Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
As online games become more commonplace and popular, we are seeing their growing influence in all sorts of unexpected and interesting places. We have already seen WoW on South Park and an animated Everquest Adventure cartoon (*shudder*), so frankly I'm sure that we can expect a lot more exposure for the genre in the years to come. This week I'm going to focus on another way that MMOs are pushing their way out of their perceived niche. With several MMO titles now being announced for the 'next-gen' consoles, I figured it was time to weigh in on the matter with a typically obtuse offering.
Console systems have generally shied away from any titles that exposed their weakness over their PC counterparts and concentrated on games that were much easier to play with a controller. While every so often a deep and interactive title, like Morrowind, would find its way to the controller geeks, games that required a massive amount of options have been the domain of the PC platform since their inception. Anyone that remembers the tedious button combinations required to give orders to your wing men in either of the Super Nintendo's 'Wing Commander' games will know exactly what I'm talking about. Of course, all this is starting to change slowly as the newest crop of titles are finding it useful to bundle multi-player and internet features to keep up with the online revolution.
Several MMOs currently in development have jumped on the console bandwagon, which isn't all that surprising considering the major companies behind them have strong interest in the console market. EA, Microsoft and Sony all have invested a considerable sum into the console market so it only make sense that we would see cross market efforts from the big boys. Games like Age of Conan, APB, Huxley, The Agency and the upcoming Marvel MMO are all slated to appear on the X-Box or PS3. While anything can happen between now and release, it's a safe bet at least a handful of MMOs will be forging a beachhead in the industry by next year.
Anyone who wants to port an MMO to a console faces some very serious logistic hurdles before it will be worth playing. For one thing, social activities are a major part of any online game and even with a well-designed voice chat it still limits a player's options without the purchase of computer-standard peripherals like keyboards. In other areas, controller bound PvP players will be at a disadvantage in games without a large number of hot keys that we are typically used to having for any MMO. Trying to chain cast a group of buffs by scrolling across the various spell icons would be a lesson in futility unless there were major provisions made to assist the player using only a noob-stick. Having used a game pad for several online games, I know how tricky it can be to get it perfect for each game, even if you can bind the buttons to a macro of keys.
My main fear is that developers will try to cater specifically to console gamers by applying even more simplistic mechanics to ease the console gang into their product. Since I've already illustrated the important differences that need to be taken into consideration with designing an MMO for a video game system, it's obvious you can't just crank out an MMO and slap a PS3 logo on it. If a developer entertains any thoughts about merging the player base from both computers and consoles then serious work must be put into making sure that neither side has any ridiculous advantages/handicaps. Console gamers also are not used to unfinished and buggy games especially if you're asking them to pay every month for it, which seems to be the calling card for most of our genre sadly.
Obviously there have been MMORPGs on consoles for quite a while since Phantasy Star Online came out for the Dreamcast so long ago, but the history of the MMO console has taught us some valuable lessons. Everquest Online Adventures (EOA) was smartly made as a separate and simplified version just for the PS2 crowd, while Final Fantasy XI was too complex to be of any use to a controller-welding gamer in most cases. Will future dual-platform games try to squeeze us all into one system to the determent if all? I hope not.
I'm all for bringing the console loving masses into the melting pot as long as it's done responsibly and with a bit of forethought. I think I'll just stop while I'm ahead and let you guys take it from here. Next week I'll be examining the finer points of PvP and Basket-Weaving...See you then.