What can the MMO “console trend” do for us PC players?

So I ranted briefly in my last post on how The Elder Scrolls Online was pushed back to 2014 because of next-gen console availability. From a PC gamers point of view – and that’s where I am going to play my MMOs in the foreseeable future – that’s not the worst however that may come from the popular marriage between different systems in our favorite genre. The fact that consoles are becoming more and more like PCs doesn’t really change that.

gameonIn their most recent podcast episode, Chris from Game by Night / MMORPG.com and Ferrel from Epic Slant Press discuss the impact of the “console MMO future” and they were so kind to invite me to have a chat about what we heard at E3 and also GW2’s event culture and overall status quo. On the topic of console MMOs, I mentioned on the podcast that I feel like PC gamers especially are going to get the shorter end of the stick. Before getting into that further, I’m posing the overall question of whether people really want to play MMOs on a console? Do they?

I can only speak for myself here, having grown up with home console systems; when I play MMOs, I rely on a lot more than just a keyboard (I don’t think the control aspect on consoles is as bad anymore as it used to be). There’s teamspeak, skype and raidcall running in my background. I have a second screen I can use to check quests or items while playing if need be. Functionality and access to networks like this are inseparable from MMO gameplay for me.

Then there are other potentially negative aspects, launch delays aside. To quote just a few of the more popular concerns currently discussed on TESO fan forums:

I’ve already stated several times my apprehension with this.
1. community split instead of forcing new MMO players to play on a PC and growing their market share.
2. Patches and content designed around the lowest common denominator. There are things that can’t be done on a console as they are on a PC so in essence each new system implemented in the game will have to work across all platforms. Meaning things will be dumbed down.[18#]

[…]but to segment the community and enable cross platform support will kill this game I’m afraid. One or all 3 platforms will suffer due to triple time required to design, Q&A, push, test and publish.[#10]

The implementation of a MMORPG on consoles means one of two things: unprecedented user interface innovation to retain game depth on a controller (unlikely), or simplifying the game.(#7)

[…]they’ll have to make every mechanic work in all environments, and remove/change the features that cannot be adapted. The risk of failure is certainly there. (#3)

Is this the future that we ‘re looking at for cross-platform MMOs: games designed around the lowest common denominator, split communities and sloppy ports and delays? It all sounds very gloomy and MMO players are certainly known for their pessimism. Still, given what complex undertakings MMOs are and the time that’s required to deliver a polished product on a hopefully successful launch, is there any benefit whatsoever to the PC gamer? I can only think of one: More people paying for MMOs means more money going back into the genre (which hopefully benefits all audiences equally).

There’s also the question of how much sense it makes to launch both PC and console versions simultaneously, as elaborated on by another forum user:

Development wise, if they really want to win all those console kiddies, it was way better to release a PC/Mac version of the game, improve it over several patch (it happens anyway), then release a more polished product to the console freaks. My reasoning is simple, PC gamers have a broader gaming experience while the console only players tend to buy and toss it in the drawer if the game doesn’t deliver from the start….console players just don’t have the patience to wait for patch after patch after patch.[#2]

ps2padOne of the big differences between console and PC audiences has always been the technical aspect: the willingness to put up with installs, patches and overall bugs and downtimes caused by individual Windows settings and different hardware. Console popularity stems from the “plug&play” model and this demography is happy to do without extra options and customizability, as long as crashing on the sofa and successfully logging in within the minute is a given. So can this future marriage between not only different platforms but target audiences end in anything but tears? I guess we will see.

10 comments

  1. Beside the technical side of things, I’m always worried about the interface. The limited input options on consoles mean that in-game actions are limited as well. Just look at the spell interface in Elder Scrolls. A PC player could have a dozen or so spells ready for use at a time, while the game only allows for two active at a time, relying on the menus to access any more, meaning frequent pauses that disrupt gameplay. This is part of why I’ve barely touched casters in Oblivion or Skyrim.

    1. Yep, I definitely love my key-bindings. Skyrim did this pretty poorly though, also for PC (at least without mods).

  2. I love playing console games. Here the past few months I’ve been back on my PC primarily doing MMOs but by and large I’d much rather sit back comfortably with a controller rather than sit hunched over a keyboard which ends up hurting my back after awhile plus aggravating the RSI in my mouse wrist if I’m actively “mousing” very long ( <— primary reason I switched to consoles, btw).

    I've been looking forward to "console MMOs" for a long time, but I absolutely am not interested in taking the existing paradigm of PC MMOs (namely the combat focusing on umpteen bazillion hotbar icons) and plopping it onto a console — that simply doesn't work. But when I see something like say, Destiny or especially The Division, or even Defiance which has been out for a few months, that's more what I'm looking for with the exception of all three of those being shooters. I love me some good shooters but I'd like to see the genres expand from that.

    Neverwinter is very controller-friendly, and and I play Defiance on PC with a controller. Trion's shooting isn't exactly tight but driving with a keyboard is for masochists.

    Build an MMO or even a FauxMO that takes advantage of each platform's strengths and now we're talking. I don't know how Defiance is doing on PC (when I do login I don't often see players anymore) but the Defiance players of the gaming group I'm a member of say populations are very strong and pretty hardcore for both 360 and PS3 right now.

    I don't require that to be labeled an "MMO" the game must have slow hotbar combat. I'd love a fantasy or even cyberpunkish MMO on a console that had fantastic context-sensitive combat, such as the melee in Batman: Arkham Asylum or Arkham City. Even something like Assassin's Creed would be a major step up from "stand in place playing virtual Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots."

    No, you won't have the big text chats on consoles, for obvious reasons. Then again, zip around the blogosphere and see how many people say "the first thing I do when I login is turn off the local and global chats." If people are isolating themselves already and only interacting with friends and guildmates, then that's exactly what I do every time I play on Xbox Live and setup a Party so my friends and I can chat and not have to deal with whatever the public players are saying.

    As for the guy calling console players "kiddies" and "freaks" saying they have no patience for patches and toss games aside? LOL! How many PC gamers freak out at every Steam sale buying umpteen games they end up never even loading? The term "content locusts" and "three-monthers" was created around PC MMO players, not console players. It's true we might say "screw this" and trade a sub-par game in where a PC gamer has to keep it, but for the past decade PC gaming has been second- or third-tier quality for the most part (MMOs aside, and even then an argument over quality can be made) in favor of consoles but the past year that's been turning around, and with the next-gen consoles using x86 PC tech finally, gaming on ALL PLATFORMS is only going to get better.

    1. Genre is actually a big topic; shooters translate better to console than something like WoW. I wonder if we’ll see all that many classic fantasy MMOs going console at all. ES is a bit of a freak in terms of simplified controls and menus on PC – many other games would be harder to port.

      General chats have hardly ever been where multi-playing and coop happens in MMOs; already in UO times guilds would use IRC clients for better communication. to me it’s important to have programs like skype and TS in the background while playing. I don’t play MMOs to play alone.

      It’s a fair point many gamers whine about broken patches etc. – but that doesn’t really change the last argument. many people buy consoles exactly to avoid that kind of trouble. and given that MMOs come with more trouble than usual, especially around launch, makes me wonder if a classic console audience is interested in that sort of thing. so even if you launch cross-platform, it might make sense to launch on PC first? I don’t know how much of it translates technically.

  3. “Patches and content designed around the lowest common denominator. There are things that can’t be done on a console as they are on a PC so in essence each new system implemented in the game will have to work across all platforms. Meaning things will be dumbed down.”

    this is my main problem…because my other problem is “action combat”. So I have 2 problems with MMOs future..first is the console trend and the other is the “action combat” MMO trend. My opinion is that these two work together, because when you are forced to use minimul quickslots/keybinds it is very difficult to make a MMO with “traditional rpg” combat. Maybe I am getting old but action combat is not fun for me…all this running around in circles, dodge every 3-4 sec is not my playstyle. Not because I cannot play it well but I do not enjoy it as much as the traditional combat

    I don’t like Batman, God of War, Prototype, e.t.c. and especially I don’t like that playstyle on an RPG game, and I am afraid that a console MMO is not possible to have a traditional RPG combat.

    1. I agree with that. controls need to be simplified – nothing can make up for all the missing keys and keybinds on a controller. you can have sub-menus but those take time. so either you’d have a super-slow, almost round-based combat (the way FF14 has had initially and much of that was exactly because of console), or you opt for the faster combat that works with limited buttons. shooter MMOs are certainly ideal here.
      so, maybe we don’t need to worry so much about the other genres that traditionally come with ‘MMO combat’ – even if more fantasy MMOs go active combat that creates a niche for PC MMOs that do not.

    2. I think this simplification is an ongoing trend beyond focusing on consoles. Games tend to make more money when they cater to a wider audience, and simpler games tend to appeal to a wider audience than complex games. My own MMO poison of choice, DDO, is threatening to simplify their complex character development system that I absolutely love. As far as I know, DDO won’t be ported to consoles anytime soon, but they want to attract a wider audience to the game. And, I’ll admit, the complex character system probably scares off a lot of people. On the other hand, the character system is one of the biggest reasons I’m still playing DDO despite all the MMOs out there.

  4. Everytime somebody mentions Skyrim, I cringe. It’s a beautiful game everybody is talking about and I can’t play it because of the interface. It’s an example of a PC – Console combo gone wrong.
    It is going to be interesting to see how Final Fantasy XIV will do. They have a separate console interface, hopefully better adapted to the console needs than Skyrim adapted their UI to the PC needs.
    As for your point about the game being dumbed down because of having to cater to both sides, it won’t matter to me much, since I am to clumsy to notice the difference. If an encounter comes down to depending on the nuances of the interface, it’s literally guaranteed I won’t be able to finish it. It would be interesting to learn how many players are like me in this regard and how big that segment of the market is.

    1. Yeah, I think the new FF14 will have quite some impact. and SE have been working very hard on refining controls. I still can’t imagine playing it on console though :)

      Personally, I don’t know so much about ‘dumbed down’ as I don’t like that kind of wording. but I could imagine it impacting on things like combat speed, especially for traditional MMOs, or then simplifying your options and choices in spells & abilities too much. that said, GW2’s combat approach is already a lot less cluttery than WoW’s, Rift’s and others, and I really like GW2 keeping it tight. coming to think of it…GW2 is one of those games that actually might work with a controller.

  5. One problem is that the audiences for PC games is different than MMOs. Designing for consoles first and then “porting” the game to PC means that PC gamers get a lesser experience.

    I think that the domination of consoles is coming to an end, though. Mobile is drawing the audience that used to be console players, but PC gamers are still here. I hope nobody is crazy enough to port a tablet MMO to PC and expect any level of success….

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