So today I'm going to tie together some ideas that I've been kicking around in these blogs. Not all of them, but many. As a disclaimer, I won't be doing anything with immersion or realism. I will however be talking about player interaction, which is the main selling point of the MMORPG genre.
Those of you that have hung out on the forums here know that I prefer multiplayer offline games to anything online. I would much rather have a LAN party with a few other people than be online with 63 retarded dickheads. I realize that game developers feel differently and that's mainly due to the fact that all 64 dickheads, myself included, had to buy a copy of the game just to play online. LAN games can get away with [illegal] copies of the game due to the fact that they are very pointedly OFFLINE!! Yes, piracy is bad but so is playing big brother with your customers. Remember when Command & Conquer came with two CDs so that you could give one to your friend? Remember when Diablo would allow you to do a LAN install on a friends computer so that you could play the game together? Yeah, so do I...
Console games have also suffered this trend. Not only does every asshat playing a given Xbox Live game have to own the game, but they have to own the console and have an active subscription to Xbox live. When Socom came out for the PS2, I was totally pissed that there wasn't a four player, split-screen co-op mode. Two sequels later with a third in production and this feature still isn't even being considered for the series. There are some exceptions. Tribes: Aerial Assault for the PS2 had a split screen mode that let two players go online from the same machine and I'm pretty sure that Halo 3 lets four players onto Xbox live from the same machine.
It's really strange that living room multplayer has died out. Some of my fondest gaming memories are from split screen games of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. I actually talked the wife into playing Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance with me one night and we ended up playing through the whole damn thing. And BG: DA required both players to be on the same screen at all times. The GameCube version of Phantasy Star Online had an offline, four player split screen mode. It can be done, but it's more profitable to sell one game per player than allow people to interact with each other face to face.
So what does this have to do with MMORPGs? More than you might initially assume. MMORPGs mean that each player has to have a computer, the game, all the expansions of the game, and a subscription to the game. Yes, you can lug your monolithic electric abacus over to your friends house, hook everybody up to the same router and party live, but that's one huge pain in the ass. On top of that, everyone has their nose buried in their own monitor so the experience is roughly the same as playing with voice over IP. WiFi and portable solutions take some of the pain out of setting up, but the "gaming laptop" remains a mythical creature and portable consoles like the DS and PSP fall into the same traps of their online console cousins. Although to be fair, the DS has a large library of games that can be played by four players using only one cartridge.
With the inevitable migration of MMORPGs to consoles, there's the possibility of getting the best of both worlds. With all your character information stored on the game server, all you really need is a user name and password to play. Yes, you'll still need to pay the subscription fee, but now you can play in the same room as the rest of your party. Mix this with my entries about static parties and it all starts to fall into place.
You could technically do this with a PC, but it would require either KVM switches or the use of gamepads, neither of which are very likely when it comes to PC gamers. Yes, a PC gamer may spend assloads on a 54" wide screen monitor, but he / she wants all that visual real estate to him / herself. Nevermind the advantages of being able to know what your teammates are doing at a glance. Although, some FPS games are starting to employ online split screen just for that advantage.
I'm willing to bet that some of you are about to mention that you normally party with more than three other people. With consoles, this isn't as much of an issue since you just connect them with an ethernet cable and use two TVs side by side. Eight players, one room and full situational awareness. As a side note, if you need more than eight people for your everyday or static party PvE then you're probably playing the game poorly.
What about Raiding? Well... If you think about it, this actually simplifies raiding quit a bit. A 64 man raid turns into a 16 squad raid. You could go a step further and have eight live teams of eight players each. That's considerably easier to manage than trying to herd 64 cats toward your raid goal. Believe it or not, players that are in the same room together can coordinate their actions much more effectively than players over voice chat. I know because me and a few friends have dominated public CSS servers when we were LAN partied. Placing the monitors next to each other in such a way that we could all just look over and see where the other player was at helped considerably. BTW, this little bit of organizational advice works for PvP as well.
The money from MMORPGs has always come from the subscriptions. The box sales may provide an initial cash boost, but the long term money is in the number of subscribers. With an option to allow multiple players to access the game from one machine, everyone can get what they want. Developers can get their subscriptions and gamers can get a few evenings a week with their friends. Besides, we already know that most MMORPG fans won't play this way. The pain of actual human contact is almost too much to bear for most of them as it is.