon Mac and PC gaming, however, and he plans to continue working with developers and publishers to add more titles to the 500-plus currently supported through the service. He adds: "Games are beginning to focus more on persistence with online gaming as a way of providing more value to gamers, and greater re-playability. This means your multiplayer experience won't reset each time you play; [it will be] somewhere between a traditional multiplayer game and a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game."
To support those endeavors, Mr. Kevill said that "GameRanger will be providing robust, scalable services to game developers and publishers to power the back-end systems required for these games."
Watching iPhone From the Sidelines
He has no current plans to venture onto other platforms, such as the iPhone. Mr. Kevill observed: "At this stage, I don't see much use for GameRanger support on the iPhone other than as a way of staying in contact with the existing community of Mac and PC friends. Even so, there have been quite a few requests for exactly that. The iPhone hasn't been a particularly strong multiplayer platform so far, and network performance - for latency, in particular - is terrible unless you're using Wi-Fi."
Asked his thoughts on the iPhone as a gaming platform, Mr. Kevill responded: "I'm watching from the sidelines on this one. I think it remains to be seen whether the iPhone is viable as a gaming platform now that the gold rush is over. Despite so many apps being available, very few break even, let alone return a profit. The 'race to the bottom' downward spiral of pricing does not do much to encourage quality."
In the meantime, if you've never checked out GameRanger, which is free, Mr. Kevill encourages you to do so: "The unpredictable nature of human players makes it a lot more fun than playing the computer. Age of Empires III is an excellent game to start, and there's a friendly community on GameRanger just waiting for you to jump in and join them."