Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

The Reasons Why There Aren’t More Console MMOs

Posted by Ben Zeigler on June 12, 2008

Joe Ludwig from Flying Lab Software (and who blogs at Programmer Joe) wrote an article for Gamasutra this week entitled “Why Aren’t There More Console MMOs?“.  I recommend everyone go read it, because it’s a great summary of the reasons why developing a console MMO is so damn hard. As I am currently working for a company developing a console MMO, I can say that he’s right on with his analysis. I thought I’d expand on a few random points he made, though:

  • Certification is a massive problem. Certification is VERY good for ensuring a high quality, polished, technically working product. Certification is absolutely central to the console gaming experience, and it is a big part of why Consoles are so much easier to use and consistent than PCs. However, the large technical changes that go along with any MMO launch are extremely difficult to implement with certification lag. The only solutions to this are poor a massive amount of resources and QA time into an absolutely perfect launch (FFXI did a pretty good job of this) or linger in a long, difficult to manage public beta for months before launch (Kind of like Home for PS3).
  • Certification is particularly horrible for cross-platform games. If you’ve been following console development, you’ve seen how often the release schedules for online content differ from platform to platform for multi-platform games. This is normally just a minor annoyance, but when you have a tight synchronization between server and client components, having multiple clients connected to the same server back end is just asking for trouble. It’s very telling that the only cross platform console MMO is FFX1, and that was launched on two platforms with no online cert, and early in the life of another console, before many of the proper processes had been established.
  • UI is a huge problem for a console MMO. Rather than just being about text size, you have to redesign the entire concept of an MMO UI. MMO UIs tend to be customizable, complex, and screen-hogging. Console UIs need to be the exact opposite, and in fact due to TV format issues you are extremely restricted on available screen space for UI. And then you have to somehow work on both HD and non-HD televisions. I think the keyboard problem is solvable (the 360 Chatpad is actually pretty cool, and usb keyboards are cheap), but the UI issue sucks up a lot of development time.

I think this is the console generation where there’s going to be a few breakout hits. The console life cycle is long enough (The 360 will last longer than the XBOX, and the PS3 is going to last a VERY long time), the install base is picking up (MMO developers like spiffy graphics as much as anyone else, so the install base of PCs with decent graphics card is the important number), and the platform holders are at least somewhat on board. Of course I could be wrong, and I’ll be looking back in 3-4 years saying I was an idiot. Well, I’ll be doing that anyway, but it may not be about this PARTICULAR post.

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One Response to “The Reasons Why There Aren’t More Console MMOs”

  1. Darius K. said

    Wow, I hadn’t thought about cert. Those are some very good points.

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