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The Devil's Advocate: The Console MMO is the Future

Columns By Drew Wood on July 06, 2011

The Console MMO is the Future

Disclaimer: The Devil's Advocate is a place where the MMO-Loving world can go to hear the unpopular opinion. Please note that this article does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MMORPG.com, columnist Drew Wood, or any of the game companies that may be discussed.  The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.

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The Console-based MMO is an affront to the genre. Games suffer in terms of quality, presentation and the limitations of having a third-party company approve updates, patches and additional content.

On the contrary.

While it's true that until recently, console gaming had typically been reserved for Sports Games, First-Person Shooters and Third-Person Action-Adventure games consoles are beginning to blossom as viable options for MMOs and MMO developers and publishers are beginning to take notice of the trend.  MMOs on consoles aren't necessarily a new concept, back in 2000/2001, Phantasy Star Online was released for the Sega Dreamcast and, perhaps more famously, Final Fantasy XI took to the console-MMO market with both the Playstation 2 in 2002/2004 and the XBox 360 in 2006, marking the next-gen Microsoft console's first ever MMO.  Console MMOs have garnered more attention in the last year or so, with Sony Online Entertainment's release of both DC Universe Online on the PS3 in January of this year and Free Realms on the Playstation Network at the end of March.

Free Realms, however, is not your typical MMO beast.  The family-friendly MMORPG is a light-hearted adventure geared at children and their parents, an alternative to some of the other video games out there available to children. It's free-to-play to a certain point and, therefore, not necessarily subject to the subscription based concerns of some players, with micro-transactions available through PSN for the purchase of in-game items.  An older article over at PlanetXbox360.com lists out the “Five Reasons Consoles MMOs Will Always Fail”, none of which seem to apply when looking at a game like Free Realms.

Now humor me for a moment.

  • Control Scheme: Free Realms is designed to be played by younglings, so it would come as no surprise that the control scheme, whether for the console or the PC, be easy to understand, simple to use and relatively intuitive.
  • Cultural Appeal: As a family-oriented game, Free Realms has a built in audience. The argument made in the article points to the “bizarre subculture” of the MMO player, which based on an ever-shifting market, simply doesn't exist in the same capacity as it once did.
  • Other Console Gamers: Simply put, gamers playing Free Realms are gamers who it's geared towards and parental controls allow for those who worry about language or other inappropriate content coming from other gamers to rest easy.
  • Cost: I covered this briefly, but specifically to Free Realms, the cost is optional, albeit the content is limited. However, if the goal is simply to stimulate your child for a period of time, cost is minimized.
  • Commitment: Simply put, a casual game requires no commitment and Free Realms can be played as easily and as casually as any other 'pop-in-and-play' title.

The console market does seem to be entirely viable for the family-friendly MMOs that many hardcore MMO gamers seem to spurn, however, for parents who are also gamers (like a surprising number of my friends), the prospect of being able to encourage your little one to sit down in front of the PS3 and run about, completing quests and enhancing both creative thinking and general skills, such as reading and language comprehension, is an incredibly appealing prospect and something that can be done from the comfort of the sofa, rather than crowded around an already cramped computer desk.

Let's face it though, the bulk of you aren't reading this article to hear about casual or family-oriented MMOs like Free Realms.  So allow me to move on.  DC Universe Online launched on January 11th of this year simultaneously on PC and PS3 to much commotion.  Something to consider, however, according to according to SOE president John Smedley, the PS3 version of the game outsold the PC version 52 to 48 percent.  This may not seem like a wide differential, however, on an otherwise untested platform, MMO Gamers and DC Fans were willing to accept the gamble of a major, AAA MMO release at least equally to a PC release.  It's been noted many times, but while DCUO's PC subscriber population has suffered greatly over time, the population on the PS3 remains strong moving forward, six months after release.  The five aforementioned reasons that “Console MMOs will Always Fail” aren't quite as easily ignored for a AAA title such as DCUO, yet it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference in the minds of console gamers. If anything, DCUO has inadvertently alienated its PC using player base by building an MMO that could set the model for all future console MMOs, but should perhaps stay away from the PC market.  What we have seen with the success of DCUO on the Playstation 3 is the first step towards the flood gates opening on the console MMO market, whether you want to believe it or not.

So where does the line get drawn?  DC Universe Online has found success on consoles, but in many peoples' eyes, has fallen below the success line for the PC.  Is there a way to marry the two?  Trion seems to think so, as their joint venture with the television network SyFy, Defiance, is set to be released not only on PC, but also on both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, uniting the MMO and shooter genres.  Even Funcom's upcoming The Secret World is set to be released for both the PC and the XBox 360 (though, so was Age of Conan, so we'll have to wait and see there).  Maybe both platforms could live in MMO harmony were developers to take a page out of CCP's book, as their in-development MMOFPS Dust 514 is due to debut on the PS3, with no PC release.  Would DC Universe Online have been considered a greater success had it released solely for the PS3?  Would the solution be to segregate PC MMOs from Console MMOs, or can a successful hybrid be created?

Either way, the Console-MMO is here to stay, with the major gaming companies behind the likes of EVE Online, Rift and Age of Conan hopping on board, and one of the most prolific of AAA titles thus far released on console far surpassing its PC counterpart.  The Console MMO may still have a big question mark surrounding it, but it also has the mark of great potential, far more now than it did even as recently as five years ago when Final Fantasy XI was ported to the 360.