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The Digital Continuum: Beware the MMO mutants

Kyle Horner

I had such high hopes for Auto Assault, but unfortunately a lot went wrong with that game. The general concept remains a fun idea and definitely has lots of legs for further attempts at the genre -- just not on PCs. I've talked about the why the current style of MMOs don't work well on consoles, but that doesn't mean a newer type of mutated MMO wouldn't work.

The recent rumors about a Call of Duty 4 or Grand Theft Auto (re: APB?) MMO are just the kind of mutation I'm talking about. I say mutation, because I don't see these as the next step in massively games -- we're still going to have our WoWs, AoCs and WARs coming out in the foreseeable future. However a new breed all to itself is a definite possibility in the next year or so. This concept -- which has been brewing in the back of my mind for a while -- has only been encouraged by the recent SOE and SCEI shuffle.

In recent years, SOE hasn't had the kind of MMO market prowess they used to have back in the days before Everquest 2. Not that they haven't been trying, but mostly because Blizzard saw fit to steal every ounce of their thunder and then proceeded to steal the shirts off SOE's collective backs -- so to speak. This could all change with the advent of this SCEI/SOE news, especially since SCEI seems very serious about making the PS3's online space the bee's knees.

Obviously, with this new move Sony Online Entertainment is in a favorable position to work very closely with the Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc branch. Specifically, the Playstation 3 is going to be the main target here -- SOE's newest darling MMO, The Agency, is probably going to see the first benefits from the change. However, there are other possible games we have yet to hear about that could see benefits from SOE's knowledge of the massively game space and one such game is Twisted Metal.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with that one -- a free-to-play online enabled game with a basic leveling system, car creation tools, car customization features and additional content on the Playstation Network at a nominal fee. In my (and maybe your) head, that sounds wonderful! The only problem is making it happen, because before you can get the online model to work you need a really fun game. The combat has to be tight, responsive and varied. There has to be room for people to play quick five-to-ten minute matches, or sit and play for several hours. Twisted Metal Online would have to be fast, fun, short and sweet -- it would also need to give players the desire to come back and buy that additional content.

Even if all of this works -- and it would, I think -- there's more space to be explored with Home, Sony's upcoming virtual interface for the PS3's online space. A system like Home would allow for some pretty cool integration with console-based MMOs like The Agency or my personal fantasy game Twisted Metal Online. Communication would be as simple as plugging in a USB keyboard and mouse or even a headset if you like that verbal stuff. It would even be fine if they made The Agency's Home area a water cooler kind of environment where people just brag about recent wins. Simply because bragging rights are important to gamers, even the casual ones.

By stripping out a lot of the convoluted (and glitchy) features of the Auto Assault blueprint and adding in their own flavor, (see: Home) SOE could make their own version of a car-combat MMO and it would do far better than the last attempt. All it would take is some collaboration between SCEI and SOE under this new setup of theirs and 'BOOM' -- you've got a great title. If they don't decide to do it first I've got a feeling this sort of thing is already in NCsoft's future plans -- well, sans car-combat MMO.

Making all of this come together isn't the only part of creating a successful console MMO. There's a lot more to be considered -- more than a page or two of text could really get into. Still, if SOE/SCEI keep three simple rules in mind, I think they'll do just fine. Those three simple rules are:

  • Keep it simple doesn't require you to make it dumb.
  • Keep it fun doesn't mean, "Fill it with super-shiny explosions."
  • Finally, keeping it free doesn't mean that you shouldn't spend some money on production value.
If SOE and SCEI can work together while remembering these basics, I'm pretty sure they'll pop out a brand new baby mutant MMO sooner or later.

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