In online gaming your console is hooked up to the Internet and you can play against other players around the world who are likewise set up with an online-enabled game console. Thus the gaming possibilities are almost endless as you can experience the fun of social gaming, even if you are marooned alone at in an tropical island with an PC and an internet connection.
The most essential equipment needed for online gaming is a computer with a modem or broadband (Ethernet) adapter. An ISP such as America Online, EarthLink, AT&T WorldNet etc. A broadband (DSL or cable) connection is considered a must for serious online gamers. Snug fitting digital microphone combos complete the social experience.
Next you need a game with an online component, such as Star Wars Galaxies, Counter-Strike, The Sims Online etc. Most computer games have some form of online functionality, such as the ability to download bug fixes or additional objects, maps, or levels but MMORPGs are played entirely online and do not have any sort of offline component.
Most online games are simply single-player games that can also be played online against a small number of people. "massively multiplayer" online games are a different ball game. These games take place in persistent virtual worlds populated by thousands of other virtual players. The game runs on a game company's private servers, and continues even after individual players log off. Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) such as EverQuest are very popular; they are a kind of virtual Dungeons & Dragons game complete with epic quests that take days or weeks to complete. MMORPGs usually charge a monthly subscription fee payable by credit card.
Another essential is to have an online gaming account. This allows you to access the service that makes online gaming possible, and creates a user profile for you, a user name, password, etc. This information will be stored on a memory card. In the case of Xbox, you will need only one such account to play all games.
Most online computer games are free and do not require an account but if you playing the perennial favorites EverQuest or Star Wars Galaxies, or some other popular MMORPG you will need to create an online gaming account for each game. This allows you to access the service that makes online gaming possible, and creates a user profile for you, a user name, password, etc. This information will be stored on your hard drive. Most MMORPGs require a credit card to activate the service. You'll be billed each month, but the first month is usually free. The fee pays for new game content and the cost of maintaining the game's servers.
Sony Playstations have a decentralized approach, so game developers and even private individuals can provide this service. You may have to open a separate account for each online game you play. PS2 online accounts will vary in cost some will be free, at least at first. The advantage of the Xbox model is convenience, while PS2's advantage is freedom of choice.
For the PS2 and the Nintendo GameCube, a game system memory card is needed to store your online gaming account information. The Xbox stores account information on its hard drive, but you will still find it handy to have a memory card in order to transfer your account from one Xbox to another.