Using any Internet search engine and typing in the search string “computer games,” one is likely to find several million hits. Some sites may simply allow visitors to download games to be installed on their personal computers.
Some of these games may be freeware, given away by developers, or they may be shareware, in which developers trust users to send voluntary donations to offset development costs. These games may be free demonstration versions of games that can purchased either online or in local retail stores.
Some of these sites also provide support resources for both game players and game developers. Some of these sites may provide visitors with opportunities to play games online without needing to install them on their own personal computers.
Many companies make Web-based user support resources available to registered owners of their products. Game companies are no exception. Online registration of products is an option commonly included during the installation of many computer games.
Game owners are often put on electronic company mailing lists and are promised notification regarding software bug fixes (patches) and new product releases. Software companies may also provide access to technical support to assist users with game installation problems or help them download software patches and missing or updated device drivers.
Some games may use the Internet to automatically download and install new versions of game components on the user’s machine. Many game companies may also provide online bulletin boards to allow users to share gameplaying tips with other players or contact technical support representatives for instant responses to questions.
Some multiplayer games make use of the Internet to provide communication between players during actual game play. Game manufacturers are finding that adding online communications components to their games is becoming important for success in the market place.
Many games are so popular that the users themselves set up Web sites to share reviews of new games and provide game cheats that show scripted solutions for beating complicated game puzzles. Simply typing the name of a popular game (e.g., Tomb Raider) into a search engine is likely to yield thousands of hits.
Most game developers insist that knowing their potential users is the key to the success of any game. Communication between geographically widely distributed developer and game users can be easily supported by the World Wide Web.
Online entertainment requires interactive participation by its users. Games must evolve, and developers need to filter user feedback into the design of their improved game. The process is very much like user-centered software design.
The production value realized by developers of online games and Internet development processes involves game design quality improvement, evolution of multiplayer game technologies, creation of communications mechanisms, and increasing media density or fidelity in the game.
Some companies underestimated expected customer support demands during the launch of a game and found that games sales exceeded the established customer support system. Companies can reduce or eliminate many support problems by having the foresight to create a Web site dedicated to late-breaking game news and user communication.
Beta testing is a type of testing where the preliminary release of a software product is made available to a subset of its intended users, who then make use of the product in their own personal computing environments. The beta testers ideally report problems and make suggestions to the software developers prior to product launch.
This early user feedback has proved to be an effective means of reducing the number of bugs found after product launch. The use of the Internet can facilitate the distribution of the beta versions of the software, as well as the collection of user reactions to it.
There are several Web sites dedicated to communication between game developers themselves (e.g., Gamasutra). These Web sites allow experts to share technical tips among themselves. Many times, developers will share with the Web audience the lessons learned while developing successful (or unsuccessful) products.
The commercial game development community is widely scattered and very volatile. Many companies make use of contract employees on a project-by-project basis. Some Web sites allow visitors to post employment ads and resumes to enable potential employers and employees to find one another as new game development projects are undertaken.
The World Wide Web can also provide sources for software development tools and training for developers. The training may take the form of short, free tutorials or full, semester-long, online courses. These courses may be offered by universities or by commercial companies (e.g., gameinstitute.com).
Java is a popular development language for networked games and is distributed free of charge over the Internet. There are companies (e.g., Mpath) that provide dedicated game service over the Internet. This service is usually provided on a pay-to-play basis to support multiplayer game play. Some companies may license the use of their online game engines or servers to other developers to improve their revenue stream.