This topic is nothing new. It has been around ever since the launch of the PS4 and XBox One. I would even argue that it has been around longer than that going way back. This week if the news taught us anything it is that the MMO leap to console systems has now been validated. Yesterday, Matt Firor made a few announcements in a feature on GameIndustry.biz about the success that Elder Scrolls Online has had in the console market. It opened a lot of eyes in the game world and perhaps this is the jump start we need to really begin seeing major companies invest in MMOs again.
Years ago when you sat down to play EverQuest or even World of Warcraft, you did not sit down in front of your TV on the couch. It was at your desk with your computer and snacks by your side. You were there to play a serious game with some serious depth behind it. Character development, story, dungeons, etc. - they were all intricate and kept you going. The biggest element of these older MMOs was the user interface, more importantly one particular point in that interface, the task bar. Older games like Dark Age of Camelot offered you a task bar of ten skills. You could also set up a backup task bar and so on to have other skills at your disposal. At any moment in those harsh early MMO days you would be clicking like mad to get the skill you needed. It was fast, you had a lot of choices, and you studied to learn them all. The interface was complex and we loved it.
In more modern MMOs like Elder Scrolls or Guild Wars 2, the task bar has been taken down to a much smaller level. You now had five choices in the case of ESO (I am not counting Q or E keys) and eight choices with GW2 (again, not counting F1 keys etc.). Dropping the number of action skills you use in a game at any given time makes it much easier on the player. It also makes skills more impactful and allows you to advance specific skills rather than unlock new ones. Older MMOs allowed for this too, but the streamlining of the complex action bar has made playing an MMO much easier. Will people argue that they miss the old task bars with sixty skills on your screen? Of course they will. We all miss those days. But, I would argue that this new system is better.
The interface on MMOs has now allowed companies to bring their games over into the controller space. You have a lot of options on a PS4 or XBox controller which can be assigned to your skills, it may take some practice, but you’ll get good at them. With the skill set and controller now in a better place, the consoles have also come to a level of a PC where they can handle a full-fledged MMO. These huge worlds that once existed in a single server can actually be parsed out, instanced, and allow for friends to play together in the cloud on different maps. This system also makes the leap easier.
So, many games are on console, but it is the validation that we needed to have MMOs be a solid step into a much bigger game world. Destiny is the biggest example here. The team at Bungie did not want to peg the game as an MMO, however, it is very much exactly that. Is it a shooter? Yes. Is it an adventure game with huge worlds to explore? Yes. Is it a game that allows players to be in the same space and experience content together, yes, guess what, that is an MMO. We have always struggled here on the site with what defines an MMO. It really is a game type that began as a niche genre, has grown into a global phenomenon, and now has become the norm for almost every game that is produced. Studios are starting to realize that building one game and then adding DLCs to it and keeping players active on a support level is much easier and more profitable than going back to the drawing board and releasing a brand new game each year. Servicing a community is also much easier on a console now with the addition of digital downloads to games. We used to say eight to ten years ago, one day every game will be an MMO, and we are starting to slowly enter that era.
So have MMOs made the leap to console? Sure they have, as mentioned, that is old news. However, this week the game industry was given validation of how much of a success these games really are. Hopefully this will be a small chink in the industry’s “chasing Warcraft” philosophy (that is a whole other topic). As we see more independent MMOs rise, it will be interesting to watch them launch on PC, then go to console and find a whole new audience.