Latest news
State of the Union: Manifest Destiny! Why the future will be awash in console MMORPGs
by Greg Mengel

Greg Mengel takes his own personal perspective on games and gaming culture in his column, State of the Union. State of the Union is published twice monthly on the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

I have a few recurring dreams. In one, I enter REM to find myself a roving, staff-wielding adventurer in an arid post-apocalyptic wasteland. Various friends pulled from the memories of various stages of my life are always with me - together we make up a tattered band of survivors with one goal: to make an exodus to some mythical safe place, perhaps a mountain aerie or an island somewhere, where we can finally be free of the massive undead horde that is always chasing us. Unfortunately, we usually don't quite make it, which means that more often than not, my first instinct after waking up is to check frantically for any chunks of flesh or skin removed by zombie bite. In another dream, I am one of the birds from Planet Earth who migrates with his flock over the Himalayas. This one is sort of like Watership Down, in that it involves talking animals undertaking some sort of adventure. My bird friends and I either get lost, or are attacked by hunters, and must lead ourselves and our fellow feathery migrators to safety. In yet another dream, I'm Franklin D. Roosevelt playing the part of Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. Ever imagined Leia and FDR swinging over that gap in the Death Star on FDR's wheelchair? I have: many times, in detail.

My most recent recurring dream, however, is (barring the release of the rage virus and an imminent Book of Revelations style nuclear meltdown) the most possible fantasy of the bunch. In it, I'm relaxing, reclining on the most comfortable couch in my living room next to Thor, a bikini-clad albino grizzly bear holding a unicycle, and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Together, we are enjoying a superhero-themed MMORPG on the PlayStation 3. Suddenly, I refuse to share the controller and give the bear a turn, so she (or he: it's a kinky animal kingdom out there) throws the unicycle directly at my forehead, injuring my pride and knocking me unconscious. That's when I wake up.

I believe that this dream, with or without the sexy bears and ethereal dead presidents, will come to fruition sooner rather than later. Like many in the gaming community, I am a firm believer that MMORPGs have huge potential to be successful on the console screen. This was not always so. Once, I could point to five main reasons supporting the theory that console MMOs would all end in a fireworks show of failure and defeat.

How will people interact with one another? USB Keyboard? Headset? Webcam? Telepathy?

Interface/layout/general gameplay
Try imagining an MMO style of gameplay that doesn't rely on pointing and clicking with a mouse. It takes work.

Home improvement
Updates, patches, expansions - that's a lot to store on one console's hard drive.

Culture shock
Going from PC to console, or from traditional console game to console MMO? For hardcore gamers, making that change will be like moving from Cleveland to the Orion Nebula.

Divvying up per-month costs with parent companies like Microsoft is tough work.

A few years ago, these reasons seemed as sound to me as Gospel. Now, however, my opinion has turned 180. The first reason? Consoles have become dramatically more experienced at providing online support in the last few years. If I had been a game developer considering adopting a console MMORPG project in 2007, I would have been wary as to whether or not a console could handle the server and manpower stresses of a popular, massive online role-playing game. Now that the PS3 and 360 have proven that they can handle staggering numbers of online gamers at one time, that worry has, for a large part, been proven wrong. Consoles have proven that they can handle the humongous number of players expected to be online at once in any decently popular MMO.

The second reason is that design-wise, I've begun to move past thinking of MMORPGs only in their traditional point-and-click, menu-interface-based sense. To be an MMO, a game doesn't have to play like the love child of Dungeons and Dragons and Everquest; it only has to allow players to enter a massively interactive online world as a unique playable character. That's it for the requirements of the genre. The gameplay can be whatever it wants to be, as long as the interaction is there and players are given the chance to explore their setting by taking on the role of characters who are not themselves. On that note, creating a console MMO is only infeasible when developers focus on transporting a PC MMO style of gameplay to the console, rather than creating a unique console MMO design from the ground up. For a console MMORPG to truly succeed, it has to be its own unique creation, not the glorified mod of a PC game that already exists. It has to follow leads like this.

So the question now becomes, why haven't designers been focusing on creating unique console MMO experiences already? If these console-specific game designs already exist, why aren't they being produced? The answer is simple: money. Unfortunately, making games is a business, and World of Warcraft was - and is - a legendary business success. It was so successful, in fact, that nearly every greedy game producer in the industry wants to breed (and eventually milk) their own cash cow by imitating it. So instead of funding the production of new game concepts (such as console MMOs made as console MMOs), they put their financial support behind what they consider to be a sure thing, dropping their money directly in the face of game design progress.

This brings me to my final concern - divvying up profits from subscription fees (which, as I stated above, World of Warcraft proved MMOs can produce in amounts that would make Lex Luthor cry tears of happiness). This is the last thing holding back studios like Cryptic, whose arguments with Microsoft over the distribution of profits have led them back out on early declarations that their superhero and Star Trek themed MMOs (Champions Online and Star Trek Online respectively) were being developed for console play on the Xbox 360. This happened twice in the last year. Thus far, console parent companies have made it abundantly clear that they want to share a slice of the profits accumulated by any game being played on their system, a notion which is hard for developers - who, as far as I know, never had to give a percentage of their monthly fees to Microsoft or Apple when making MMORPGs for the PC) - to get behind.

So why am I so sure that popular console MMOs are on their way, given the fact that imitative game producers and companies like Microsoft are blocking them at every turn, demanding toll fees on the road to console MMO greatness? The answer is simple: because there's too much money to be lost for console parent companies by not supporting a great massively multiplayer role-playing game, playable only on their system; a sort of franchise MMO. If it succeeded, a game like that would keep people attached to a console not just for months, but for years, just as MMOs like World of Warcraft have kept people attached to their keyboards and monitors throughout an otherwise grim dark age for game sales on the PC. Someday soon - perhaps at the genesis of the next console generation - Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will realise that they have too much to lose by refusing to put a large quantity of their eggs in the console MMO basket.

Time to put on my prophesying pants. Now I don't know, as I'm not a doctor, but here's my bold claim - on this day in May 2010, I hereby predict that we're two to three years away from playing a hugely anticipated, extremely well-funded, console-exclusive massively multiplayer online role-playing game. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Your thoughts? Is the gaming industry really headed controller-first into a console MMO era? If so, is that a good thing? Does the idea of playing a franchise console MMO make you happy? Angry? Sad? Hungry? Should I see a psychologist to work through these disturbing dreams I've been having? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

That's it for this installment. Come back in just under two weeks for yet another dose of pure, unadulterated State of the Union, or a bikini-clad bear will throw a unicycle at you, and you'll be haunted by Abraham Lincoln's ghost. That shit happens.


Labels: , , , , ,

- Greg Mengel

Discuss this article in our friendly forums

Sign up to our community today and discuss our articles, debate over upcoming games and organise matches and playsessions with like-minded people just like you.

Liked this? Spread the word - share with your friends!

Done? You might also enjoy these!

All comments are subject to our commenting policy

GGTL Classics
Some of the very best articles dug out from deep in the GGTL archives, written by some of our past and present wordsmiths alike.
Your continued use of this website and/or any others owned by Gamer's Guide to represents your acceptance and indicates your full understanding of all of our legal policies and terms. Our legal policies and terms are legally binding. If you in any way disagree with or refuse to be bound by any part of said legal policies and terms, you are advised to leave this website immediately.