For the relaunch of my blog I thought I would start off with the basic argument of whether or not to bring MMO's to the consoles. I know this has been talked to death and I myself have even posted on the subject before, but since I'm focusing in the area I find it only reasonable to start here. For many of us the idea of MMO's launching on the consoles fills us with dread of dumbed down games and immature communities, yet the developers don't seem to be listening. Why? Well let's talk about it the good and the bad and get it all out on the table.
Well I think the best place to start is the customer base. Let's be honest the two big reasons will be people and money. It's what motivates business. For the MMO developer the math is pretty simple. VG Chartz estimates around 64.1 million PS3 and Xbox 360's sold worldwide and that is a big number. Couple that with the ability of the consoles to run higher end games only sweetens the deal. Now I'm not saying that all 64.1 million owners don't play MMO's on the PC because simple reality says they do, but there is that population that prefers the console to the computer. Whether it be that the console is preferred from an economic standpoint as it is cheaper to buy a console now than it is to upgrade a rig with more RAM and a high end graphics card, or maybe they are like some of my friends who work on computers all day and would rather sit back on the recliner and pick up a controller rather than a keyboard or mouse. The simple reality is they exist and the MMO market cannot reach them, yet. When you add customers to the market you add demand which in turn could allow for more MMO's to be produced as well as games with larger player bases which could translate into a win win for the MMO fan.
Another factor that comes into play when discussing the good of bringing the MMO to the consoles is that 2 of the 3 current gen consoles have the potential to run a MMO that was built for the PC. A quick look at the system specs for the 360 and PS3 will quickly confirm that fact to the average PC gamer. Will the PC look better of course, but the simple truth is the consoles are catching up to the average PC in gaming capabilities. Sure console gamers don’t get all the bells and whistles that the PC gamer enjoys today, but the consoles are also much cheaper than your average gaming rig as well. Also the consoles come with built in voice chat so that they can seamlessly go text free when it come to chatting, and the PS3 and Xbox 360 have broadband and an online community who like playing online.
Lastly the good of MMO's going to consoles comes in the way of innovation. For developers to make an MMO that appeals to both the PC and console fan base they will have to figure out how to engage both audiences in their games. What I have learned from my experience with games is when there is a question usually an innovation follows. We've already seen it start. Look at Champions Online for instance. Although it is a PC only game the control systems in place seem to make it possible to play on either a standard keyboard and mouse configuration or a more controller driven control scheme. Not only do I think it we will see innovations in controls, but also in the type of MMO made. Look at APD or The Agency both of these games are being developed with both audiences in mind and offering a more action oriented 3rd person shooter experience as opposed to the standard run and macro MMO we've all become accustomed to. Innovations in the way we play MMO's as well as what type of MMO we play also increases the chance of wider audiences as well for both PC and consoles gamers.
The biggest con I think of when it comes to the console MMO is the limited life span of the consoles itself. Both Sony and Microsoft have confirmed that they are committed to a 10 year life cycle of their current platform giving the MMO developer about a good 6 to 7 years of life given they launch in 2010 before the launch of the new generation of consoles. So eventually a developer could be caught between a rock and a hard place either trying to recode for a new system or losing player base to a new system. This could hinder development on the PC side of things and that would definitely hurt both audiences. Another issue would be that when the next gen comes out you looking at supporting the old system, the new system, and the PC. That's going to have to cost a pretty penny to pull off.
The next problem is the billing system. If an MMO wants to launch on a console as well they will have to fork out a percentage of revenue to the console producer as well since all transactions take place through their respective marketplaces. This again could be an expensive proposition which could cut out some of the more independent MMO developers from launching on the console as well as make the cash shop the most viable option thus leaving us with the question of would the MMO be FTP or would it be a scenario that looks more like a buy the software and then use the cash shop.
Finally I the biggest con I see is best summed up as genre splitting. This thought came to me when I thought about MMO's that wouldn’t translate well to the consoles and EVE Online came to mind. Could we find that the MMO a console player would like to play and one a PC gamer would enjoy be so different that the genre splits and thus you have MMO's made specifically for either the console or PC which could lead to alienating the other player base, or even denying them an MMO made from one of their most beloved IP's. Could we see flame wars on forums with two populations that just don't get along in the end who knows?
Well I guess that about sums it up for me today. In the end all of these questions will be answered soon as some developer seem to think they have the magic formula of how to attract both player bases. The simple reality is the console MMO is on the way for better of for worse. My hope is for the better and a more populous and expanding genre.
That's My 2 Copper.
Until Next Time,