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Others regard these diversions as colossal - though inadvertent - social experiments. If so, they bode ill - they are all infested with virtual crime, counterfeiting, hoarding, xenophobia, racism, and all manner of perversions.
Subscriptions are not only mode of payment. Early multi-user dungeons (MUD) - another type of MMORPG - used to charge by hour. Some users were said to run bills of hundreds of dollars a month.
MMORPG's require massive upfront investments - so hitherto, they constitute a tiny fraction of booming video and PC gaming businesses. With combined annual revenues of c. $9 billion, these trades are 10 percent bigger than film industry - and half as lucrative as home video market. They are fast closing on music retail sales.
As games become graphically-lavish and more interactive, their popularity will increase. Offline and online single-player and multi-player video gaming may be converging. Both Sony and Microsoft intend to Internet-enable their game consoles later this year. The currently clandestine universe of geeks and eccentrics - online, multi-player, games - may yet become a mass phenomena.
Moreover, MMORPG can be greatly enhanced - and expensive downtime greatly reduced - with distributed computing - sharing of idle resources worldwide to perform calculations within ad hoc self-assembling computer networks. Such collaboration forms core of, arguably, new architecture of Internet known as "The Grid". Companies such as IBM and Butterfly are already developing requisite technologies.
According to an IBM-Butterfly press release:
"The Butterfly Grid T could enable online video game providers to support a massive number of players (a few millions) (simultaneously) within same game by allocating computing resources to most populated areas and most popular games."
The differences between video games and other forms of entertainment may be eroding. Hollywood films are actually a form of MMORPG's - simultaneously watched by thousands worldwide. Video games are interactive - while movies are passive but even this distinction may fall prey to Web films and interactive TV.
As real-life actors and pop idols are - ever so gradually - replaced by electronic avatars, video games will come to occupy driver seat in a host of hitherto disparate industries. Movies may first be released as video games - rather than conversely. Original music written for games will be published as "sound tracks".
Gamers will move seamlessly from their PDA to their PC, to their home cinema system, and back to their Interactive TV. Game consoles - already computational marvels - may finally succeed where PC's failed: to transform face of entertainment.
Jeff Harrow aptly concludes:
" ... History teaches me that games tend to drive mass adoption of technologies that then become commonplace and find their way into "business." Examples include color monitors, higher-resolution and hardware-accelerated graphics, sound cards, and more. And in case of these MMORPG games, I believe that they will eventually morph into effective virtual business venues for meetings, trade shows, and more. Don't ignore what's behind (and ahead for) these "games," just because they're games..."
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia. Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com