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MMORPGs Will See Console Success

By Heath | March 26, 2010 at 11:18 am

Planet Xbox 360 makes the case that console MMORPGs “will always fail” in this fairly interesting perspective. I’ve learned to never say “never” (or um, “always,” as the case may be) in this business though. Before I go on, let it be known that I think the article is well-written and the author, Will Prusik, knows his stuff and expresses his points well. I do, however, politely disagree. I think MMORPGs are on their way to console success.

One of Prusik’s points is control. He says, “Menu based controls can work in single player games, because you have the option of pausing the gameplay. In an MMO that’s not possible. To truly play an MMO on a console, you’d need a keyboard peripheral and gamers have never been terribly fond of purchasing a separate control device that only works with one game.”

Express counter-point: Guitar Hero.

In spite of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, this is a legitimate point. A lot of people hate the idea of jumping back and forth between a keyboard and a joypad, and it’s true that many console gamers would be turned off at the idea of buying a peripheral for an RPG. But society is an ever-changing thing. Consoles are coming with USB ports these days, and having a USB keyboard around is something many folks aren’t opposed to — I own two. As technology evolves and we find more and more devices able to connect with each other, USB surely won’t be the only means of rigging a keyboard up to one’s console. (Sony having a line of laptops and Microsoft being built upon the PC/Windows, they might even come up with respective applications to use one’s laptop keyboard on a console. It’s not very far-fetched.) As it becomes easier, this will become less of an issue.

Enter Phantasy Star Online
Furthermore, I don’t see it as much of an issue to begin with, if the game is right. I realize there will be disagreement, but I bought a Dreamcast keyboard just for Phantasy Star Online and didn’t regret a thing. Plenty of people I played with had done the same, and those that didn’t? Well, they typed slowly, but could play the game just as well as any of us. Phantasy Star Online is not technically an MMORPG, it should be noted, but within the instances and battlefields, it is quite similar and serves an applicable example. There are enemies attacking the group in real time, use of macros, item trading, and no pausing.

And Final Fantasy XI
When I played Final Fantasy XI, my choice was PS2. The only times I really needed my keyboard were when I was talking to people. In battles, on the field, and around town, the game was a breeze with just my controller. With headsets and voice chat now becoming the norm and that aspect therefore being mostly removed, it is easy to see the ability to get by in an MMORPG not requiring a keyboard anymore, somewhere in the future.
Additionally, we have no idea how the future is going to change game control. Camera and movement may eventually shift towards the friggin’ headsets you’ve seen in movies and that .hack show. Sound crazy? Probably about as crazy as the Wiimote would have sounded in 1990. Maybe something will and maybe something won’t make a huge control splash in the next few years, but eventually it has to happen; that’s just the world we live in.

The Planet Xbox 360 article goes on to bring up cost and commitment as the two biggest barriers. I see these barriers gradually eroding away with the changes in our culture.

First, let’s consider, for a moment, the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Marketplace — what they are and what they do. Okay, now hold that thought…
Ever heard of Farmville? It’s a simple little Facebook app (fan us!) that’s free to play, but there are cheap upgrades players can get for a few bucks each. Tens of millions of people are into this, many of whom see spending money on it as no big thing. This game has become a money printer.
Now, Farmville obviously costs a lot less to maintain than an MMORPG with the size and scope of World of Warcraft or EverQuest II, but let’s continue by looking at free-to-play MMORPGs. Now more than ever, there are tons of new MMORPGs springing up all the time operating without the subscription fees that seemed almost guaranteed 10 years ago. These are successful by providing good enough games to keep people playing — often, in my opinion, quite legitimately so — and generating revenue by providing items, upgrades, and other cool stuff for a price. The burden of a subscription that will come around every month like a car payment, regardless of your use of the product is non-existent; the money you spend can always be directly connected to some sort of gain or pleasure. People like this. It’s why free MMOs have taken off like they have (See Appendix).

Now let’s return to the PSN Store and XBL Marketplace. We see games pop up on there all the time, both for free and for paid download — and they often sell like hotcakes, assuming people are buying millions of hotcakes. What else can people do online with their consoles? Play games together. If you had a time belt and showed up at a Goldeneye 64 party to tell people that playing online would (sadly) pretty much headshot splitscreen by the year 2010, my bet is there’d be a lot of disbelief and some measure of outrage. But here we are, where splitscreen multiplayer modes are often found to be pretty bare-bones compared to their online counterparts. Playing with people online is all the rage, and becoming a staple of gaming culture.

It’s not unreasonable for the two to eventually become connected. All it’s gonna take is a developer with the know-how and guts to slap it together, which is just a matter of time. It’s easy to picture a free-to-play MMORPG (hence avoiding the dreaded combination of subscription fees with Xbox Live cost) with some sort of cash shop to generate its own revenue — maybe even with a small cut going to Sony or Microsoft — appearing on a console. Whether that’s six months from now or 12 years from now, something like it will eventually happen. Final Fantasy XIV for PC and PS3, per the latest Famitsu, is among Japan’s five most anticipated games, and it’ll be a small step towards MMOs becoming more of a force on consoles (Appendix 2).

There are hurdles, no doubt about that.  In fact, the point Prusik makes about gamers being retarded might be the biggest bump n the road on this one.  But I see the control as just a small hurdle that will only get smaller with time.  Fees are already showing that they’re nothing a good game can’t overcome, and many high-quality MMOs are shedding the subsciption option while managing to stay popular and profitable.  As gaming, and specifically console-based online play, become bigger and bigger parts of mainstream culture, we can expect MMORPGs to gradually work their way into increased popularity among console gamers.

MMORPGs will not “always” fail on consoles.

-Heath Hindman


Appendix 1: Dungeons and Dragons Online became 500% more profitable and saw a huge player base increase when it switched from subscription to free-to-play. And personally, the MMORPG I find myself most interested at this time is the free Allods Online, pictured above.

Appendix 2: Don’t jump me on this. I’m not saying Final Fantasy XIV is going to seal the deal to usher in a new era, I’m saying it’s a small step towards the subgenre becoming a stronger presence on consoles, which it almost certainly will be. A lot of people who have never played MMOs and are unaware of the MMO scene entirely are saying “no one” wanted this game, but let me tell you, the hype level is up there for this game. The success of its PS3 version along with its PC version is the most likely outcome with this one.

Topics: Editorials, MMORPGLand