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).

When gaming was fun and consoles were bricks

Controllers before ergonomics was invented

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.

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Related Posts

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  5. Why Comic Book MMOs Don’t Work

21 Comments

  1. Pete S says:

    I’m fairly certain EQ Online Adventures is still running, against all odds. And I think Phantasy Star Zero is not. But I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on either of these statements. :)

  2. Tesh says:

    Don’t forget the business model. I *will not* pay a subscription for any game, but that’s true of more console players than PC players.

  3. ogrebears says:

    I think they can work, but you can’t port a PC MMO to a console. Mainly because a PC you have 50+ different keys for inputs. On a console you have 4-10. You’d have to simplify spells so that each class really only had 4-6 spells, and not the 10-30 PC mmo’s are used to.

  4. Yetian says:

    I have had consoles many years ago but won’t do so again.

    I don’t think mmo’s on consoles will match pcs for a couple of reasons.

    I don’t think the control systems allow enough configuration and I could never play an mmo with a joypad. I know you can get keyboards but it’s not default.

    Tech is also a problem. Mmo’s on pcs can upgrade graphics like Battleground europes upcoming graphics update and eq2s upgraded shader version. Console mmo’s would be fixed at a hardware point in time and as a result would have a shorted lifespan. This would result in less development time and a poorer quality mmo.

    • Tesh says:

      At the same time, a fixed hardware spec means it’s easier for the devs to polish within the parameters of a known toolset. If the game stays live, say via the XBox Live system or whatever, devs can keep finding ways to make the console do more, rather than keep chasing fluid system specs.

      • Gordon says:

        I think console longevitiy is more of an issue than hardware. It’s no doubt appealing to be able to make a console game because it’s a fixed set of hardware, however, when you’re looking at games with 5+ years of a lifespan, it’s hard to know if the console will still be around. I’d think that would be a big turn off for developers.

        • Tesh says:

          Ah, but again, you’re thinking in PC terms. If you don’t have to string players along for five years with a subscription to make your investment back, you don’t have to sweat that time frame. Make your money on box sales, let people play for a couple of years, all while making a game for the next console generation.

  5. Andrew says:

    Hmm… I read this post, and then immediately stumbled into this article:

    http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=9016670

    Perhaps that’s a nice little preview of what a console MMO could start to look like.

  6. Elleseven says:

    I am a MMORPG player but actually prefer my console. And look forward to more exciting games being released on it.
    The reasons 1.) I like looking at a 46 inch HD screen better than my 18 inch screen (less eye strain and more eye candy)
    2.)I’m older and more grumpy and sometimes when I get on I really don’t want to chat and when you have had the same friends online for 3+ years you don’t want to insult them but at the same token I just don’t want to talk. With a console I can be all by myself.
    3.) With a console I’m only in competition with myself, with WoW someone is always judging you. Thick skinned or not it wears you down after awhile. (I enjoy my mage’s pom/pyro spec and I don’t want to re-spec Frost – get it through your heads peeps and stop telling me my spec sucks)
    4.) I’m a creature of comfort. With a console system I can rest against 4 pillows on my headboard, cuddle under my blanket and just lay out all comfy on my bed and play. If I try to rig something like this with my laptop it just isn’t as nice. You need to balance a tray on your lap or if you put it on your lap directly the heat from the laptop starts to burn. No keyboard to collect crumbs from snacking and playing.
    5.) No Add-ons that you HAVE to have to be successful or even get a raid spot.

  7. Jake N. says:

    I am a console hater by nature, so i can’t be really objective on this :P

    The controls to me is the biggest barrier. Until someone figures out a good way to raid on WoW using a Xbox or PS3 controller, the console MMOs will offer less than on PCs.

    But a solution to the hardware problem could be the onLIVE or whatever it was called. A small “machine” that gets the GFX from server farms via internet and the player doesn’t need more than a good internet connection.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t mind console controls… usually. Although Dragon Age: Origins is a perfect example of a game that was impossible to play on the PS3 and was really just built for the PC.

      A game like WoW is probably a bit easier to play with a control pad though and I think there are some YouTube videos of people playing it with a XBox controller hooked up to their PC.

  8. terho rauma says:

    I think something like Guild Wars would do good job on a console coz you gotta choose about 8 skills and gear for each mission. Typical pad has like 16 command buttons, 8 directions for movement and two 360 degree sticks so there´s plenty of choices for actions.
    Also consoles allow to get least lag and max graphs. So basically if i were doing a mmorpg i´d do a single online web for both ps3 and 360 users (also wii if they get the gamecube controller thing working). Main problem in mmorpgs for consoles must be communication, but that´s easily fixed if head phone set is added as requirement. Shouldnt be too much of a problem if the game prize stays at somewhere like 20-35€.

  9. alicster says:

    If the playstation move and the kinect are fine tuned in the future to have superior control over the pixel than a keyboard and mouse than we should see some amazing multilayer possibilities. Or something like the kinect and move combined with holographic and 3d tvs playing MMORPGs would be amazing.

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