What would it take for MMOs to work on consoles?

There’s been a great story this week originating from an article in Gamasutra where an analyst claims that 1/3 of people who intend to buy God of War 3 don’t currently own the console  to play it (PS3). I thought this was interesting because it highlights one of the ways in which consoles are different from PCs: backwards compatibility.

(Note: it may also mean that people say they’re planning to buy lots of games that they don’t actually buy. If you’d asked me last year I would probably have said I intended to buy Fallout 3. I still do … some day.)

A new console might not run your old games. So before people fork out for the hardware, they’ll wait to be sure that there are enough games out that they’d want to play to make it worthwhile.  God of War 3 may well be a console seller for the PS3, if it tips enough people  over the decision line. Upgrading a PC is a much more predictable operation, and can be done in pieces — ie. upgrade the RAM, upgrade the graphics card, etc. And when you do it, you know that your current favourite games will still run.

MMOs on Consoles

MMOs on consoles have been tried. There’s no special technical reason why it wouldn’t be possible to run one, assuming the net connection. But  you can look at how we play MMOs to see why it might not be that simple.

A lot of people play MMOs with their families. PC games generally assume one user per computer, so if you have multiple MMO players you’ll have more than one machine. This is not the console model. Consoles are sold as being family machines. You’d have one per household. If a game is multiplayer, that means everyone huddled up on the sofa with their own controller, playing via the same box and watching on the same TV/ monitor.

But having more than one person playing an MMO via console means that MMOs would need to work differently. Maybe you’d be running different characters in the same team. Maybe the screen would be split in two (sounds awkward though). But what you couldn’t really do is have one person raiding with their guild while the other went off to explore and do some crafting instead.

It might be that a true console MMO would simply be something quite different to what we have seen before. But in order for consoles to run MMOs the way they currently are, you have to break that one-per-household mindset.

Households like mine which currently have more than one PC, probably with a shared net connection (not doing this would result in divorce ;) ) would have to switch to multiple consoles instead. It’s not impossible that this might happen. I’m sure there are student households where there’s an XBOX in each bedroom.

It will however be a tough nut to crack to persuade the majority of users that they need another console and another monitor just to play with their family.

Which does beg the question: what about handhelds? And this is going to be the key market for console MMOs in my opinion. An iPhone, a DS, a PSP? They could be net-connected. They could run some kind of MMO.

I’d put money on this being where the revolution starts. And if I’ve finished Chronotrigger by then, I’ll be there with my DS at the ready.