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Where are the console MMOs?

September 17, 2009

Where are the console MMOs?
By: Dakota Grabowski 

A genre that is borderline extinct on the consoles, it’s time for publishers to step up and help development push forward. 

We’ve all heard the announcements of development studios and publishers stating that they are “innovating” the MMO genre for the consoles. It usually goes a little something like this: “The vision behind the alliance of ‘insert publisher name here’ and ‘insert development studio here’ will expand the MMO genre and create an epic gaming experience for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.” 

Yes, the first announcement of any MMO on the consoles sure does sound promising for gamers. When the only true MMO – at least in the U.S. – to see release on any current-generation console debuted back in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and in 2006 for the Xbox 360 in the form of Final Fantasy XI, it’s evident that the genre is sorely lacking. Since its release, FFXI has seen four expansions, two expansion chapters via digital distribution and a steady subscriber base of near 500,000 in all regions; it’s a mystery why the market hasn’t expanded with more MMO options. 

Let’s begin with the obvious games that are near completion and are set to release on the consoles. First off, Sony is leading the way with exclusive MMOs that are nearing completion. The list includes: DC Universe Online, MAG and The Agency that are first party titles and Final Fantasy XIV for third-party support. DC Universe should be on store shelves before next summer and is nearing a beta stage within the upcoming months. The Agency and MAG are taking a different approach to the genre as they tackle the MMOFPS area with MAG releasing first in January of 2010. MAG actually went into beta today, September 17, so it’ll be the first out the door for the PS3. Lastly, Final Fantasy XIV has been said to have a launch date of late 2010, which most likely means it’ll slip into 2011. 

Outside of Sony’s contributions – and Square-Enix’s – the genre is looking worse than ever. When Champions Online was originally announced, it was said that Cryptic Studios was taking the cancelled project they had with Microsoft Game Studios, Marvel Universe Online – which is a whole other topic for another day – and turning it into Champions Online. With its announcement, and bouncing around publishing houses from 2K Games to Atari, Champions Online was originally planned to see a console release. Now the status for the console version is up in the air with the latest information pulled from their forum boards stating, “Unfortunately, when a company like Cryptic is in talks with companies to develop for consoles, those unfinalized business deals also prevent us from sharing any information about the game's development on consoles.” 

The same unfortunate news can be applied to Funcom’s Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. The Xbox 360 version was positioned to launch with the PC version back in 2008. It was then relegated to an unusual delay for “at least 12 months” according Funcom’s Gaute Godager back in May 2008. A year has past and, before you know it, May will be here again and two years will have gone by since the PC version released. So…what gives? According to Game Director Craig Morrison in an interview with Eurogamer, "There is a small, dedicated team working on the Xbox platform at the moment. We still plan on having a 360 version of the game at some stage but I'm afraid I can't go into any specifics beyond that at the moment.”  

Here’s a little insight on the matter when it comes to the Xbox 360 according to Square-Enix producer Hiromichi Tanaka in an interview with videogaming247.com "Because 360 has its own policy with Xbox Live that is different from [the] internet, that's something we're in discussions with Microsoft [about], to come to an agreement,” said Tanaka. 

Obviously the development for the genre on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 has turned out to be much more difficult than once perceived. With projects dating back to the original Xbox such as: True Fantasy Live Online, Fate, Shining Lore, Shin Megami Tensei IX Online and several others being cancelled, fear ends up striking the hearts of fanatics for their fabled MMOs turning into vaporware.  

There might be a few new titles joining the list of cancelled console projects including: Age of Dreams, Ancient World Online, Hironobu Sakaguchi’s mysterious MMORPG, Turbine’s (known for Asheron’s Call) current-generation MMO project, Huxley, The Secret World, APB (though, a console release might be likely if PC sales are encouraging), and Free Realms

Sometimes, one has to wonder. If World of Warcraft actually materialized on the consoles, would publishers be turning the other cheek to the genre as they are doing so now? It only takes one game to turn everything around as the video game industry is truly a colossal copy-cat industry that’ll spurn out rip-offs and sequels one after another. For the sake of MMO fans, let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Gw
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