If you’re reading this site, it’s likely you indulge in the occasional video game. Though you may not want to admit it to your loved ones and friends, you’ve probably at least tried an MMO at some point in your life. It’s OK, we’ve all been there. What’s important to note is that your little antisocial indulgence probably took place on a computer. You’ve got your keyboard, mouse, headphones, microphone, and near limitless access to a bevy of software. Yep, the computer is the perfect environment for your every MMO need. How else could they possibly be played?
Computer games thrive on being highly customizable, from having access to more keys than a console controller to being easily altered by those looking to enhance their experience with modification programs. Still, there’s something to be said for kicking back on the couch with snacks and a drink, controller in hand, blazing a trail of glory across the vibrant world projecting out of your gloriously large HDTV. The problem is, can you even conceive of playing World of Warcraft on your PlayStation 3?
The MMO genre is one that, in general, does not agree with the console environment. Sure, attempts have been made, but you can’t say there have been any huge success stories. Released in early 2003, EverQuest Online Adventures is a PlayStation 2 version of the popular EverQuest franchise that is still up and running. Likewise, Final Fantasy XI’s PlayStation 2 variant is still alive, though it can be assumed that its PC counterpart boasts a larger user base. The more recent Phantasy Star Universe is still around, although not many positive things can be said about it.
The Phantasy Star franchise does deserve credit though, as Phantasy Star Online for the Sega Dreamcast was one of the genre’s first attempts to break into the console market. Though admittedly a bit light on the “massive” aspect of MMORPG – every stage was instanced and there were a limited number of stages to play through – the game did attract a large following right up until Sega left the hardware business and shut down all related servers. Xbox and GameCube versions did follow, eventually leading to the release of the PC only Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst.
Though EverQuest and Final Fantasy are respectable products, the genre has seen more failures than successes on consoles. Cancellation after cancellation has left gamers wondering if more console MMOs are ever going to happen. True Fantasy Live Online, a game being developed by Level-5 for the original Xbox, was a high profile title until it was ultimately canned. Then there was the announcement and subsequent cancellation of Marvel Universe. And lest we forget, Ensemble Studios was once hard at work on a Halo MMO. Who knows how many other projects were ended prematurely before have any light shed on their existence. Such has been the genre’s console fate. One could argue that a lack a titles is better than 10,000 games with identical gameplay mechanics (I’m looking at you, Korean developers), but something would be nice.
Don’t fret though, as there is still hope. Now that broadband access and internet-ready consoles are becoming ubiquitous, the number of hoops an MMO must jump through to be successful on a console is lessening. Plug a keyboard into the USB port of your PS3, grab a Bluetooth headset and it’s just like being at your computer. Hard drives allow patches and downloadable content to be possible. The technology is in place – all we need are the games.
And they are coming, or so we’re being told. Square Enix announced Final Fantasy XIV Online at E3, which is set to be released in 2010. Out of all upcoming console MMOs, this one is poised to have the most success if done properly. Other projects are shrouded in a bit more secrecy, but we do at least know they exist. Funcom is said to be porting Age of Conan to the Xbox 360, though when we’ll see it remains a mystery. Turbine, creators of Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online, is supposedly working on or investigating the possibility of a console project. Warhammer 40K, not to be confused with Warhammer Online, is rumored to be in development for both PC and Xbox 360 alike, though the only evidence to support this is a job posting. And let’s not forget Sony’s The Agency, which has actually been shown to the gaming press.
But how many of these games will we even see? As evidenced by the recent E3 press conferences of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, motion sensing devices are all the rage. If we are to believe the hype being dished out, fake bows with fake arrows and invisible steering wheels are the wave of the future. There is much success to be had, but the risk versus reward ratio associated with the development of an MMO is keeping many away. It’s also easier to sell the public on fully interactive games as opposed to ones that many require part-time job hours. From a marketing perspective it’s hard to blame them.
Still, both Sony and Microsoft are committed to 10-year life cycles, so it seems more like a matter of when as opposed to if. Final Fantasy XIV Online seems a safe bet to at least be released, with pretty much every other project in an unpredictable state. Is it a market companies want to tap? Absolutely. Are many going to do it and do it well? No, probably not. But that’s OK. Does your console really need rehashed versions of Mabinogi and FlyFF? For the foreseeable future, the console MMO market will have fewer titles than its PC counterpart, but, from a quality control perspective, that’s probably a good thing. We will wait patiently, controller in hand, for the triple-A titles to start trickling in. One day, not all that far off, we’ll be grinding out low level quests with analog sticks and shoulder buttons and you won’t have it any other way.