Why MMORPGs Don’t Work on Consoles

Firstly, let me start off by pointing out that when I say MMORPG, I am referring to the game genre in the classical sense.  For instance, while FIFA 12’s “Be A Pro mode” may technically be a MMORPG because it’s (1) massively multiplayer; (2) online; and (3) in it you assume the role of an individual footballer, in this article when I say MMORPG I am instead referring to games like World of Warcraft, Rift, Everquest and Star Wars: Galaxies (not to mention the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic). I’m talking about the kind of games where you might grind for weeks on end, all for a minor equipment upgrade, or where you spend hours each day in dungeons that are designed for anywhere between 5-40 players.

Players of MMORPGs tend to be some of the most engaged and immersed that you will ever come across.  This is because the games they play draw you in with time consuming challenges that give you an immense sense of achievement once completed, and then continue to keep you locked in due with a desire to build upon the work that has already been put into your character; not to mention the relationships you build with other players. MMORPGs are also one of the most lucrative game genres for developers, mainly due to the subscription based business model they use and in which the gamer must not only the purchase the game for $50, but also pay in the region of $15 per month to continue playing.

World of Warcraft Logo

World of Warcraft

So with that in mind, why don’t we see more MMORPG titles on consoles? While there have been a few successful attempts, with one of the more notable ones from Square-Enix in the form of its Final Fantasy franchise, MMORPGs are significantly underrepresented on console platforms. There are a number of reasons for this.

The first barrier that developers hit is, obviously enough, with the controls (you knew this was coming, I’m just getting it out the way). MMORPGs typically require more abilities to be “binded” (to either keys or buttons) than that which a standard controller can accommodate. This means console MMORPGs would need a completely new style of combat system that ends up being either “slash ‘n’ hack” or turn based, with neither option providing the kind of battles that the most successful PC MMORPGs offer their users. It would take something exceptionally creative to make the generic UI we see in most PC-based MMORPGs work for a gamepad user.

Warcraft Keyboard

Specialized Warcraft keyboard

The second big problem is the social aspect of MMORPGs. The genre greatly depends on gamers interacting with each other, both during combat and outside of it. The Xbox soft keyboard (the one that pops up on your screen for data entry), for example, wouldn’t be ideal because any text input would take far too long in the heat of battle and would be an annoyance, even if you’re just trying to have a conversation. That leaves a microphone as the only other and already established form of communication that developers can build around. While many gamers already own a mic, most choose not to use it for whatever reason (most commonly because they do not feel comfortable talking like that). The same “problem” exists on PC equivalents – it’s easy to get 20-40 people in a teamspeak channel, but you will usually find only a handful are actually willing to talk.

Finally, we have the life-span of consoles, and by this I mean the length of time between a console’s initial release and when its successor hits the market. Generally speaking, the average life-span of a console is five years, although it should be noted that the current generation has surpassed that and looks set to stick around for a few more years yet. The underlying problem, however, is that MMORPGs take years to develop (for example, World of Warcraft was in development for over four years) and so developers would need to start working on a new title at least two years in advance of a console’s release just in order to have three years time “on the market”. Compare that to the lifespan of a “good” PC-based MMORPG, which is around five to six years, and it becomes fairly obvious that a MMORPG game will sell more copies if it is released onto a PC.

PS3 vs Xbox 360

In summary, once you combine all of these factors, it simply comes down to MMORPGs on consoles being a headache for developers, who can, in any event, likely sell more copies of their game as a PC title instead of a console title. It would take something really exceptional for this not to be the case.

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  • SickPuP

    While you list three major problems these can be remedied pretty easily. The UI and control system. There are 16 buttons on the Xbox controller not including the angles of the D pad. If the user were to click in a joystick and a popup menu came up where the user could then roll the joystick to a menu option that is 8 options from one click. There are plenty of buttons but developers are just unimaginative and lazy. Also if the Xbox supported more bluetooth mice and keyboards it could eliminate that problem all together. Second was the fact of nobody using their microphones. I see the opposite problem online. Too many people using their microphones but the problem is that they are all 10 year old kids who think the world revolves around them. I don’t use my microphone unless I join a private party or a room with actually decent people. The last problem is the console lifespan. I think this point is moot because the life span of a good MMORPG should not outlast a console. If it goes over 5 years I think a new version is due to capture gaming advancements over the years.

    To me the most successful was PSU (Phantasy Star Universe). The first problem they experience was lack of regular updates. The second problem was the extra cost for Xbox Live Gold members. I understand charging silver members to play but if I am a gold member and paying for XBL service I am not planning on paying another $10 a month on top of that. The next issue was controlling the spammers and cheaters. They were able to remedy the first and third issue but then they suffered from lack up major updates. Major updates being network lag fixes, graphic enhancements, and more robust gameplay. The game was too “cookie cutter”.

    There is plenty of room for success on consoles if they are able to get the formula right: cost + updates + improvement = win.

    • No thank you

      Wow really? I was about to write something familiar haha.. Oh well.

  • Maxi

    In terms of the UI, having to make two clicks for anything is two clicks too many in most battles, you need to be lightning fast. It also introduces more room for errors.

    And with the lifespan, on a PC the game can be upgraded over the years with expansion packs etc to make better use of more advanced technology, with the console you’re stuck.

    I would also add that with clans, etc, the social side of MMORPG, all that stuff is just so much easier to organise and be involved in on a PC as opposed to a console.

    You’re Phantasy Star Online point is good though, that was a great game!

  • TooSlowOkumura

    For me, playing WoW with a controller was too much work. MMORPG’s COULD be moved to consoles, but your points are obvious. I agree with SickPup, and Maxi.

    Say you were doing a raid involving you needing to heal. You’d need to have your spam heal key, watch your tank, watch your fingers, and watch your party thing. With hardly any room for key-pressing error on a keyboard, a controller would prove insufficient.

  • Hggggf

    The consoles have a keyboard and mouse you can purchase online.  I don’t care if the graphics are degraded a to a degree.  I’d rather not spend a shit ton of money on a pc. I don’t see why not release mmorpg’s on the consoles

    • Bob

      You don’t even need a keyboard and mouse. The controller has major versatility.

  • Bob

    Skyrim? Put it online and make it a bit more extensive and multiplayer oriented and you have yourself an amazing MMORPG. The controls aren’t a problem in any way, the mic is a fine substitution that everyone uses on games like COD and the 360 has been out for 7 years. Get an Elder Scrolls MMORPG going now for the release of the next xbox release and you have yourself a major money maker that would make us console players very very happy.