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Turbine: Easier to develop MMOs on the Xbox 360 than the PS3

Kevin Kelly

Craig Alexander, Turbine's vp of product development, spoke at Austin GDC today in a panel called "MMOs to Consoles", which is no surprise since Turbine is working on a console MMO. It's investing heavily in the MMO console arena, and their current title, which remains unannounced, is in "active development."However, he did spend a lot of time pointing out how difficult it is to develop games on the PS3 vs. the Xbox 360. Duck your head as the fanboys go to it.

Here's the logic:
  • The Blu-ray drive on the PS3 is actually slower in seek and access time than the DVD drive on the Xbox 360. Once the Blu-ray gets up to speed, it can handle large amount of data. Just not in seeking and accessing, which is a pain for streaming when you're playing something like an MMO.
  • The memory architecture is different. When you're dealing with main memory, you work with "256ish MB" on the PS3 vs "512ish MB" on the 360.
  • The tools aren't as friendly on the PS3. That includes the performance monitor tools, the debugger tools ... everything.
  • Migrating a project from the Xbox 360 to the PS3 is much harder than moving from the PS3 to the 360.
Alexander recommends starting on the PS3 to get all of the heavy lifting done first, but using his same logic it sounds like developers will have a frustrating time during that process. Don't happy tools make happy workers? Gamers already feel like some titles suffer because they have to be developed for both platforms. Is this going to affect MMOs coming to both platforms?

There's more. Read on, Macduff.

Gallery: AGDC09: Turbine talks consoles | 46 Photos

After a brief history of the MMO from the 1980s to the present, Alexander claimed that the fifth generation of MMOs will be MMOs on consoles. He pointed out that the MMO took ten years to mature on the PCs, and using history as a guide, he thinks that MMOs will revolutionize the console in the same way they helped grow the PC. It's been a long time since the graphical MUD Shadow of Yserbius came out in 1992, up to 12 million subscribers in WoW today.

He mentioned that Fable 2, Fallout 3, and Oblivion have all sold more than three million copies each, and that PC titles rarely ever hit that level. So why not develop MMOs for consoles? Alexander calls them a superior MMO platform. "It's the 360 and the PS3 where we really finally have the hardware and the storage capacity to develop what we consider more traditional MMOs with lots of content ..." Sorry Wii owners, "The hardware in the Wii more closely resembles the previous generation than the current one. It's just not there yet."

Turbine's goal is to create MMOs for the consoles that look as good as Fable 2 and Fallout 3, but are also as good as the best MMOs. Can they pull it off? He presents a strong argument, as did Valve in 2008 who presented a similar panel. If you want to see the slides from that presentation you can download them right here. But as with any project, we'll never know until we play it. We noticed Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart in the audience, so it's possible we'll see a minor MMO boom on the consoles in the next couple of years. Stay tuned.

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