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A 'Next Gen' Opportunity

Michael Bitton Posted:
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MMOs are ubiquitous on the PC these days, but this is definitely not the case with the current slate of consoles. There are a number of reasons for this, but more importantly, this next generation of consoles presents Sony and Microsoft a unique opportunity to make their consoles more MMO friendly.

I realize most of you reading this are likely members of the elite PC master race or just don’t want to get your MMO experience on the consoles, but the fact of the matter is that MMO development is an extremely expensive endeavor. Our best chances to see this genre truly grow and reach its potential lie in whether or not these games can attract enough of a player base to justify the costs. Having MMOs launch on PC as well as consoles gives developers and publishers potential for additional revenue and would likely broaden the scope of MMO projects that can be greenlit as a result.

Well then, what needs to be done to unlock the potential for MMOs on the console?  We’ll break down a few of the key points below.

A Friendlier Approach

Both Sony and Microsoft are understandably protective of their respective console’s online networks and this has led to some interesting difficulties even for non-MMO titles. DLC or game updates force game developers to jump through a number of hoops (such as certification) and this can be an incredibly expensive process.  This may be more of a Microsoft thing, but if MMOs are ever to have any success on either console, both companies need to work with MMO developers in order to make the whole service experience more PC-like.  If an MMO is to survive on a console, its developers need to be able to patch in content or fixes regularly or even apply a hotfix in case of emergencies.

Both Sony and Microsoft’s networks take a decidedly 90s walled garden approach to their experience and I think this crop of next generation consoles could stand to have a bit more openness to their networks. In short? Take a page from Valve and the Steam digital distribution platform.

Interface and Controls

Before World of Warcraft, MMO gamers could go from one MMO to the next and expect fairly different control and user interface experiences. WoW’s wild success has spurred a number of unsuccessful game clones over the years, but one aspect that has been cloned many times over that tends to bode well for a new game is the adoption of World of Warcraft’s familiar control scheme and interface experience. 

The instant familiarity here helps players new to a particular game acclimate much quicker and this sort of standardization has proved important to the success of many newer games. Final Fantasy XIV launched with a control scheme and user interface almost completely alien to any veteran of the genre and this really hurt the game as much as anything else. In the upcoming relaunch, it’s pretty clear that Square Enix has taken some lessons from World of Warcraft and its ilk in terms of incorporating a control scheme and interface that is familiar to most of us.  But when will this happen for console MMOs? There simply aren’t enough of them out there yet.

It’s ironic then, that Square Enix’s new gamepad control scheme for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn may have a chance of doing for console MMOs what World of Warcraft did for PC MMOs in this regard. Feedback in response to the video demo showing off the new gamepad controls seems to be positive overall. In fact, I’ve noticed quite a few players who intend on playing the PC version of the game state their plans to use the gamepad control set on their PCs. Could Square Enix be onto something here? It remains to be seen, but this will certainly be something to watch.

Also, mouse and keyboard support if I want it. Maybe I want to sit on my couch and still kick it old school.

Unified Play

‘Behaves well with others’ isn’t something I’d put down on a report card for Sony or Microsoft (though Sony, with the upcoming DUST 514, is letting all the action take place on EVE Online’s Tranquility server). There have been many opportunities for cross-platform play, but either due to technical reasons, or more likely, stubbornness from both companies, this either isn’t happening or is happening very rarely.  Final Fantasy XI seems to be the noted exception, sort of. PC players can play with PS2 players and XBOX 360 players, but the game was never released on the PS3

Fragmenting an MMO community across three different platforms just seems unnecessary and counterproductive in terms of growing a huge player base for your game. It’s one thing when you’re looking to play Street Fighter IV online and know that there are more players playing the game on XBL than there are on PSN, but imagine an MMO where one (or more!) platforms ends up being much less populated than the others, yet must be supported by the developer on a continuous basis. Getting everyone into one large community is, in my opinion, crucial to the success of an MMO available on consoles.  Again, I have to give praise to Square Enix here for the attempts to unify things on their side of the fence, but we really need to see Sony and Microsoft step up to the plate as well.

What do you think Sony and Microsoft should be doing with their consoles in this next generation to make them friendlier to MMO development and play? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB