Next-gen MMOs remind me of Twix candy bars
If you’ve spent at least five seconds on YouTube or in front of a television in the past few weeks, chances are you’ve also become quite familiar with Twix’s new advertisement campaign. The ads in question are based in the feud between manufacturers of the left and right half of Twix candy bars, and exploit the fictitious hair-splitting therein. Funnily enough, this exact sort of hair-splitting bickering can also be found right in our own games industry, and never more prominently than in the recent proliferation of the term “persistent online world.”
Ubisoft has The Division (and to a lesser degree, Watch Dogs), Bungie has Destiny, Sony is pushing hard with Driveclub, and Zenimax, of course, has Elder Scrolls Online—it’s clear that MMOs will be prominent in the era of PS4 and Xbox One. Equally common, however, is the avoidance of the MMO name entirely, in favor of the aforementioned label or some variant of it.
This can easily be construed as a deliberate attempt to distinguish the emergence of console MMOs from their PC ancestors. On one hand, this is understandable; the above console contenders (and their many unnamed brethren) are shaping up to be very different from the conventional MMO, if only in their approach to player interaction, in-game events, and network setup. On the other hand, it asks just what we can expect from console MMOs, and what sort of challenges the budding genre is likely to face.
Just in case this isn't challenging enough.
With the PS4 and Xbox One both currently sitting at the ripe old age of not-released-yet, it’s impossible to make any hard judgments about the impending MMOs. Still, we can at least make a few tentative assumptions, not the least of which is that we are going to see plenty more MMOs, many of which will likely stem from existing series. The inevitable Borderlands 3 is a particularly viable candidate for making the MMO jump, but the likes of Star Wars: Battlefront 3 or even Infamous could be on the table as well.
More pressing are the obvious hurdles before the games we do know about. Elder Scrolls Online, for example, is already treading on thin ice with its secondary paywall. With PlayStation Network now all but requiring the $5/month fee of PlayStation Plus in its new multiplayer system and Xbox Live adhering to its tried-and-true policies, ESO’s monthly fee of $15 is significantly less attractive. Of course, the quality of ESO could easily keep players hooked, but the same problem is still present, and unfortunately compounded, by the inevitable stacking of subscription fees.
The longevity of MMOs doesn’t lend itself to the dynamic console environment, in which players often hop from multiplayer to multiplayer by the day, and could easily lead to some unappetizing monthly bills for anyone planning to keep up with multiple MMOs at once. This is obvious, however, and will likely be avoided by games like Driveclub and The Crew, which use online systems as more of a social network than an integrated world and therefore have less incentive to charge a monthly fee. Regardless, costs are a noteworthy drawback for PS4- and Xbox One-based MMOs.
Network management—specifically, orchestrating or denying platforms—is another beast entirely, and has surely contributed to the high rate of exclusivity among the many MMOs we’ve already seen. Cross-platform multiplayer has always been something of a unicorn, and in spite of the improved multiplayer systems PS4 and Xbox One will provide, it will likely remain a rarity. With that said, the issue of managing content updates between the two—or potentially three to four—platforms will force developers to either optimize and strike a golden measure between them, or spur player outrage with one version of the game remaining ahead of the other.
There’s little doubt that we’re seeing, and will continue to see, console MMOs thanks to the newfound power of next-gen systems. However, it’s also clear that the transition may not be as smooth as once thought. Either way, looking at the daunting issues above, I’m certainly glad to be on the player side of the equation. Here’s hoping the aforementioned golden measure can be found quickly and painlessly.