One of the first genres of computer games, way back when in the 1980s, was golf. I was a big fan of Mean 18 and Jack Nicklaus Golf Games and played them often. I was especially fond of the course designer features because I liked to make my own courses with risk/reward decisions on each hole. However, perhaps because of its genteel nature, the popularity of golf games has waned in the past few years.
Now, comes along a new idea in the golf genre in the form of Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online. This golf game is now in open beta, and you can try it out for free. The thing that makes Tiger Woods Online unique is that it is completely online and works from within your Web browser. No game box to buy or download, just a little streaming player that runs within a browser to deliver the game to your desktop.
This is really interesting technology and is really a harbinger of where electronic gaming is heading. Gaming is becoming more social and Web browser-based — the concepts of social media are manifesting themselves in electronic gaming. We have seen it with smaller, less graphically intense games like card games and puzzles for years, but now we are entering an era where more immersive games can be played in the social networking cloud.
Sports games like golf should take to this new technology like a duck to water. Playing golf with friends virtually and taking advantage of the social interaction tools available directly in the game is something many casual gamers will relish. Long gone are the outdated concepts of ill-formed social misfits playing in dark basements at the expense of "real" lives. Games are social now. Gaming is what we do with our leisure time. (Although, mainstream media has not really caught on to the idea yet, of course.)
Before you think I am gushing about Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online way too much for my own good, let me give you a quick review. The game is way too difficult for the average casual gamer. Putting is particularly bad and poorly designed. The frustration level is way too high and some major changes need to be made to make this online game friendly to a more general audience.
The only way this game is a success and, by extension, becomes an example of good social gaming, is if some major changes are made to simplify the mechanics. You can't have it both ways — either the game is social and everyone enjoys playing, or it is a hardcore game reserved for a few diehards who really don't care about the social aspects anyway.
I also wonder if fallout from Tiger Woods' recent revelation that he has been unfaithful to his wife will impact the acceptance of this game. Electronic Arts seems to be taking a rather low-key approach to the open beta, apparently thinking a soft launch is better than a big splash. I think it is a sound approach for now, as they need to work out some obvious kinks in the game play.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online is the latest example of where electronic gaming is heading. The social aspect of gaming, whether it is a sports game like Tiger Woods or a fantasy MMORPG like World of Warcraft, is where the action is.
Long-time gamers like me have been playing games online for years because that is where our friends are; now the rest of you, through a potentially more accessible game like Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, are starting to realize what you have been missing.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.