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Jon Wood: Accessibility is King

Columns By Jon Wood on March 11, 2010

Accessibility is King

One of the most interesting things that we have seen while we were here at the 2010 Game Developers Conference was a new iPhone app from the folks at Icarus Studios. I won’t go into the fine details here, that’s for another article, but what I will say is that the app allows players to do basically anything they could do in-game (save for actually move around the world) from anywhere.

This, my friends, is the future of traditional MMOs.

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I know that what I’m saying isn’t particularly revolutionary. I also get the fact that these guys aren’t the first to break into the iPhone space, but if there’s one thing I’ve noticed at this conference, it’s that the iPhone side of the industry and the Facebook side of the industry both now have a much bigger presence here.

The reason is simple: lots and lots of people are playing these games. They play them because they’re clever, they play them because they’re fun, but probably most importantly, they play them because they are completely and almost universally accessible. With the right technology (an iPhone), you can play those suckers literally anywhere.

So why, instead of biting nails and wondering what the fate of the traditional, 3D MMORPG is going to be in the face of this new behemoth, doesn’t it feel like more developers and more studios are making the full-on effort to jump into the space and make use of at least one of the very aspects that makes  these new (and usually very simple) threatening games so popular with not only a wide audience, but also that coveted casual audience that MMOs seem to have been changing their gameplay to accommodate?

The answer is that they are, at least some of them. We hear more and more rumblings every day. Off the top of my head, I know that Blizzard has an armory iPhone app for World of Warcraft and then there’s the new Fallen Earth app that takes in-game interactivity to a new level. CCP and EVE Online have talked about it as well. In the end, it’s all about giving your players the ability to log in and play your game in some way shape or form from wherever they might be in the world.

If the traditional MMOs that we all love don’t find a way to be 2010 accessible, accessed in the same ways that we’re used to connecting with everything else in our digital lives, that casual audience is never going to be truly reached. If a potential customer’s justification for not playing your game is that “I don’t have the time,” this is a brilliant way to give him or her that time. While they may not consistently have four or five hours at the end of the day to dedicate to the  game, their friends and their guild, more and mobile accessibility will allow them to take some of the down moments in their day to socialize in and escape to the game world. It’s a matter of small chunks invested in the game rather than long sessions, but in the end it’s another way for players to find fun and value in the game.

This is something that I expect we’re going to see crop up more and more not just on the iPhone but on Facebook as well and whatever other platforms might become available. Games where the primary focus is socialization and interaction with other people are going to continue to continue to thrive in a world where we’ve changed the way that we communicate. If MMOs want to continue to be seen as the pinnacle of social-based gaming, they’re going to have to adjust just like everyone else.