A Successful Console MMO is Just a Matter of Time

With the “revelation” that Blizzard isn’t likely to bring World of Warcraft to consoles, the question remains: Just when will a console MMO gain widespread acceptance as it has on PC? 

It will happen, but it could be a while.

There’s a few likely candidates, such as Sony’s [SNE] DC Universe Online that’s coming to PlayStation 3. It has many characters that players know, and if Sony Online Austin can nail the gameplay, it will likely surpass Square Enix’s [SQNXF] Final Fantasy XI as the most successful MMO. 

Sony’s DC Universe Online

But don’t expect the method PC success was found to work on consoles. Rather, expect a different pay model.

This model would likely mean no monthly fees, but plenty of pay-to-download content, already finding success in other console titles such as Electronic Arts’ [ERTS] Rock Band titles. Indeed, EA will include an online component- both DLC and online play – in every one of its titles in fiscal 2011 (starting April 1), Chief Operating Officer John Schappert told analysts in its Q3 conference call last month.

It’s no wonder EA and other publishers are bullish on DLC: Last year, digital downloads grew 139% on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and 50% Microsoft’s [MSFT] Xbox 360, the Los Angeles Times reported, without citing a source for its data. That’s a stark contrast to sales of disc-based media, which shrank 8% last year according to NPD

On consoles, incorporating DLC into MMOs presents two key advantages to both gamers and publishers/developers:

  • Unlike monthly fees found in most MMOs, downloadable content is strictly optional. With a key barrier removed, gamers have the option of grabbing the latest weapons, maps or vehicles for a nominal fee.
  • Profitable DLC will not only offset costs for server upkeep, but so will –  wait for it – in-game ads. While some gamers will turn their noses up at this notion – which is reality in most EA Sports games – they may be more receptive to it if it saves them money – such as a $10 to $15 monthly subscription fee.  In fact, EA is already planning on cutting the middleman for its ad sales: Starting this summer, the company will sell in-game ads directly, execs said at a New York event earlier this week.

There’s also challenges to MMO publishing on consoles, as WoW lead producer J. Allen Brack mentioned in the G4 story:

  • Hard drive space: Some 360s have little to no hard drive space, and a game like WoW requires roughly 15GB including core files and patches. As time goes on, this will be less of an issue as Internet connections speed up and storage in the cloud becomes more prevalent.
  • Quality control: Any developer submitting new content for console MMOs will have to deal with the approval processes from the likes of Sony or Microsoft, which have been known to cause headaches for content makers.
  • Adapting to controllers: While games like WoW were made for a mouse-keyboard control scheme, it’s already been demonstrated through console MMOs like Square’s Final Fantasy XI can be played with great competency – with or without a keyboard.

Despite the challenges MMO developers have faced in the past on consoles, the escalation of digital distribution, faster Internet speeds and no subscription fees could finally make for a big-time console MMO.

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