As the misfiring launch of Healthcare.gov handily teaches, if you build it, make sure it can fit everyone who comes.
It was a lesson that Valve Corporation knew all along. That's why when Valve first rolled out post-beta Dota 2 this year, a sign-up and wait before your account was activated acted as a gatekeeper to the role-playing-meets-real-time-strategy game, while the developers put together server infrastructure to support the game’s growing legions of fans.
Well, Valve says the infrastructure is ready and announced on the Dota 2 blog yesterday that sign-ups will no longer be required. If you want to start playing Dota 2, nothing is standing in your way but a few clicks—it was already free, but now even the barrier of the long wait in the server queue is gone.
In the war for the future of gaming, Dota 2’s ever more open and ever lower barrier of entry is in sharp contrast with the $400 Playstation 4 and $500 Xbox One. Is Dota 2, and games like it that are armed with the best that PC gaming has to offer (free entry, regularly released mods, etc), a threat to the world of console gaming?
“There is a lot of noise around the gaming industry in general and a lot of question about whether this console cycle will have the same juice as the previous console cycle," Karl Slatoff told a BMO Capital Markets conference last week. Slatoff is president of Take-Two, which publishes the Grand Theft Auto and Bioshock series.
"And there are a lot of doubters about whether or not the console market in general is dead," Slatoff added. "And I think the successful launches for the PS4 and the Xbox One have proven that obviously console gaming is alive and well."
The consoles have been neck-and-neck in sales, selling more than 2 million units each as of last week. But Slatoff, optimist though he may be, acknowledged that it is the holiday season, when new releases sell-out even if they aren’t destined to be long-term hits. An editorial by Justin Hayward at Gamespot argued that even though sales are banging, “sifting through all the noise, these numbers don’t really mean anything. Not yet anyway.”
Four million total next-generation consoles is nothing to scoff at, especially with how expensive they are.It dwarfs what Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii did upon release, but on the other hand, Dota 2 already has 6.5 million unique players a month and peaks around 600,000 concurrent players daily
Of course, any good math or chemistry student will recognize that I’m mixing units pretty carelessly here—comparing console sales to unique players of a single game? C'mon.
The more apt comparison is probably something like the already-established Xbox Live, which has 46 million paid subscribers, compared to Steam, Valve’s multiplayer platform that Dota 2 is accessed through, which Rich McCormick at the Verge reports has more than 65 million active accounts. He also reports that Sony’s Playstation Network has 110 million subscribers.
Gamers are notoriously territorial—and PC gamers have a discomfiting habit of calling themselves the “glorious master race”—so maybe all of these comparisons are just fuel for an on-going family feud. If anything, all they really drive home is how the market for games is still an unknown, but it’s safe to say it’s still expanding. The only thing that limits people from playing on both a console and via Steam is the number of hours in a day and the initial buy in. Even comparing the initial buy-in cost is getting more complicated: Is it fair to compare the cost of a PC to a game console—even noting that PS4 and Xbox One are capable of more than just gaming?
With all due respect to Atari, console gaming has been a part of American living rooms at least since 1985, and is enjoying yet another (at least initially) successful generation of consoles. Dota 2, which began as a mod to World of Warcraft an entire decade ago, is poised to grow not only from dropping sign-ups but from its rising status as a high-paying esport. It's hard to see how either one of these ways of playing cancels the other out. Whatever the future of gaming—console, PC, and mobile—2013 was a boom year and that future is bright.