BOOT CAMP 351 (09/11/04)


Online gaming


With Christmas just around the corner here’s an acronym that’s worth committing to memory. My guess is you’ll be seeing quite a lot of it in the near future. Knowing what it means should impress the younger members of your family and if you have kids you will probably be asked to spend money on it... 


MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game and it’s shaping up to become the next big thing in computer games, allowing thousands of players to simultaneously interact with one another in vast virtual worlds.


Of course online gaming is nothing new and players connected to computer networks and the Internet have been battling with one another since the early 1970s when the first computerised versions of Dungeons and Dragons appeared followed swiftly by the likes of Adventure, Zork and a multitude of space war games, which rapidly clogged university networks. Initially games were mostly text based requiring players to type in written commands but as computers evolved graphics replaced text, initially with simple shapes moving around the screen, leading eventually to the highly detailed animated displays we see today.


What makes MMORPGs different is the scale and complexity of the artificial worlds the players inhabit, fuelled by the power and storage capacity of modern PCs and the speed of broadband Internet. However there’s another dimension that parents and users are being slowly acclimatised to and that the cost element.


Virtual online worlds exist on large remote servers and most games require the user to buy a setup disc or download an access program and then pay a subscription to participate in the game. Over the past few years this has moved from pay-per-hour plans to monthly subscriptions, which has helped shift the market from a relatively small number of dedicated gamers to a much broader audience, content to pay upwards of $10 per month to play the game.


The sophistication of online games has developed at an astonishing rate and has moved far beyond the basic shoot-em-up and monster-fighting scenarios. Many online games are based around synthetic economies where the game world continues to exist, irrespective of the number of people using it. The overall goals are to acquire strength, wealth, property, goods, characters and resources by trade with other players, selling services or won in battle by defeating enemies.


Incredibly these synthetic economies spill over into the real world and virtual characters, skills and assets are regularly traded in games like Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online, often for quite considerable sums, on auction websites like ebay. Once money has changed hands the buyer and seller will then ‘meet’ inside the game at a specified location or a virtual bank to exchange the goods.


The online gaming community is now eagerly awaiting the official launch of one of the biggest MMORPGs to date, called World of Warcraft ( The game is currently being ‘beta’ tested by several thousand volunteer players in the US across Europe and in Korea and is due to go live early next year. Set inside the Warcraft ‘universe’ players take on the roles of characters to explore and engage in adventures and quests within a vast expansive world containing six capital cities, miles of deserts, tundras, forests and mountains, all in near photographic detail. It’s so large that it has its own transportation system with a network of underground railways, boats, airships and flying creatures and the developers promise to add new lands and quests providing players with a never ending supply of challenges.  


Players can choose to pursue solo adventures, join ‘guilds’ or form alliances and friendships with other players to battle with enemies and rival factions, communicating with one another through ‘chat’ windows. Status, strength and skills can be acquired through trade and the game’s built in ‘auction’ houses.


If the thought of battling malevolent hob-goblins and wandering through pixellated landscapes doesn’t tickle your fancy and you prefer a slightly more cerebral challenge then you can experience online gaming on a more modest scale via the free Internet games included with Windows XP (see also Tip of the Week).


There are five to choose from: Backgammon, Checkers, Spades, Hearts and Reversi. All you need is an Internet connection (dial-up or broadband), then go to Start > Programs > Games and make your selection. If you are not already online the game will make a connection and if you have a firewall you will be asked to for permission go online. You will be automatically assigned an opponent, according to your language and other criteria that you can specify (see each game’s Help section) and during the game ‘chat’ using a short list of preset queries and comments. For an even wider selection of free online games, including several with cash prizes, playable through your web browser or requiring a small download, go to


Next week – Christmas presents for your PC





A near final version of a program or application, made available to testers and volunteers on an at-their-own-risk basis, to help identify any remaining bugs or glitches



Box that appears in a game allowing players to exchange text messages



Powerful computer, connected to a network or the Internet storing large volumes of files that can be accessed by remote computers connected to the network




Not all multiplayer online games (MPOGs) require a subscription or joining fee and there are thousands of free games, of all genres and types, on the web. The problem is sorting the wheat from the chaff, avoiding the ones laced with advertising and pop-ups, not to mention the small minority that may infect your PC with ‘malware’ (adware, spyware etc.).  If you are going to play games online, away from the relative safety of the well known commercial titles and those included with Windows or available on the MSN web site then you should make doubly sure that your anti-virus software is kept up to date, you have an effective firewall and you scan your PC regularly for nasties using free cleaner utilities like AdAware ( and Spybot

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