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BEN CHIU'S NEWS AND VIEWS

Can Internet-based flight simulations outsell boxed games?

Internet-based air combat simulations have typically enjoyed small, but fiercely loyal followings. Called "fanatics" by some--a marketer's dream audience, are just a tiny portion of the flight sim'ing public. The main bulk of the simulation population nonchalantly overlooks the online ecstasy that others virtually live and die for. But is fanaticism the key component that differentiates the online and retail world? Hardly.

Sticker shock
Considering the annual cost of flying online can be more than $120 (not including ISP and telephone charges), it's easy to see why the flight simulation industry is hot on signing up players. Do the math. You don't need as many customers to make the same money as retail boxed game.

If you're already addicted (and that really is the right term for it) to online gaming, I don't have to espouse the benefits of online multiplayer gaming and I don't think I need to justify the added costs either. But if you're still one of the many online virgins, don't forget that expense is relative. If entertainment value exceeds cost, then it can hardly be called "expensive." Nevertheless, higher cost (whether real or perceived) to the player isn't the only barrier.

The fear of flying (online)
Another great barrier to online acceptance is fear-not the fear of flying, or getting shot up into flaming bits of metal, but social pressures. Just as many people fear public speaking, the same sort of emotions tends to cause new online players undue stress. Of course this is only natural and EVERY online player experiences similar feelings to some extent at one time or another. Nevertheless, given the fact that more than half the computer users in world are on the net, it's really only a matter of time before the initial apprehensiveness of the online world are left behind. Of course this will become less and less of an issue as people become familiar with the net at increasingly younger ages.

The Net can't handle the bandwidth
The sky may not be falling, but bandwidth is always certainly an issue. Next to full-motion video adventure games, simulations are typically quite large. It's impractical to download simulation software from the net for most people today. But that's changing too. With services such as cable modems and ADSL spreading like wildfire, these are problems that the march of technology (going faster for less cash) is going to solve.

In the end...
I fully believe that Internet-based flight simulations will outsell boxed games--eventually. You only need to look around a bit and you'll see signs of it happening everywhere from bookstores to drugstores, and from computer stores to (most significantly) software stores. Case and point: Egghead Software. Once one of the most well respected and convenient (and incidentally one of my personal favorites) software stores ever gave up their extensive network of retail stores and are totally net based today.

The movement from retail establishments to online storefronts is something that isn't going to change anytime soon. So like it or not, the days of the retail store boxed game are most likely numbered. Is that a good thing? Well, who can tell, but it's all in the name of "progress." ...or is it profit?
1999 Ben Chiu


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