Do Console MMORPGs Work?
In Tuesday’s post about Blizzard’s next MMO, I touched upon the topic of MMORPGs on consoles. I was originally going to entitle this post “Would Console MMORPGs Work?” but changed the first word to “do” because it occurred to me that we’ve actually already seen a few console MMOs before plus we’re slated to get some more in the near future (DC Universe Online being one of them).
Even though the XBox, PS3 and Wii are big business, console MMORPGs are still very rare, the only current ones that I can think being Final Fantasy XI, Everquest Online Adventures and Phantasy Star Online although I’m not even sure if the latter two are still running (anyone know?). Although there’s also loads of talk about MMOs hitting the console scene they just never seem to appear – whatever happened to Age of Conan for the XBox 360 and Champions Online for the PS3 for instance?
It was obviously a struggle to both create and play MMORPGs on older consoles, the PS2, for example, not coming with built in networking or even a hard disk. Of course now consoles are a lot more advanced and come with wireless networking, hard drives, and quite happily deal with online downloads and purchases on a day to day basis. Console gamers are also a lot more comfortable and familiar with using headsets to talk with people online, removing a lot of the communication barriers required by keyboard chat only. Still, consoles come with some inherent limitations, the most notable of which being their lifespan and target audience.
The lifespan on a console has always traditionally only been about five years (if that) and I can recall the days of the 1990’s when new consoles seemed to hit the shelves every three years, the Nintendo and Sony arms race of sorts. Albiet things are different now and both Microsoft and Sony have made it clear that the XBox 360 and PS3 will be around for a while to come. But still, given that they’ve both been out for 4 years now, if I was a developer I’d have to wonder how long it will be before they’re made obsolete. Everquest has been running for over 10 years, since the days of the Dreamcast and N64… how many people do you know that still have those machines? Even World of Warcraft hails from the time of the original XBox and PS2 and those are practically already obsolete.
PCs and Macs conceptually present a slower evolution and gamers don’t seem to worry so much about loading up a 5 year old game on their brand, spanking new rig. Plus, those games can be updated, overhauled and their settings graudally improved to meet new technologies. Would a developer re-release an upgraded version of their existing console MMO onto the next generation of console machines for free? I doubt it.
The target audience for console and desktop gamers also seems to be very different. WoW is successful because it appeals to everyone, from teenagers who own every console under the Sun to Managing Directors who have never bought a console. You can play WoW on your office PC or your Mac laptop, you don’t need to worry about owning the latest next gen machine. This is just my personal take on things though and I’d love to be able to do a survey on WoW (or any MMORPG) players to see how many owned a console. My feeling is that it wouldn’t be that high a percentage.
The positive side of MMORPGs on a console though is that it would present a level of ease that’s very appealing. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly battling with my PC and there’s something quite nice about my favourite MMORPG “just working” right out of the box. No worrying about system requirements, no fuss, no configuration, no messing about, just picking up the control pad and getting stuck in.
So I guess we’ll see how things pan out with DC Universe Online and, if the rumours are true, Blizzard’s next MMO. My gut feeling is that DCU Online won’t materialise for the PS3 just like AoC and CO never did. Still, as consoles evolve and start to merge more with desktop computers, I’m sure the line will eventually be crossed and we’ll be playing all our games on a single system whether we call that a console or a desktop.