We see it in developer's job listings and hear in their intentions that MMO's will be coming to the next generation of consoles. Whether we like the idea of hate it we seem to be in the verge of inevitibility. So with E3 already rolling I thought I'd take a look at the idea of the console MMO. I will not presume to bore you with console MMO history, or with which system would best handle an MMO. Instead let's take a look at the pros and cons of the multi-platform MMO the general obstacles that are in its way as well as the benefits for the genre as a whole.
There are obvious benefits for developers to take an MMO in to the console market. The most obvious would be the number of new comsumers that would be exposed to MMO's some for the first time. Just in the United States alone there are over 25 million PS3/Xbox 360 owners. Throw in the Wii and you double the number to over 50 million. As a developer hoping to make money you just can't ignore those numbers. If a developer ever hopes to achieve Blizzard like numbers they will most likely have to make a multi-platform MMO. Directly correlated with this is the benefit of expanded audience would probably come more games to the genre which is never a bad thing.
Another obvious benefit that comes jumping right out at you is that of innovation. How many times do we hear the screams of we need more innovation in the MMO genre. Including consoles as part of the MMO community would allow designers to rethink just how an MMO would be played. We have already seen proof of this with Champions Online's more action oriented gameplay as opposed to the usual point and click UI. It is of course no suprise that Champions Online also intends to launch on consoles as well. The Agency also proves this point by choosing a more FPS style MMO in which they are developing for the PS3 and PC. With consoles added to the mix we could see even more innovation in the areas of gameplay and genre choice with MMO's.
The last benefit that comes to mind rather quickly is that the consoles have pretty much caught up on the graphics end of things. I'm not trying to say they are equal to or better than a high end PC I'm just saying the differences at present really aren't really as apparent as they used to be at least when it comes to the 360 and the PS3. Both could run a modern day MMO on them maybe not up to max graphics standard, but at least in the medium graphics range.
Now with that in mind maybe you're asking why haven't we seen a next gen MMO launch on a next gen console? Good question. Age of Conan at one time planned a release on the Xbox 360, as well Marvel Universe Online never saw the light of day which was to launch on the same system. Also let's not forget that NC Soft signed with Sony to launch exclusive titles on the PS3. We hear all the time developers intending to launch on one console or another, yet none have surfaced as of yet. The obvious question is why? Which brings us to the challenges that developers face when making a multi-platform MMO.
I think the first big hurdle a developer comes up against when making a multi-platform game are the technical issues which are bound to follow. I'm not talking about the big issues either those everyone are thinking about. I'm talking about the nit picky issues like balancing control schemes between a 12 button controller and a keyboard and mouse so as to alleviate one system complaining another system has an advantage over the other in PvP or what have you. Or we could look at hardware issues and the fact that you'll be programing for at least two different systems with their own little quirks and then get them to play nice with each other on a server if you want them on the same server that is. I could go on, but I think you get the jist.
The next big hurdle is the console war itself in my opinion. If the console war has taught us anything it is that the console companies love their exclusives. So of course I am sure that the respective consoles would want exclusive rights to certain MMO's. This of course would be couter productive to the ab0ve mentioned numbers in the good category. So the delimma is if a third party can make a multi-platform MMO where all parties invloved could agree to coexist on the same server. I know FF XI was able to pull this off, but with the console war so heated would the companies allow it now?
Then maybe we could look at the various business models of the consoles. As they all have their own stores and thier own models of transaction. Would we see the typical westerns business model or perhaps would console mmo's usher in the RMT or F2P model into the west as the predominant model. Either will have a publisher having to navigate getting revenue from a third party or trying to find a way to circumvent it.
In the end we know they are coming. With the increasing popularity of multiplayer components in console games seems to point that the customer base could embrace the mmo genre. But who knows I suppose we'll all find out soon enough. I stayed pretty broad on this topic as I would love to hear what you all think about console mmo's and what pro's and con's you see with them. Feel free to share your thougts below.
Until Next Time,