Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
My take on console MMORPGs

PC gamers had to live with years of news predicting the "death" of the PC game, based on decreasing retail sales of PC games, and increasing sales of console games. Until NPD started tracking MMO subscriptions as well, and suddenly the PC games market didn't look all that bad. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if MMOs are one of the most lucrative segments of the PC games market, and there are more console gamers than PC gamers, there could be a fortune to be made with console MMORPGs. Or couldn't it?

The first problem on the way to console MMORPGs is connectivity. PCs were simply connected to the internet earlier than consoles were. But the current generation of XBox 360 and Playstation 3 is fully internet compatible, and there are millions of gamers on services like XBox Live. So while earlier games like Everquest Online Adventures or the console version of Final Fantasy XI might have had problems finding enough customers with a broadband connection, that would probably not be a major obstacle any more for the next generation of console MMORPGs.

The second problem is complexity. A keyboard has a lot more possible buttons than a gamepad, and it is a lot faster to click on something on the screen with a mouse than with a cursor controlled by a thumbstick. Many a WoW player has 5 or 6 hotkey bars with 12 button each on the screen, which works well enough on a PC, but would be an absolute nightmare on a console. And then there is chat, a major feature of MMORPGs, which would pretty much require console gamers to either buy a keyboard or a headset for voice chat, if not both (you don't want to have general or trade chat on voice, do you?). I think the idea to take a PC MMORPG and simply do a console version of it is pretty much doomed from the start. But a console MMORPG which was way simpler, and worked with a lot less buttons and minimal communication, would be perfectly feasible.

The third problem is the business model. One important reason why there are so many more video game consoles than gaming PCs (not counting office PCs) is that a console is still significantly cheaper than a PC good enough to play modern video games. Hey, many PC gamers have graphics cards that cost more than an XBox 360! That is not to say that console gamers are cheap, but one does have to ask whether selling console gamers a $15 per month subscription will work. A subscription-free business model with microtransactions would probably work a lot better.

So all in all I do think that some multi-million-user console MMORPG isn't all that far in the future. It just won't look and play all that similar to lets say World of Warcraft. A console MMORPG will have more action, and fewer different spells / abilities to use in combat. The combat will be closer to Age of Conan than to World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online; maybe even with automated combos (instead of selecting combo, then do right, right, left, you just do right, right, left, and the combo just happens). Most chat will be mostly based on menus, which also serves to make the game safer for children; only with a keyboard and special permission / password from the other will you be able to chat by typing. There will be a fantasy world, various character classes, quests, monsters, levels, and all that, but the console MMORPG will be free-to-play once you bought the initial game, with optional microtransactions.

For most players of current PC MMORPGs, such a console MMORPG will look like a pale imitation of the games they know and love. But the point of a console MMORPG would be to sell it mostly to people who haven't been playing MMORPGs before. And thus being simpler and cheaper wouldn't necessarily be a disadvantage. Whether that would tempt them to buy a PC and play WoW is anyone's guess.
Excellent Post Tobold and hard to argue with your conclusions. As part of my "MMO's are history" theme I thought about how mmos as we know them won't necessarily work on consoles. An important question remains: What will happen to PC mmos if and when console mmos take off. Even if console mmos are dumbed down versions of their PC brethren the sheer economic imperative could meant that the centre of mmo influence moves from PC to console leaving PC mmos marginalised and eventually leaving PC gamers to rely on ports of games that were originally developed on consoles. Look at what happened to the FPS market: It is still widely accepted that the PC with mouse control is better for an FPS than consoles but all of the best games now come out on consoles first. The business model thing may help of course. As long as there remains a hard core of punters willing to pay €15 per month to play a game there will be a market for PC mmos. However I suspect that that market for traditional mmos may now have peaked and a successful console mmo could actually steal a lot of the non hard-core from PCs.
Your article is very bais. Pc gaming is world wide. The best sellings tittles on pc easly out sell any console ever made. As for mmo's on console it doesn't do very well. Console gamers are too cheap that is fact. real gamers will pay up 800 to 200o for a gaming rig.Console are nothing but really old pc hardware. Pc gaming is cutting edge gaming. You don't see indie game devs on console do you. Howabout mods. How about games like spore or sin of the solar a new genre.The pc gaming is so huge and the money made from it is very huge far more than any console. That is why pc gaming is the ulmate gaming machine in the world!!!
The best sellings tittles on pc easly out sell any console ever made.

According to Wikipedia, the best-selling console titles sell more copies than the best-selling PC titles, and there are far more of them.
@ "Anonymous": That's a load of crap, "real PC Gamers", "Consoles are just old hardware", "PC Gaming is huge."
Firstly, in this day and age you can get a perfectly serviceable gaming rig for less than £500, and that will let you play nearly every game.
Secondly, I take it you don't have a console? My PS3 games look stunning sometimes, and while my PC ones could, I simply don't have £800 to spend getting an overly pimped gaming rig. The best I can (and did) do is get an 8800gt and another gb of RAM, and that cost more than half of what my PS3 costs. Remember you can get 360s for less than £100 now, and that's damn cheap for anyone.
Thirdly, do you even know how many people own/play on a console rather than a PC? PS2s and now 360s have huge sales, and that's not even counting the Wii and the PS3, which altogether dwarf PC Gaming.

Also, on topic (lol): I agree with what you said Tobold, isn't "The Agency" meant to be for consoles? Also, remember that on the 360 they have to pay to just be able to play online, so I highly doubt that MMOs will work on the 360, although the PS3 might have a decent shot.
Many a WoW player has 5 or 6 hotkey bars with 12 button each on the screen, which works well enough on a PC, but would be an absolute nightmare on a console

This is a bit offtopic but anyway.
Well you say "well enough" which I guess is true but I certainly wouldn't say that it works well. :)

WoW has, already today too many abilities to use. Each and every ability is useful (at least in some situations) so you easily fill up like 4 hotkey bars and place the most used ones on buttons 1-5 and perhaps alt+1-4 and/or ctrl+1-4. There's probably some people out there with better control setups than me, but apart from that I've got a few abilities bound to a few other buttons too, like z, e or f. The rest I have to click with the mouse which is slow at best.

With WOTLK we will get even more abilities in addition to all those we already have. We will have to be masters of finger dexterity to twist and turn enough to use them all, or click them with the mouse which is slow. In my opinion we should get abilities which replace old ones or upgrade them instead of adding tons of new ones.
Did you ever play Phantasy Star Online, T?
I played FFXI on the PS2 when it first was released. I don't remember having any functional difficulty navigating the menus to perform attacks and such. Of course, the pace of combat was so freakin slow you could take a nap. I had a keyboard that I used whenever I wanted to type something to anyone, but I mostly used the controller to do all the combat.

Arguably, a game could just allow spell queuing and would help alleviate the problem of needing to react as quickly. However, I can understand the difficulty some may have with PvP on a console system. Reactionary abilities would need to be accessed exceptionally quickly in order to be useful at all.

It may be more challenging to design a functional console MMO, but it is surely possible. Although, a keyboard and headset would almost be required to have ideal functionality.
Can I ask, Tobold if you have a PS3 or 360?

If not, do you intend getting one in the future to cover MMOs that are released on consoles?
I don't have a PS3 or XBox 360 because there aren't enough games for them that interest me. If I was interested in a specific PS3 or XBox game enough, I would buy a console. A console MMORPG would probably pass that bar.
I feel Fable 2 could also be a game you'd enjoy on the 360.
Joe Ludwig's blog entry title "Why aren't there more console MMOs?" is an interesting read:
Isn't Champions Online aimed at both the PC and the 360?

Indeed, there are complexity concerns between the platforms. I agree that the subscription business model isn't going to fly as well on consoles, either. MMOs on consoles aren't impossible, but need to be designed with the constraints in mind.

They might wind up more of a Harvest Moon Online or Animal Crossing Online, rather than the DIKU stuff we're seeing in the PC market.
I suspect console gamers would be generally uninterested in MMOs. Not because they are cheap, but because MMOs are really rather lame. It's not like you couldn't play WoW fairly well on that $400 Compaq that anyone with a broadband internet connection has. Trying to fit MMOs as we know them (highly elaborate abilities, slow pace, lots of text) into a market dominated by fast twitch/spatial games isn't such a good fit.

PC's are better at more cerebral, complex (I.e. more buttons to push) games like MMOS, RTS, simulations. Consoles are better at games that make you grin. MMOs are not grin worthy, and anyone who has a broadband internet connection has the computer to run WoW. Nobody in the console world has been to interested in making games that require a keyboard/mouse, and there's probably a reason for that. I played Everquest on the PS2 for about 10 minutes before I decided it was horrible and quit.
They did Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion very well on a console. While its not quite a MMO, the gameplay is very robust, and wouldnt be much different than say the 1-70 questing experience of WoW.

You mentioned the complexity of the controls for a game like WoW. Id argue that with a few tweaks to how those skills are used you could easily port that to a controller. One method used to have more buttons available on joysticks is using the shift button to basically double the available button controls. This would work slick for WoW you could have 2 hotbars full of skills by simply offering a shift toggle. Some of the abilities that require really immediate action but are not used very often (like divine intervention, battle rez and etc) could be designed to simply "press" the button displayed on the screen versus clicking the skill button from the skill menu.

Catching up on past blog posts while waiting 2 hrs to login to WoTLK.

The limiting factor wouldn't be the game but the amount of consoles available, especially in developing nations mentioned in Blizzard's press releases on subscribers. Price can also be an issue because there aren't any "cyber-console-shops" for those who can't afford to buy their own consoles. It doesn't help when the average wage is less than half the price of a console.
I'm sorry but you people are wrong.I hate playing games on the PC.I've always played on consoles and the 1st mmo I played was EQOA/EQOA:F,and I loved it and if it came to ps3 I'd play it,and trust me LOTS of people played it and still do,the problem with EQOA is SoE owns it,yes it's simple and that is what I love about it,I don't have to worry about trying to mash 15 diffarent keys to unleash a beatdown on a dreadnaught I can use auto attack for regular melee and then decide how I'm going to use my list of 8 abilities I've got set for this fight and as a lvl 60 Ogre Death Knight I own dreadnaughts which debuff my 8500hp to 700 and uses a 150DoT and I manage to still solo him,which many other classes cannot claim,especially the Shadowknight class which Death Knight is a Master Class of.So stop hating on consoles so much,they can be very profitable and IMO the 1st company to produce a good mmo on a console that uses in game advertising instead of monthly fees will make a killing because those advertisers will realize the potential in this type of product placement which will reach millions of players.

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