Many developers have tried to tap into the relatively untouched console massively multiplayer market, but few have succeeded. Microsoft scrapped its Xbox-bound True Fantasy Live Online in 2004 and its Xbox 360-bound Marvel Universe Online project in February 2008. Funcom promised an Xbox 360 release of Age of Conan after its PC release in May 2008, but it has yet to materialize.
One notable exception is Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI, which is available on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 as well as the PC. The Japanese publisher has apparently had enough success on consoles that it announced a new massively multiplayer online role-playing game for the PlayStation 3 and PC, Final Fantasy XIV Online, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo earlier this month. Later, Square Enix executives also said they would be open to bringing the game to the 360 as well.
However, the biggest MMORPG publisher in the world isn't in a rush to bring its properties to consoles. In an interview with trade site Industry Gamers, Blizzard Entertainment executive vice president Rob Pardo outlined the obstacles that have discouraged the World of Warcraft maker from doing so.
"There's a lot of challenges. I'd say challenge number one is the input device. So if you're going to port a game like WOW how does that work? Do you ship a keyboard and a mouse? Do you try to make a game that [adapts] to all the different controls and buttons? That's a porting issue," Pardo said. "The bigger issue would be things like hard drives. I think WOW now is about 10 gigs and we're always pushing out more content. That's something cloud computing could eventually solve, but in the current generation of consoles that's a lot to deal with. You'd have to eat almost the entire hard drive, and there are Xbox consoles [sold to consumers] that don't have hard drives."
Pardo also believes that MMOG developers shy away from the console market because console makers would want a prohibitively large slice of the monthly subscription pie. Still, he thinks that massively multiplayer games will ultimately arrive on consoles--and will flourish.
"The other big issue is the business model. Right now, Microsoft and Sony charge platform fees for retail, but if you do an MMOG there and it's subscription-based, they're going to want a cut of the subscription revenue too, and so that becomes a hurdle," Pardo said. "So there's definitely a lot of hurdles right now for doing MMOGs on a console, but it all can be overcome and I think in the next generation of consoles it'll be much easier."
In the interview, the executive VP also said that Microsoft approached Blizzard for "advice in the MMOG area," though it is unclear for what project. Similar comments ignited a firestorm of rumors at the Game Developers Conference this past March--until the developer-publisher shut them down.