The FPS Gaming Community in Australia: Excerpted from the book Virtual Nation, The Internet in Australia by Gerard Goggin

The FPS Gaming Community in Australia: Excerpted from the book Virtual Nation, The Internet in Australia by Gerard Goggin

The online FPS community is in many ways international; however, gaming cultures have developed slightly differently in different countries. While it can be seen that Australians have contributed significantly to the development of FPS games, mods and associated software, this country’s physical isolation and comparatively poor access to Internet connectivity have influenced gaming and community practices.

Online FPS gameplay requires high-speed, low-latency Internet connections. Latency, or ‘lag’, is an unavoidable condition of Internet gameplay, as data takes time to travel from a player’s machine to the game server and back. On a high-speed connection such as cable or ADSL, the round trip (‘ping’) takes around 20 to 50 milliseconds; on a dial-up connection this can be anything from 150 to 500 milliseconds. While half a second’s delay may be tolerable when loading a webpage, it makes playing a game that involves shooting projectiles at moving targets impossible. Playable ping times are 250 milliseconds or less, although obviously less is better.

Multiplayer FPS gaming also generates a relatively high rate of data transfer, because of the large amounts of information being sent between the player and the game server. Whereas chatting on IRC might use 0.5 MB per hour, and general web-browsing 5 to 10 MB per hour, current FPS games us 15 to 40 MB per hour, which is on average equivalent to the amount used by streaming media at 64 kbps (30 MB per hour).

Internet connectivity in Australia is less established than in many other Western countries, and access to high-speed broadband connections has been limited. Broadband and even reliable dial-up connections are hard to find in rural areas, where 56 kbps is still considered a luxury. Countries such as the US and Canada have had access to unlimited volume cable connections at the same price as Australian dial-up for nearly a decade.

Finding suitable net connections has been a major challenge for gamers in Australia. Gamers have not been popular with Australian ISPs, because while they are committed Internet users, they tend to use it a lot. Even in the days of dial-up connections, before high-speed user volumes became an issue, gamers had difficulty finding and keeping accounts with ISPs because of the time they spent online. In the late 1990s many Australian ISPs, including Telstra and OzEmail, introduced unlimited time dial-up accounts, only to cancel or modify their plans several months later because they had proved a little too popular. It seemed to come as a bit of a shock to ISPs that those on unlimited accounts might want to be connected to the Internet all the time. Even as late as 1999, Telstra’s premium dial-up account, the ‘Professional Plan’, cost $80 for 50 hours per month and $3 per additional hour.

Even the introduction of high-speed cable connections was not much help for gamers. Cable was slow to move beyond major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, and is still unavailable in many places outside major urban centres. While time was not so much of an issue, since cable was marketed as a permanent connection, customers were subject to severe volume usage restrictions. Despite the fact that both Telstra and Optus marketed plans as ‘unlimited’, Telstra managed customer usage via a notoriously nebulous ‘acceptable use’ policy, and Optus used a system called NetStats in which limits were calculated on the average of all users’ usage. Eventually, in 2001, Telstra introduced a 3 GB per month volume limit for its ‘unlimited’ plan, as did Optus in 2002. It is worth pointing out that it is possible to download more than 3 GB per month on a dial-up connection using an old 14.4 kbps modem (which was state of the art in 1992).

Until 1999, meetings of up to 150 players were held monthly at the Yeronga High School.  In 1998 the Queensland Gamers League (QGL) was created for Quake and Quake II competitions held at the meeting, and the meeting’s name was changed to QGL. By the end of 2000 the QGL LANs had again outgrown their venue, and the move was made to Brisbane’s ANZ sports stadium, where meetings of 300 to 350 players were held every six weeks until 2003.

During this same period, similar regular large LAN events evolved in other Australian capital cities, such as Shafted in Melbourne, MPU in Sydney, and WonderLAN in Adelaide. These events were also used as state and national qualifying competitions for international tournaments such as the CPL (Cyber Athletes Professional League) and World Cyber Games. Following a CPL qualifier meeting in Melbourne in 2000, the organisers of QGL, Shafted, MPU and WonderLAN decided to pool resources and form a national body to be used for national leagues and LAN organisation. They chose the name AusGamers, after the #ausgamers IRC channel on the EnterTheGame network.

In November 2000 the website was created, and the other LAN organisations’ sites relocated to QGL’s Brisbane hosting site. They were later joined by the LAN groups ACTGN (ACT Gaming Network) in Canberra and BFG in Tasmania. Hosting sponsorship was provided initially by Webcentral until the site outgrew that host and found hosting sponsorship with Internet service provider Comindico. After the amalgamation, it was arranged for all the state LAN meetings to be held on the same day to allow interstate competitions via broadband connections, provided by sponsorship from Telstra, although this practice did not continue.

In the subsequent three years, AusGamers has grown into comprehensive gaming portal, featuring several key divisions: AusGamers News – providing frequent postings of gaming and related news; AusGamers files – the largest locally hosted and maintained collection of gaming files in Australia (a valuable resource providing Australian gamers access to files without the inconvenience of slow download speeds from overseas sites); AusEvents – Australia’s largest listing of LAN events both large and small (over 1000 events have been held on the system, from 200 different event organisers); and AusForums, which has allowed users to create hundreds of discussion groups for gaming and community issues, including clans, LANs, non-gaming topics and personal forums. The AusGamers network also provides free hosting for over 2000 websites created by community members, including fan game sites, news sites, clan and LAN sites, and non-gaming topics. AusGamers currently has over 65000 registered members.

Note from Gerard Goggin: I would like to thank the following members of the FPS gaming community for the information they contributed: Saint, WetWired, NatS, Dokta8, Xen, Snakeman, Bob, Cableguy, Yossman and Wino.

Inventing the Australian Internet, by Gerard Goggin

On the 14th of September, 1989, a group of people gathered to celebrate and create a new concept, and use a new technology. It was the 10th anniversary of the blockade of Terania Creek, the rainforest wilderness area near The Channon, 25 minutes north of Lismore in northern NSW. They climbed the path to Protestors Falls, then repaired to the car park. What brought them there was not only the commemoration of a great moment in the history of ecology struggles, but the launch of one of Australia’s first commercial Internet services, Pegasus Networks Communications Pty Ltd. These Internet pioneers officially launched Pegasus with the assistance of a laptop and mobile phone – a novel process that would even cause Telecom technical indigestion.

The Internet was already two decades old when Pegasus was formed: the American ARPANET had been launched in September 1969. But 1989 was an auspicious year for Australian Internet in other ways. As Roger Clarke points out in his A Brief History of the Internet in Australia, a permanent Australian connection to the U.S. APRANET was established in the early 1980s by academics at the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne. The Australian Academic & Research Network (AARNet) went online on 23 June 1989, connecting to the APRANET at the University of Hawaii.

By 1993, Pegasus Communications had become the third-largest Internet service provider in Australia. The company was responsible for introducing many individual users, organisations and institutions to the Internet, including: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC); parliamentarians; environmental, women’s, peace, health, landcare, and human rights groups; other social movement and non-governmental organisations; small businesses, and households. Among Pegasus users and staff in its early years there was a real sense of excitement, a feeling that ‘everyone who is anyone is on Pegasus’. Not just another business, or even an early Internet company, Pegasus created an audience, connecting people in a distinctive and rich online set of communities. Pegasus brought a public into existence.

Pegasus remained one of Australia’s three largest Internet service providers until 1995, when larger corporations, such as Telstra, BigPond and Ozemail finally began to appreciate the importance and financial possibilities of the Internet and competed forcefully in the marketplace. Some in Pegasus thought the company had a good chance of continuing its development and moving from a focus on Internet connectivity – which by 1995 was well on the way to being achieved – to developing new services that NGOs, individual users and small businesses needed. What was required, however, was an injection of new capital, and there were interested parties in the ethical investor sector. As this funding did not materialise, however, Pegasus finally sold out to Microplex in 1996, which in turn was swallowed up by OptusNet in 1998.

Pegasus ‘taught’ many Australians about the Internet. As it was very much about using networking technology to link together local, national, and global contexts, Pegasus represents an attempt to create an Internet culture that informed but also resisted some of the developments in the ‘net during the 1990s. The company did embrace commerce – before the actual ban on commerce on the Internet was lifted – yet Pegasus’ philosophy of commerce was very much about ethos: namely, the complementary perspectives of ethical investment, and social and environmental sustainability. In doing so, Pegasus made an important contribution to Australian Internet culture.

Protesters Falls walking track

Nestled in the rugged ranges of Nightcap National Park, World Heritage-listed Protestors Falls walking track leads through magnificent rainforest to a spectacular waterfall. An ideal short walk for families and nature-lovers, it’s a great stop on a driving tour of the beautiful NSW North Coast hinterland, near Lismore.

Named after the Terania Creek protests of the late 1970s that saved this precious patch of pristine rainforest, it’s an important habitat for a range of endangered frogs, including the threatened Fleay’s barred frog and pouched frog.

As you walk along this easy track, you’ll notice how subtropical bangalow palms and native tamarind give way to towering rainforest giants of yellow carabeen and strangler figs. Listen out for the call of the rose-crowned fruit dove and the barred cuckoo-shrike. You might even see a pademelon darting through the bush. If you’ve worked up an appetite, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Terania Creek picnic area.

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