It's been a big year for gaming with the launch of new consoles and plans for more in the future. But while you may be fretting over how exactly to spend your gaming dollars, consider this: Your most important gaming accessory may be your Internet connection.
Modern consoles are all about connectivity, after all, and the added features that come from gaming online are quickly making offline gaming feel anemic by comparison. A recent survey from Verizon, in fact, found that 20 percent of tech-lovers surveyed at the Engadget Expand conference said that a lag-free game experience is more important that a functioning heating and air-conditioning system. Fifty-three percent said they'd rather go through a root canal than deal with consistent lag during a video game -- or see a message from their streaming video service that their movie is buffering.
Respondents "maybe forgot how painful a root canal is," said longtime industry observer and commentator Chris Melissinos, who presented the Verizon results last month. "But it is frustrating when you've dedicated time to engage in something entertaining to not have it delivered."
Melissinos, who was tapped to curate the Smithsonian's Art of Video Games exhibition last year, is now bringing his game evangelism to Verizon as a director of business strategy and development. In that position, he's examined how important a strong Internet connection has become in our personal lives. Verizon found that even in the broader population, access to high-speed Internet ranks just below neighborhood safety in factors that people evaluate when moving to a new area. And, with Melissinos' background, the firm has also taken a deeper look at how high-speed Internet connections have changed video games.
There is, of course, still a long way to go when it comes to fulfilling all our streaming hopes and dreams, of course -- truly mobile, streaming game services still have to deal with connection issue, namely lag.
"If people can’t rely upon the connection from their platforms, the proposition starts to fall apart," Melissinos said.
But the rising importance of the Internet connection to gaming has the potential to manifest in a few key ways, he said. For one, it can allow gamers to hook more devices into their home setups, such as wireless versions of Oculus Rift-like virtual reality headsets, or gaming treadmill platforms such as the Virtuix Omni. That brings the promise of a fully immersive gaming experience -- a la The Lawnmower Man -- much closer to reality.
Then there are the shifts that Internet-connected gaming can bring to the industry at large. Melissinos remembers talking with game developers and executives over a decade ago about the promise of delivering games digitally rather than by disc and the way such a change could spark a boom in game development -- especially in terms of letting people game outside their living rooms.
"Fourteen years later, we're asking the same question," he said. "But consumers are more comfortable today than at any other point with services that live beyond their own personal network."
That changing attitude combined with advances in technology, he said, opens the floodgates for "bedroom developers" to distribute games of all stripes to an eager audience. He pointed to the success of games such as Minecraft, which have sprung up completely outside the traditional gaming system. In fact, Microsoft and Sony have ended up courting the game's developers to have it available on the consoles.
"It's the best time to be a creator," he said. "Minecraft became a channel in and of itself; this isn't the last we'll see of this. The dream of access to content any time, anywhere, is finally at the point where it's feasible."