Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Consoles vs. PC for MMORPG

Nils suggested in the open Sunday thread that I talk about the advantages and disadvantages of consoles vs. PC when it comes to playing MMORPGs. Now this is a case where platform choice is usually made extremely quickly, given the fact that there are only a small number of console MMORPGs, and lots of them on the PC. But I just signed up for the Final Fantasy XIV beta (after a guild mate told me that you get a code for the beta when you register you FF13 game), and when asked whether I wanted to test and ultimately play FF14 on the console or on the PC, I chose the console.

Now that choice was made from my experience with FF11, which also existed on either console or PC, and which I played on the PC. It turned out that the UI and controls were designed with the console in mind, and were not all that user-friendly for a keyboard and mouse. So I ended up playing FF11 on the PC using a gamepad, which made controls much smoother. But once you go for console-like controls, you might as well play the whole game on the console.

The main problem with playing a MMORPG on a console is chat, if you don't have a keyboard installed. Typing with a gamepad is annoying. But then FF11 had this wonderful chat system where you could string words together by choosing them from a menu. That is obviously more limited than free form chat, but a surprising amount of chat in a MMORPG is rather predictable, like "looking for group" or "WTS this item". What made the chat system of FF11 so great was that it was automatically translated to whatever language the guy on the other end was having his client in. That made it possible to group with Japanese players even if they didn't speak English.

For the rest of the controls, it all depends on game design. If you have a game design requiring 50 different buttons, a gamepad is not always optimal. But if you design the game around the controls, it is perfectly possible to create an interesting combat system which is controlled very well with a gamepad. And I always liked having one thumbstick to move my character and a second thumbstick to move the camera, a control scheme which I consider superior to mouse/keyboard controls of characters through 3D worlds.

So in summary, I think that the current obstacles to playing MMORPGs on a console can be overcome, if the game is designed right. Just don't expect a game designed for the PC to be easily ported to a console.
Another relevant question is this: If someone ever gets a good enough mmorpg working on a console for it to become a major success will that spell the inevitablel decline of PC mmorpgs?

Even though the PC has some inherent advantages for mmorpgs the economics of the game market may herald a move to console from PC. That is what happened to FPS games despite the advantages of PC control over gamepad control.
I don't see the PC losing it's status as the dominant and preferrred platform for MMORPG's, it's simply a better equipped environment for that style of game.

The most simple and obvious reason is the keyboard. It allows full unrestricted chat, and an increased amount of options for abilities and interaction that a multi-button gamepad can't do.

As noted too MMO ports to console just make too many sacrifices, or take away too much from the advantages of the PC side.

I do see some potential for some Free to Play MMO's that are dumbed down, or Kids MMO's that have simple controls and restricted chat simliar to FinalFantasy.. those games would work well on consoles making the limitations an advantage plus the built-in microtransactions would be a plus too.
I have no doubt that more MMO's will be pushed towards the console. I personally prefer the PC for the genre, but inevitably the closed architecture of a console will be attractive.

Up till now the disadvantages have included chat entry, skill usage (10's of hotkeys), but I think disk space for patches/expansions has been the biggest restriction.

But it's not much of a leap to allow text entry via a USB keyboard on a console. The P3 already supports mouse and keyboard over USB I beleive.

And Console HDD storage is also rising.

I think it's only a matter of time!
Yeah, my new PS3 came with 250 GB of HDD, not really much of a limitation any more, even if the biggest MMORPGs can have a hard drive footprint of 20 GB.

Actually from a drive point of view the PS3 is slightly ahead of the PC, because the PS3 already comes with a Blue-Ray drive, while most PCs don't have that one yet. So installing a huge MMORPG would currently be easier on a PS3 than on a PC. At least until we all get 100 MBit broadband and don't need any disc to install stuff any more.
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I play xi on the pc with a wireless x360 gamepad but use the keyboard for macros. I've have the usual gamepad macro buttons doing other things courtesy of software called Xpadder.

I vastly prefer the gamepad control system over the mouse/kb affair of WoW.
It's looking pretty likely that here won't be any separate consoles in 5 - 10 years' time. Not other than the ones we already have, at least. Console-style gaming will increasingly come to be provided via the all-in-one house device that used to be the television and via the mobile device that used to be the mobile phone.

Having lots of pieces of hardware to do specific things will be seen as very 20th century.

And I hope that when FFXIV arrives it will have proper PC controls. FFXI is playable on the PC but it would be a lot more pleasant to play if it was designed for keyboard and mouse.
Having lots of pieces of hardware to do specific things will be seen as very 20th century.

That's my opinion as well.
If you need to make the decision to buy a computer for 800€ or a console for 200€ to play games then most people who just want to play computer games will buy the console.

But nowadays everybody also wants a computer. If you need a computer either way, why should you buy an additional console?

There's no way a console can be long-term cheaper than a 3D graphics card, unless it is of lower quality (slower).

Since you can actually connect game controllers via USB to the computer the interface doesn't make a difference at all.

The basic idea is: Why should you buy an additional device that needs to be designed and advertised for when you actually just need a 3D graphics card. It's also advantagous to have less devices and cables.

Add the flexibility of computers to that and consoles don't have a chance.
That sort of feature works well for utility, but won't do much for community. It's asking for essentially silent runs and a dull world. But maybe that's better than anal spam in trade chat and someone flaming gearscore in randoms.
The gaming industry, being what it has become today, is trying and will keep trying to push everyone onto console gaming. Why?
The answer is simple: With consoles, everyone of you is exactly the same. That allows gaming companies to cut down completely on QA teams and Support teams while focusing mainly on marketing. When you see that SEGA Europe has 3 people on site plus a 1 or 2 not qualified people per "main" countries handling support for the entire Europe, while they have, in their UK HQ alone, more than 35 marketing people, their policy becomes clear: Once you buy it, we don't give a damn about it.

Second, MMORPGs on consoles. MMORPGs have something no other game has: social chat. If you think FPS "chat system" is some sort of social chat, their you just don't know what talking to people mean.

Social chat, when you're toying around with moving pixels and the like, is the ONLY way to pass out emotions. It's a skill greater than any other skill you could need in a MMORPG.
How you formulate a sentence, the words you use, the pause and punctuation you use, all this is a constant test of wit that defines you more than anything else you could do. Using pre-marked words to try and make a sentence in console MMORPGs achieves only one thing: dumbing you down.
But that dumbing down ALSO is good for the gaming industry! Heck, if you can only use the words THEY want you to use, they can cut down on their entire moderation department!
Imagine that kind of behavior on a nation or world scale. Wouldn't it be great? Everybody uses pre-formatted polite words, nobody can stray from that, wow...perfect world!

To sum up, console gaming, while it has all the appearances of being nice and great, is one of the best form mass control ever invented:
- Restrict how people think and say.
- Restrict what people can do.
- Make everyone the same.
- Give them shiny pictures and explosions.
- Formats you into voluntarily accepting limiting your own freedom for shiny pictures.

If you don't care about that, then by all means, go for console gaming...
I'll see you in Idiocracy.
I think it is certainly worth noting that the keyboard/chat arguments have become considerably diminished by the fact that both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have QUERTY keyboard attachments available for relatively cheap.

These keyboard/controller attachments, while not as functional as a full sized keyboard, are at least as good as a typical device used for text messaging. And let's be honest, reading WoW chat is not far from reading text messages in linguistics and formatting.

I don't see why a MMO designed with something similar to a Dragon Age engine/control scheme (the ability wheel is amazing), with one of these keyboard attachments in mind, couldn't be successful; if not even more user friendly than what PC MMOs are now.
How quickly the Barrens are forgotten. If you're not in my group or my guild, why would I want to hear what you have to say? Voice chat should be sufficient for the folks who are in one of those two categories. Advertising goods and services should be done via the interface, not the chat log.
I think it is appropriate to link Joe Ludwig's blog on this subject. It is two years old so the the reader can decide if things have changed at all in the last two years:
Wait, there's seriously people playing MMOs without a browser and IRC in the background?

Hmm, probably the reason why I'm staying with the PC still.

At least WoW has so many "waiting periods" where I'm busy doing other things that I couldn't imagine sitting on the sofa without a laptop nearby...
I agree with previous comments regarding the questionable future of gaming consoles. One point to consider with this is that if the future of mmo's will be some mix of warcraft meets farmville, what is the point in having a powerful gaming console to play it on if the goal will be to make the game net-book playable?
Mutli-tiered long response!

I think we have seen a remarkable decline in PC gaming since the 360 and PS3 came out. Prior to this generation of consoles PCs had significantly better graphics, that isn’t the case anymore. I can buy a multimedia console for about $300 now that will run ANY game released for it, no system specs to worry about. That is a good deal. A MMO that was designed for the console from day 1 could be a success and I think when it does happen we will see a flood of companies try and copy it.

I completely agree and disagree. First off I agree the vast majority of PC to Console ports are done very poorly, and of course Console to PC ports are typically done poorly. The thing is that if a MMO was designed with the Console in mind it could easily overcome all the problems you listed. Voice chat is becoming more and more common in video games and while people still prefer Ventrillo to what is provided by developers I think that is going to change in the future. Furthermore console gamers don’t have the option to use Vent, so they live with the boxed voice chat.

Totally agree. There are devices out there now that will let you turn all those different hardware pieces into basically 1 multimedia center already. I think the next gen systems are going to be focused on multimedia platforms just as much as gaming machines. That being said they won’t replace the computer. A gaming PC costs typically $1-2k and can go even higher. A console costs around $300 and works as a DVD player. If I were to only game on a console I could buy a $300 laptop for standard web browsing and save myself money. I think financially Consoles are sitting in a great position to replace PCs as the gaming medium of choice.

I think that is a bit farfetched. There is no great plan by the console companies to repress society. They just want to sell games.

I think you sum up my personal thoughts the best. I don’t like general chat channels because of the random moronic banter that happens there. If a GM sat there for any length of time I’m sure they would be able to temporary ban more accounts then they knew what to do with. With voice chats slowly becoming a basic feature with games and as they improve it is going to be the preferred method of talking.

If a game is designed with the Console in mind it could be successful, and one will be majorly successful at some point. I think Console gaming is a more finically appealing place for the consumer than PC gaming. I also think that Console gaming is more socially acceptable and thus will be easier to nurture and grow.
I'm not a fan of consoles. I'm far too much of a multi-tasker. And though not "old", I may be a bit too "old fashioned".

My cell phone should have one set of functions. All of them should relate to making phone calls.

My mp3 player should have a set of functions. Playing music or videos. (I wouldn't mind it also allowing me to read txt or lit files, too..) But, it is a MEDIA player. I don't need to surf the 'net on it or anything else.

For both of these, I certainly don't need to download and play video games on them! That's what my handheld is for!

Yep. ...I'm old.

My console (psOne, travel size, anyone?) is for when I want to get away from my computer, away from people entirely, and just play some good old fashioned RPGs. (Mmm, ChronoCross.)

My computer allows me to read blogs (!), pull up WoWhead, read webcomics, chat via several different IM programs (all in one client!), and play WoW all at the same time.

I don't want a console that can do that. Once it gets to that point? It's not a "console". It's a PC.
Once you decide to develop for consoles the PC version is often an extra. Something you release half a year later to get in some extra money. PC gamers can just go and buy a gamepad!

Having lots of pieces of hardware to do specific things will be seen as very 20th century.

Seems to be a completely different view then most I've seen: "PC Gaming is dieing!". As long as piracy levels are so high on PC everyone will want to keep developing for consoles. So if one day piracy has stopped then sure, consoles might fade.
I would never play MMO where all interaction is "WTS" and "LFG".

On the other hand a lot of people in guilds interact nowdays almost exclusively trough voice chat
Wrong, they want to "keep" on selling games, which is a totally different concept.

That was awesome.
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