Next-generation video game consoles have trailed personal computers when it comes to what they can offer players over the Internet but several upcoming releases seek to change that.

New console games have grabbed a lot of attention for their cutting edge, realistic graphics, which have enabled titles on Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360 and Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 to match or exceed the visual quality of some of the best PC games.

But it's a different story when it comes to playing over the Internet.

A robust online experience is a key selling point for the Xbox 360 and PS3, but PCs are still far ahead both in maximizing the online experience.

PC gamers routinely engage in multiplayer battles with 50 to 60 simultaneous players over the Internet, and some games have pushed that past the 100-player mark.

Console games, meanwhile, usually sport maximum online player counts of 8 to 16 players. The few exceptions often perform sluggishly.

New computers are still way more powerful than the new consoles, said Chance Glasco, one of the animators of Activision Inc's upcoming shooter Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Players of the console versions of Call of Duty 4 will be thrown in battles with up to 16 players online at once, but their PC counterparts will be able to wage war with more than 40 players.

The only limit to the amount of players on the PC is bandwidth, said Glasco.


Some say the decision to scale back the online console experience is less about hardware limits and more about simplifying the online component.

I can't really say it's a technical obstacle, said Sam Kennedy, editor-in-chief of video game Web site

I think (console) game-makers are simply catering their games to console players. PC players are a little more familiar with things like lag and ping times.

Later this month also sees the release of Warhawk, an online-only PS3 title that will support up to 32 players at once. The game will also allow PS3 owners to designate their machines as dedicated servers for hosting games, a common practice in the PC world that is rarely seen in consoles.

There are aspects of the online PC community that never trickled into online console games, so we asked why the heck not? said Dillon Jobe, game director of Warhawk.

Jobe said Warhawk is also similar to PC games in that the title will be available both on retail shelves and for download via Sony's PlayStation Network, for $20 cheaper.

Digital distribution has long been a reality on PCs, with top titles like Take-Two Interactive Inc's BioShock released this week over downloadable game services.

While digital distribution is becoming more common on consoles, particularly through Microsoft's Xbox Live service, it is usually limited to simpler offerings, such as arcade classics or short game samples.

Warhawk is only the first of several major console titles being released via distribution in the next year. SOCOM: Confrontation, the PS3 installment of the popular military shooter, is in the pipeline, and will also be exclusively for multiple players.

But gamers shouldn't expect their consoles to simply become living-room versions of popular PC games, said 1up's Kennedy.

I think the future of online games is more likely to see PC games begin to reflect what's on consoles, not vice versa, said Kennedy. Such as the integrated experience of Xbox Live, with friends lists, voice chat and features like that.