In an age where 90% of MMORPGs that are released with a subscription model end up going free-to-play, it’s no big secret that gamers are looking at MMOs and MMORPGs differently than in previous years. Players used to feel satisfied trudging along in World of Warcraft or EverQuest, waiting hours for rare/boss spawns, drinking between dungeon pulls, and grinding out EXP bit by slow bit. Not anymore.
Why is that, exactly? Besides the obvious reasons—we’ve all grown older, become better gamers, and simply no longer have the free time we used to—there’s the fact that there are so many more games out there to enjoy. What’s to stop us from hopping in a match of League of Legends, running a dungeon in Final Fantasy XIV, doing some PvP in Guild Wars 2, and then calling it a night? Absolutely nothing—and that’s kind of awesome.
With so many choices, one aspect integral to MMORPG gaming often seems a little neglected—community. Gamers dart in ten million different directions at once, making it difficult to stay in one community, play with friends, and seek out new guildmates and companions. Sure, developers and publishers can unleash big events in-game to keep clans and groups of friends busy, but can they really keep track of their playerbase in all the noise?
Certainly, many companies shoot themselves in the foot because they make their games exclusive to one kind of platform, instead of shooting for the most reach across the board by making their MMOs cross-platform. It begs the question: would we see an increase in player communities if more MMOs were ported to consoles?
Final Fantasy XIV: A Success Story
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a handful of MMORPGs brought over to consoles, either during launch or post-launch. Neverwinter, DC Universe, The Elder Scrolls Online, Free Realms, and Final Fantasy XIV are among the most popular. There are also pseudo-MMOs that utilize plenty of online play options and feature progression systems that mirror those seen in MMORPGs: Diablo III, World of Tanks, Defiance, PlanetSide 2, and War Thunder to name a few.
Not all of these games have been majorly successful, but many have active communities that thrive off the fact that you can play with others no matter the platform used, and that’s because platform diversity helps unify communities and unite gamers.
The most successful example of an MMO-to-console port/cross-platform MMORPG might be Final Fantasy XIV, along with its first expansion, Heavensward. Originally salvaged from a fairly awful first release, FFXIV is now one of the few surviving subscription-based MMORPGs that is doing rather well. One of the reasons behind that? Players on the PS3, PS4, and PC versions can all run dungeons, raids, and every other type of content together.
This is an ideal setup for the modern MMO. Suddenly PC-only gamers are joining forces with their buddies on PSN. This enables FCs (guilds) to flourish and almost every server to have a healthy, stable population. Square Enix helps further maintain the community by adding new group content and new gear that encourages players to group with others as much as possible—even while taking part in the story.
One of the game’s strengths is the fact that instances and grouping are required to play through the main story. The duty (group) finder can be used for this content, but communication is still necessary for most endgame dungeons and raids. This type of system does well under a cross-platform identity and encourages players to reach out to others, make friends, and join with allies.
In an interview with Naoki Yoshida, FFXIV’s director, he said that American FFXIV players are evenly distributed between the PS3 and PC, while Japanese gamers tend to favor consoles. It seems his decision to do a console port was a wise one. Why continue to split apart gamers when you can unify them?
Games that go the cross-platform route also tend to embrace genre diversity. FFXIV, similar to Final Fantasy XI, contains primarily MMORPG elements, but also many single player RPG elements that bring story to the forefront and highlight well-developed character NPCs. FFXIV has a stable cast of characters that guide a player throughout the entire story—even after hitting the level cap. Since the game’s available on both PC and consoles, RPG fans are more likely to take a chance and try it.
This rings true for games like Defiance, as well. Defiance was never hugely popular, but a solid number of MMORPG fans were inclined to at least try the game due to its progression paths, instance system, and story-based tie-ins, while FPS fans were eager for a story-based sci-fi shooter (the fact that it’s based off the TV show didn’t hurt, either).
When developers create a game that embraces multiple genres where different communities can experience something new, a larger community is born, a united one. Diversity brings folks together and gives them more choices, while encouraging developers to be creative and not spew out copy-pasted games. Sure, this type of development comes with risks, but when a risk pays off, everyone wins.
Looking Towards the Future
If you would have asked me a year ago whether we’d see more games going the cross-platform route, I would have said the coming year would have been packed full of MMORPGs announcing console ports left and right. E3 would have been full of such announcements. The technology’s there, and what’s not to love about giving gamers more choices on top of diversifying the community? Sadly, that didn’t quite happen. But that doesn’t mean we won’t see a lot of games go down that path in the future.
As far as up and coming cross-platform titles go, we have Tom Clancy’s The Division, Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade, and possibly EverQuest Next to look forward to (I’m sure I’m forgetting some, too). For many titles, console ports come as something of an afterthought, but if more games are successful under the model, this may change.
What about our current MMOs? Which would make awesome console ports similar to Final Fantasy XIV? To answer that question, we have to both look at the practical requirements of the game as well as what gains the community may experience under a broadened range of new players.
Action-oriented MMORPGs like WildStar, Vindictus, TERA, and Guild Wars 2 might be the best fit for console ports. Console gamers are generally drawn toward action-based combat, which would help all of these games gain larger audiences. A controller is often easier for playing action-based games with dodging and rolling. An action-oriented MMORPG would also be a great companion to FFXIV: ARR, which is more story-based and has a slower global cooldown (GCD).
It may be difficult to balance action-y controls on a game like WildStar for console systems, but the game’s combat would be amazingly fun to play using a controller. The same can be said about Guild Wars 2, whose buy-to-play (and current F2P) model would be ideal for console gamers. The smaller action bar sets in both GW2 and WildStar would also be easier to input on controllers. Both games are currently seeing large population bursts since their recent model switches to free-to-play (and GW2’s Heart of Thorns expansion), and a console port for either game would draw even more folks toward both.
More “standard” MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, RIFT, and Star Wars: The Old Republic wouldn’t be terrible candidates for console ports, but the sheer amount of abilities seems fairly daunting at first glance. FFXIV gets around this issue by giving players more time to input abilities, but in a game with a much faster GCD, this may cause issues. There’s no doubt that exploring games like WoW with a controller is something some MMORPG-curious console gamers have been wishing for, however.
The MMORPG isn’t the only type of community-based PC game that would go over well on consoles, of course. Many MOBAs, multiplayer-based shooters, and ARPGs would be perfect for console ports, but those perhaps warrant their own articles. For now, it’ll be interesting to see the MMORPG genre continues to change in the next few years.
Laura Hardgrave is a staff writer.