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.
In 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]
One 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.