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
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.
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.
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.