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The Digital Continuum: Will console MMOs succeed?

Kyle Horner

It's been a long time since I first wrote about console MMOs here, and in that time we've seen several promising titles enter development. Titles such as Free Realms, Champions Online, The Agency and DC Universe Online all have potential to be worth playing on a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360. But there are still questions as to whether MMOs can function on consoles and if there's enough interested players on any given platform to make the whole thing viable.

As developers have aspired to going multi-platform, controls have become less of an issue. Knowing that they have to design combat, movement and menu controls for both a keyboard/mouse and a controller has brought about a streamlining mentality. I say streamlining -- and not simplifying -- because they're two very different things. Champions Online has multiple functionality built into their attack buttons. Players can tap for one type of power, or hold down for a charge effect. And in DC Universe Online, players have three combat stances to switch between that change each of the mapped abilities on their four controller face buttons. Then of course you've got games like The Agency, which where pretty much thought up around being multiplatform.

The big functionality question has to do with patching. In the MMO world, all patches are not created equal. Some are big content updates, while others are generally bug fixes and balance tweaks. Console MMOs run into a major issue when it comes to emergency patching of bugs or balances, because Microsoft and Sony both have their own system of testing new updates to make sure they're ready for consumers. And unless these two companies are willing to give MMO developer free reign to push out patches when they think it's ready, any console/PC MMO is going to have a problem.

As far as obstacles go, the only other I see is demographic. The PC demographic and console demographic are not entirely similar -- they tend to prefer even different settings. This one reason is why I think we'll continue to see multiple platform MMOs with modern or sci-fi settings. Console gamers just don't do high fantasy too well, and while that crowd exists on the PC -- modern and sci-fi have interested parties on both platforms.

Since I first wrote about this subject in November of 2007, there still hasn't been a new console MMO on the market. We're very close though with Champions Online and Free Realms likely to see release this year on the 360 and PS3 respectively. I hope they do very well for themselves on both PC and consoles. Having to think outside the personal computing box will only drive innovation on all sides. New challenges create new ideas, which in turn end up generating new games for all of us to enjoy. Plus, it even causes that overly-used "innovate" word to happen once in a while as well.

So are console MMOs likely to see success? Most certainly they are -- it's really only a matter of time. And when they do arrive, whether I play them on a console or a PC, I'll still be enjoying the very genre I've come to love over the last nine years.

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