Since the dawn of the Internet, people have been using it to play games. The idea of playing a game against friends not residing in the same room as you has long inspired coders to come up with unique ways to make this a reality. The genre blossomed with the release of Ultima Online, which is still played today by a dedicated niche of gamers. It entered the public consciousness with EverQuest, and it entered their lives with World of Warcraft.
With the iPhone, though, comes a new era of portable, online computing the likes of which we’ve never seen. Online cell phones game have existed, but never caught on in the same way. As games have become a prominent feature for the iPhone, it’s inevitable that massively multiplayer online games will start to become more commonplace. The question, though, is whether or not this is a good thing, both for the platform and for our increasingly digital society. We endeavored to explore the best reasons why this trend should truly take off, as well as best reasons that the iPhone should sit this trend out.
Parallel Kingdom: Age of Gathering
Best Reason #5: We love MMOs.
Let’s face it: most gamers have probably played World of Warcraft at one point or another. There’s something about playing in a persistent world amidst thousands of others that keeps us coming back again and again. Artificial intelligence has come a long way, but many will argue that playing with or against other people will always be better. Some MMOs have already popped up in the App Store, but we’ve yet to see anything truly remarkable and epic. Don’t deny that you find the prospect of an iPhone MMO incredibly exciting!
Best Reason #4: It’s a recipe for success.
MMOs, when they are successful, are really successful. Unlike most other games that require a single purchase, many MMOs are able to continue to vie for your dollars years after you’ve first paid for the game. Furthermore, the free-to-play model has become increasingly popular in the West. Now that Apple allows developers to release a free game with in-app purchases (like subscriptions or paid items and enhancements), the App Store is primed and ready to make this model a worthwhile approach on the iPhone. With piracy reports running rampant, this could be a way to secure legitimate profits for long-term games.
Best Reason #3: It’s a virtually untapped market.
There is very little competition in the iPhone marketplace for MMOs right now. You have Parallel Kingdom, which has garnered a small but loyal following, and Watchmen: Justice is Coming, which is a complete mess, but nothing that has really successfully explored the genre. It’s probably wishful thinking to assume that we’ll get a WoW-quality game anytime soon, but the market is ripe for someone to put up a game worthy of our attention.
Best Reason #2: It would greatly expand the iPhone’s dominance.
The Palm Pre, MyTouch 3G, and Droid are all out to get the iPhone, and some of them boast some impressive features that we wish the iPhone had. Nevertheless, as far as games are concerned, the iPhone is still winning. Will it last, though? Powerhouse publishers like Gameloft and Ngmoco have been showing us that the iPhone can deliver the goods in just about any genre, and if a publisher can get a successful MMO out on the platform, it could secure iPhone’s dominance. Think of the number of iPhone converts Apple could garner if they had an incredible, exclusive MMO to attract the masses. Considering Apples takes a small cut from all profits, we would imagine that the company would be inclined to get behind such a game (primetime TV spots, anyone?).
Best Reason #1: World of Warcraft…anytime, anywhere.
The worst part about playing WoW, for the true addicts, is the fact that eventually you have to stop playing. Class, work, the commute…all of these take you away from your grinding and questing. But imagine the possibilities if you could continue playing no matter where you are (so long as you get a 3G or Wi-Fi signal). If that epic game were to be released, one that would have gamers salivating to play it, the excitement would be exponentially greater. It would certainly make lunch breaks a lot more entertaining.
Watchmen: Justice is Coming
Worst Reason #5: The iPhone lacks the power.
The 3GS has made great strides in pushing portable graphics to new limits, and developers have only begun to scratch the surface. But graphics aren’t everything. There is a lot under the hood in an MMO, and they can be resource hogs. Throw into the mix all of the online data that must constantly be sent and received, and you’re practically begging for a bottleneck. Despite Apple’s (and developers’) best efforts, there are still memory leaks in the device, crashing apps, and glitches. This is not even mentioning the sheer hard drive real estate that an epic MMO is bound to take up (unless the graphics are streaming over the net, which could further slow down your connection). We’ve come to have high expectations for MMOs (even 2D ones such as Maple Story), but we can’t forget just how complex one of these beasts of a game is.
Worst Reason #4: It could cripple 3G networks.
AT&T is already taking a great deal of flack for it’s lackluster network quality, a situation for which many believe is caused by excessive network use from iPhone owners. If streaming YouTube videos is threatening to bring a network to its knees, imagine what millions of gamers playing an MMO could do to network speeds. The fact of the matter is that our phone networks might not yet be robust enough to handle such a load, and if a game like this was limited to wifi only, it could hurt its reputation. We’re not saying it’s not possible; after all, Dreamcast’s Phantasy Star Online worked well over a 56k connection. But it will take a lot of cooperation from the phone carrier to make this kind of game consistently work.
Worst Reason #3: Touchscreen limitations are plentiful.
As MMOs have evolved, they have become much more complex. Granted, even a computer newbie can have fun for awhile, but to advance in the game, you have to learn a number of commands, shortcuts, and become lightning quick with your mouse and keyboard. Chatting is also another large part of the MMO experience. Getting this all onto the iPhone’s relatively small screen, and only using touch controls, will be a challenge. New peripherals could be released, but keeping all the hardware organized could become cumbersome and defeat the purpose of the on-the-go draw of the game. Essentially, the MMO needs another full evolution to be functional on the iPhone, as traditional control models will never be ideal.
Worst Reason #2: It’s not yet been successfully done.
As previously mentioned, there are a few contenders out there already, but they have failed to capture a broad audience and lack the commercial appeal of their WoW-esque siblings. This may be because no one has really tried, or it might simply be because it’s virtually impossible to do it right. Creating persistent worlds takes a lot of development, and the fact that we are already over a year in and no one has had a really successful MMO, even on a smaller scale, may speak volumes. We don’t want to be downers, but we have to consider the possibility that doing this on the iPhone may not be a plausible option.
Worst Reason #1: Say goodbye to your social life.
The iPhone has changed the way we live in the world. Previously, we’d have to talk to someone to get directions or find out what restaurants are in the area. We’d have separate devices to give us turn-by-turn GPS, listen to the radio, check the news, record video, or read a book. The iPhone leads the pack in creating our new social paradigm, for better or for worse. When you throw in a life-consuming MMO into the mix, we’re asking to more permanently glue our eyes to our iPhone screens. Previously when you left the house, you’d have to leave your virtual avatar at home, but having it in your pocket could really begin to consume people’s lives. We suppose this will be good business for all those Internet/videogame addiction clinics, though.