AUSTIN, Texas - Only a few years ago, online games still lurked on the fringe of American culture.
One category catered to young males interested in wreaking havoc — at others’ expense.
And then there were the complex, virtual communities that more closely mirror the real world in their social interactions. Today, online ‘‘massively multiplayer’’ games like ‘‘EverQuest’’ and "Final Fantasy XI" have matured into mainstream attractions, drawing hundreds of thousands of customers — some female. But their growth appears almost stagnant compared with the popularity spike for multiplayer online shoot’em-ups and other mostly war-themed fare geared toward users of console systems, led by Sony’s PlayStation2 and Microsoft’s Xbox.
Already this year, two ‘‘persistent’’ fantasy world online computer games have been scrapped, one before it even made it to store shelves.
Broadband Internet access, meanwhile, has helped bring connectivity to consoles that wasn’t even an option two years ago. Now, 750,000 players use Xbox Live, each paying $50 a year to be able to play against people elsewhere and download updates.
Sony says it has sold 2.4 million of its $40 network adapters that enable Play-Station online gaming, through broadband or a dialup connection.
By 2008, 40.2 million gamers worldwide will be going online with video game consoles, says market research firm DFC Intelligence.
Nearly 50 games with some sort of online feature have been released for Play-Station2 in the past year, and twice that number are planned by year’s end. Microsoft expects about 100 games using Xbox Live in stores by May.
‘‘It sort of has become an expected feature,’’ said Seth Luisi, senior producer of the military shoot-’em-up ‘‘SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs’’ for PlayStation2. Of the 920,000 copies sold, about half are being played online, Luisi said.