Turbine on spinning console MMORPGs

GDC Austin 2009: Dungeons & Dragons Online developer recaps challenges of bringing popular PC genre to the living room, why PS3 should be the lead SKU.

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Who Was There: Turbine vice president of product development Craig Alexander talked about the lessons learned in the company's first year and a half of developing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game for consoles.

Console MMOGs are seen as a holy grail of sorts.

What They Talked About: Alexander began recapping the history of MMORPGs, noting the way they've changed in gameplay as well as fee structure. Some of the original massively multiplayer games like Shadows of Yserbius and the original AOL-based Neverwinter Nights were paid for on an hourly basis, but they soon turned to the monthly subscription fee common to Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Turbine's own Asheron's Call.

The common thread between all the games he mentioned was that they were all on the PC. However, with the PS3 and the Xbox 360, Alexander says consoles have finally achieved the basic requirements to support MMO games, from storage space to online communities.

Alexander said it took PC MMO games about 10 years to mature to the point where they are now dominant on the platform. Now MMOGs are at the point where they are responsible for almost all of the growth in the PC market, Alexander said.

Historically, Alexander said trends in the PC market are typically echoed in the console market three to four years later, from first-person shooters in the '90s to sports games before that. More recently, Alexander said the conventional wisdom was that online multiplayer games and user-interface-intensive games would never take off on consoles, though games like Halo and Oblivion are changing that perception. As a result, Turbine believes MMOGs are soon going to revolutionize the console space, just like they did with the PC.

The trip to consoles from PCs has proven transformative for many genres, Alexander said, though that's not the only potential advantage. Moving to consoles can also be beneficial, he noted, because they are designed to be a social entertainment experience instead of a solitary one, hardware standards are uniform, and the upside for a success is very high. Demand for console RPGs is also higher than ever, Alexander noted, with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion selling though to roughly half of the Xbox 360's user base at the time of its early 2006 release.

Alexander thinks the success of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion proves there is a market for a console MMORPG.

While Turbine hasn't detailed its plans for its first console MMORPG, don't expect it to appear on the Wii. Alexander said Nintendo's platform just doesn't have the basic tools necessary to handle Turbine's needs.

"In many respects the [Wii] hardware resembles the previous generation more than the current one," he said.

Cross-platform gameplay is also a no-go for Turbine, Alexander said. While technically he said it would probably be fairly easy, the idea of dealing with each platform's online storefront currency integrated with a single cross-platform virtual-in-game currency would be "a nightmare."

Going into depth on the challenges of bringing MMORPGs to consoles, Alexander talked about financial hang-ups. For one, building a massively multiplayer infrastructure costs about $20 million on top of the game development itself, and that can be harder to recoup on consoles. And then once the technology is ready, Alexander said it can take three to five more years to actually build the MMORPG.

Alexander said it could be tempting to make the Xbox 360 the lead SKU when making a console MMO game, but he said it was better to go with the PS3 to start. He cautioned that the PS3 has a wealth of hardware constraints like the Blu-ray's slower access time, often less-friendly developer tools, and a different memory architecture. In all, Alexander said migrating a game from the PS3 to the Xbox 360 is far easier than doing it the other way around.

Getting back to the PC side of things, Alexander spoke about Dungeons & Dragons Online, and the surprising success of its recent switch to a free-to-play business model. Alexander said subscriptions have actually gone up since the free-to-play option was introduced, and healing potions have been flying off the shelves of the microtransaction-driven in-game store.

"It's a little too early to declare complete victory, but we're very happy," Alexander said.

CDungeons & Dragons Online's move to free-to-play has been successful.

He also added that he believes console players will react the same way to a hybrid subscription/free-to-play model, and it's something Turbine is actively pursuing. Developers need to minimize any friction to access of their games, and in the console space, Alexander said that means no subscription requirement.

However, he said that consoles don't have a history of online monetization like that, and some of the older billing platforms like Xbox Live might not have built-in support for some of the business models being considered. Another concern Alexander said MMORPG developers should have is that having to pay the manufacturers a hardware royalty on top of intellectual property royalties makes having a large user base more important.

Finally, Alexander covered some of the design challenges facing massively multiplayer games for consoles. The audience is different, as are the interfaces. However, he noted that USB keyboards and chat pad controller add-ons could help get around that issue. Turbine is also prototyping a "canned chat" option where players can select from an assortment of common in-game messages without the need for a keyboard.

Alexander feels that MMORPG interfaces on the PC are also too complex and generally unsuited for standard-definition TVs. However, he noted that's only a problem if the user interface is borrowed completely from the PC standard.

Quote: "In many respects, we're betting the company on it."--Alexander on Turbine's console MMORPG push, though he did insist Turbine was still committed to the PC business.

Takeaway: Whatever developers do, Alexander said under no circumstances should they just try to port their MMORPG to the console. Instead, they should consider taking their favorite console designs and add in massively multiplayer features with a handful of innovations. Bringing the genre to consoles has a number of substantial hurdles to clear, but Alexander is convinced they can be overcome, and whoever does that will enjoy tremendous success.

Discussion

82 comments
Warhammer212
Warhammer212

They're destoying Tolkien's work ! god damn them, earning money off of someone else's idea

ayhokkuu
ayhokkuu

also, you can already play lotro on the ps3, through linux. that's what i do.

ayhokkuu
ayhokkuu

a couple things to say. first of all i would love to be able to play lotro with a controller, but that creates lots of problems. how would the user interface work? how could you fit controls that can barely work on a full keyboard on to a small hand-held controller? Final Fantasy Online brought online gaming to the teli, but somewhat unsuccessfully. it may have been a worthwhile investment, and many pc-players switched over, but they experienced the same problems i stated before. Also, I'd like to add that lotro would crash if it went to the 360. i think that the bulky controller just wouldn't feel right, and the system would lag like crazy! yes, xbox live is more reliable, but the 360 my friends, is not. people think that the 360's possibilities are endless, or to a point beyond what it is already accomplishing. but it is at it's max with 32 player war on cod! and risking major lag on an MMORPG could be horrendous. i think this is a risky, yet good move, but mosty likely fatal turn for turbine.

tegs
tegs

Give me a keyboard mouse and Lotro on my PS3 ill be more than happy but a gamepad no thxs not in a game like WoW Lotro ect. Question is what will it be,a choice of gamepad or keayboard mouse.? May depend on game type i guess.

Plaidboy1
Plaidboy1

I've been playing DDO since it went free because I've always wanted to try the game and now there was no reason not to. I'm really enjoying it. I've spent maybe $10.00 on getting a few things that help make the experience even better. So my point is that they would have had $0 from me if the game had a fee. With the "free" model, they got $10.00 out of me and I'm playing a game I enjoy for hardly any cost. Win-Win for us both. So microtransaction games sound bad at first but once you try them it's not a bad deal.

living_wmd_888
living_wmd_888

One of the first things they need to do is ditch the old "click-whack-whack-whack" battle scheme that's been with us since Diablo. Make a true action RPG - one where you can dodge projectiles and spells by moving your @$$ out of the way. Secondly... leave the microtransaction garbage in South Korea.

zeniftan
zeniftan

I just don't know how I'd feel about paying for 12 months xbox live and also paying for stupid micro transactions that inevitably stop me from playing MMORPG's. (A hint to Alexander: Micro-transactions suck so much.)

hwman
hwman

Unless you're the one ponying up all the cash for the microtransactions, it seems you would just be disadvantaged.

hwman
hwman

Oh how i hate microtransactions. Just charge me the monthly fee and let me play the game.

BigDaddy973
BigDaddy973

I cannot wait for the day that an MMORPG come to the console. Be it something like APB or something like WOW.

zaphod_b
zaphod_b

I would like to see more MMO's on consoles, but I'd rather pay a monthly subscription than have hundreds of micro-transactions on my debit/credit card. I suppose buying game currency in chunks could fix this problem. Anyway, keep them coming. The more game variety we have, the better.

Cabal23
Cabal23

@Narutofan30 I hope they aren't hogging the hooked on phonics.

lolPawnt
lolPawnt

I don't mind a monthly fee as long as I am getting my money's worth.

FoeCrusher
FoeCrusher

I have tried DDO with a couple of friends and the free to play seems to have a lot of takers. It may help that MMO survive better than others. Certainly for a casual gamer like myself the $15 a month isnt worth the time I can put in.

wolvern28
wolvern28

Companies are getting dull and stupid with the whole MMORPG crap, just do something round the base of what mercenaries 2 did but on a larger scale. We need a new genre of opt-in MMO type games with users being in control of their own game but at the same time being able to have others in their game effect scenarios of different missions without being anywhere near them. Finding a special item might end up changing the course of the storyline or even something big like having certian missions changing the story arc.

Narutofan30
Narutofan30

If we could just get one good MMORPG id be happy i want to paly MMORPGs but my computer hogged up by my family.

x_Xarion_x
x_Xarion_x

I played FFXI for over 4 years, first on PS2, then on 360. While the game now feels pretty outdated, at the time, it worked very well on console, and I honestly wondered how people played with a keyboard instead of a controller. That said, it's not like it can't be done, MMO's can be very successful on a console, it's nice to see Turbine showing an interest in this direction. I currently play LOTRO and know they are very capable of making fantastic games.

frank_78
frank_78

In my opinion, consoles already ruined PC gaming, so I really hope they'll keep their greasy hands out of MMORPG. Give me all the negative feeds you want, but I still think that games built with a PC in mind are far superior to dumbed down console flicks.

TrueIori
TrueIori

Your a bit to late my dear old friend Square already beaten you to the punch , and the hybrid subscription/free-to-play model is not the best way to entice console players hell even pc players hate that model. If any one going to blow up MMO on console the best chance will be Arena net with guild war model ,best model IMO, just buy the game and your set not this you can play for free but if you want to whole experience you got to pony up more money, yeah that not going to win over people in the console world. Guild wars method is the best to win people over , but i still just rather play my MMO on my pc.

lhscouchmonster
lhscouchmonster

@bodylotion its proabaly convience. money isnt the only issue. i have the money to buy a new computer but i dont want a desktop hanging around my apartment and i dont want to tie the desktop up to my tv. I would rather sit my ass on the couch infront of my tv and just play on my ps3. its simple, its quick, and its easy. $$ does come in to play though. i don't want to buy a desktop just to game if i don't have to. Laptops are convenient but not very practical when in comes to gaming. With laptops so cheap, the majority are not buying desktops - Wikipedia even agrees with that statement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laptop

drakefs
drakefs

So, Turbine is thinking about bringing an MMO to consoles... Why research yourself when you can just look at how Square-Enix did Final Fantasy 11 and soon to be Final Fantasy 14. Final Fantasy 11 is a Cross-Platform game, with users being able to play on the ps2, 360 or PC (and now the ps3) and still play with each other, no matter what system they play on. He makes some good points, but he is 4 years too late to think he is talking about a new frontier. Strangely enough MS and Sony allowed S-E to keep control of their network while allowing their community site portals, be just that, portals. S-E charged their monthly fee,with no issues from MS, so I would assume that an in game store that charges your game account wouldn't cause currency issues. (rant: Really MS and Nintendo, get over your store specific virtual currency and use real world currency please...) On a side note, Controller + Keyboard is a very nice combo for MMO's. @taffelost You only needed a silver (free) subscription to play ffxi on 360. I personally feel casual for MMO is not the same as a true casual gamer. I couldn't fathom a true casual gamer paying 12-15$ month for something they play 5-10hours a month.

Doom64
Doom64

Dear Turbine: I miss Asherons call 2.

bodylotion
bodylotion

I guess if you don't own the money to pay for a new computer it could be nice to play a MMORPG on a console but if you do own a computer i can't understand people rather play it on console

Taffelost
Taffelost

MMO's aren't like ordinary games. They're social games dependant on other players to reach it's fullest potential. Often you need scheduling, voice coms and vast amounts of uninterrupted continuous time when playing. Most console gamers play their games in their livingroom. MMO+livingroom+family=syntax error. I know the wet dream of many developers is a casual MMO, but they're antagonistic in nature. That sentence is an oxymoron. A casual player does not want to dish out 12-15$ a month (on top of X-Box Live or whatever other service they're already paying for), their family won't accept that the livingroom is occupied for several hours every day and last if you got your own space/room specially suited for electronic entertainment and you're interested in MMO's chances are you're already playing them; on the PC that is. If they make one it has to be very casual compared to PC mmo's. It has to have a business model like Guild Wars without a monthly fee and it has to appeal to non mmo-players because that group is already playing mmo's on the pc.

SDBusDriver1979
SDBusDriver1979

How about this to these presidents and CEOs instead of this talking about how successful a mmo will be for a console just release a mmo for a console then talk about the troubles and success. Its like 10 mmos are announce for consoles every year but none of them comes outs. Its pretentious, but every game designer and their moms has some comment on it and it sounds roughly the same to me so that they can get free publicity for their current games on gaming websites. The only promising one that will come out is FFXIV (square enix really needs to come up with a better naming system) but because its square enix their bad stuff tends to release on time while their good stuff is always delayed for years, so who knows when it will come out.

Rizer
Rizer

Well...I think the whole idea is to expand the lure for MMOs to customers who like to stick to console gaming not to remove PC gamers from the list. After all there is no profit in cutting of an already established customer base. The whole idea is to EXPAND the customer base, right? Besides, I've personally wanted to see some real quality MMOs fly to my XBOX360 or PS3 for a long time. I use a Mac for my personal work computer, so this would be great for someone like me, who doesn't want to buy or upgrade a machine every year so I can play the next best thing.

auron11022
auron11022

It seems like this would be a high risk low reward move. Let's say that mmo's hit it big in the console market.... So What, the kinds of people that enjoy mmo's already have them on computers. Unless you honestly believe your going to allure the ma and pa crowd or the little kid crowd, how do you plan on stealing away customers from pc mmo's? If you fail in this conversion you lose hundreds of millions of dollars...

Nihonomaru
Nihonomaru

[quote] fps_d0minat0r: im not paying monthly fees for repetitive/grinding games which dont have good graphics. maybe if it looks twice as good as guild wars i may consider it. any why is everyone complaining about keyboard and mouse? hasnt anyone herd of 1) USB and 2) drivers??? @ ClayMeow ram is only a restriction if you make it a restriction.......MAG however didnt see it that way and can fit 256 players into a map with detail which no mmorpg has come anywhere near. basically this means if they made the graphics rubbish like world ofwarcraft then they can fit in more players and the ram will cope......and im sure PS3's servers will also cope since they didnt break down one christmas like some other console =)[/quote] Well said =).

calanorn
calanorn

I dont mind seeing mmo's on console whether they work or not is another matter. I myself will be sticking with pc for any mmo fix purely because i prefer my pc and the people on online pc games. If anything was to make an mmo fail on consoles it would most likely be moaning gamers who are not used to online games until the game is so nerfed there is no difficulty to it. eitherway good look to console mmo's and those who stick with pc gaming il see you all in game :)

fps_d0minat0r
fps_d0minat0r

im not paying monthly fees for repetitive/grinding games which dont have good graphics. maybe if it looks twice as good as guild wars i may consider it. any why is everyone complaining about keyboard and mouse? hasnt anyone herd of 1) USB and 2) drivers??? @ ClayMeow ram is only a restriction if you make it a restriction.......MAG however didnt see it that way and can fit 256 players into a map with detail which no mmorpg has come anywhere near. basically this means if they made the graphics rubbish like world ofwarcraft then they can fit in more players and the ram will cope......and im sure PS3's servers will also cope since they didnt break down one christmas like some other console =)

k0r3aN_pR1d3
k0r3aN_pR1d3

When you consolize MMORPG's and that gains storm, what about the many different companies out there today who help produce and send out MMO's? I doubt that they have the resources to afford a team to develop on a console. Truly then, if this happens, the beginning of the end of PC gaming is here. At least in the US.

meathead86
meathead86

maybe final fantasy 14 will pull it off for mmorpgs on the ps3 i hope so i cant wate ta see sum more of that game

Crimson_xWolfx
Crimson_xWolfx

@Barighm Wow, you aren't the sharpest tool in the shed are you? I'm going to safely assume that you have no idea how long and how much money it takes to create an MMORPG, and on a console such as the PS3 will take very long. PC =/= 360 They are NOT the same. Anyway most people here simply complain about the Keyboard/Mouse, and I see some issues here. You can't make macros for everything, or make combos with the buttons, as there's limits, and there is a lot of hardware issues for such a task.. I don't believe it will be here in a year, or two years. But it will eventually come.

Barighm
Barighm

If these guys think the biggest problem with bringing MMO's to consoles is the lack of keyboard and mouse, then that proves these guys shouldn't be the ones to bring MMO's to consoles. RPG's don't need keyboards to be RPG's, just like an FPS doesn't need to be key and mouse to be an FPS. Clearly games like Halo and Call of Duty have proven FPS games can go massively multiplayer on a console. In the end, a developer's only problem is lack of talent. There is no "hardware" or "design" problem, just close-minded designers. 360 not good enough for MMO's? Yeah, right. My PC has lesser specs than my 360 and runs WoW just fine, and my 360 won't have to run all sorts of background programs. It will do just fine.

Andrex1212
Andrex1212

@ invictuslemming The storefront, as in the currency required to buy things such as, Microsoft Points, PS3 Wallet and Actual Money for the PC. They don't want to bother trying to convert the currencies for every item in the game just so they can have "free-to-play" possibilities. I assume you aren't grasping what "free-to-play" is. Basically you can play as much as you want, but unless you pay for certain things in game with real money, you can never have some of the amazing skills or items that other people who do pay will have. Not sure if that's any more clear.

invictuslemming
invictuslemming

The consoles support usb keyboard/mice in the console menu system, so i fail to see how keyboard/mouse integration in the game itself is impossible. Also the explanation for cross platform support doesn't make sense to me. As far as I recall MMO servers are hosted by a farm separate from the XBL or PSN servers, so once you get the system logged into the console world, how would any of that come into play? Once you've signed on the MMO server it shouldn't matter whether the client is a PC, 360, or PS3. How on earth does the individual storefront affect that? When you're in the game everything is the same, nothing outside of the game should affect that.

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

I don't care about any silly Elder Scrolls online. That would ruin the magic of it, I think. What I DO want is a CO-OP Elder Scrolls. And I don't mean a half-assed Fable 2 kind of Co-op. I mean a genuine, honest to god real co-op where you can transfer your character to and from other people's games if you want.

ClayMeow
ClayMeow

Such a lengthy interview/article and yet he fails to mention the biggest console restraint of all; RAM? With only 512MB of RAM (shared by the GPU, mind you), that's not enough for your standard, persistent-world MMO. Instead, you'll be looking at fake MMOs like Guild Wars.

AlphaHumana
AlphaHumana

Good MMOs just seem too complex for consoles and the general console player-base. Something like 'Maple Story' would be perfect for consoles though.

ForceRecon198
ForceRecon198

I hope they make a Fallout 3 MMORPG on the consoles. That would epic. And placing it in like Post Apocalyptic New York City, New Jersey, and Boston... sort of like spanning the Commonwealth.

brian_13un
brian_13un

Hope they create a The Elder Scrolls Online ^_^

Tizn0w
Tizn0w

MMORPGs on console have so much potential, IMO. As long as the game itself is good, there's no doubt in my mind that it'll be a HUGE success, and that other developers will start to "follow suit". As for the controls, I don't see too much of a problem for developers. As many people have pointed out, modern consoles have USB ports, and mouse and keyboard support. Also, I can easily envision an MMORPG with controls based on console version of Oblivion. And even an option to use either controller or mouse and keyboard within a game. I'm sure they'll find a solution.

MP40_sprayer
MP40_sprayer

I've always loved the idea of playing a World of Warcraft type game on a console of some sort, it's excellent to see that this is becoming a reality.

Gen007
Gen007

I think the main problem with bringing MMOs to console is that they are usually made for pcs if there is gonna be an ultra successful MMO on consoles it has to be built from the ground up for consoles in mind.

slipknot611
slipknot611

I disagree, Seljek, I spent two of my eight years playing FFXI on the 360... the controls worked just fine. *sniff* Damn, I miss my FFXI...

Seljek
Seljek

If they can make a decent MMO on consoles with controls that work on console controllers, I am all for it. However it is very hard to make MMO controls fit on say, the x360 controller.

puffadell
puffadell

mmorpg on consoles would b nice

TPSISO9000
TPSISO9000

One last thing, if the devs get anything out of this, please let it be that we don't need a dumbed down or "actioned-up" MMORPG because we play on a console. There's a threshold of when the action is good within an RPG (Mass-Effect) and when it feels like window dressing crap. The RTS guys are on the right track, make the game you would want on a PC with a sensible control scheme for a pad, then take advantage of the fact that console development is so much easier and make it look great and run smooth. Not as easy as I make it sound but for the money Blizzard makes in a month most developers could make new games and run thier studios for years. Success has it's rewards, my biggest suprise is why haven't either MS or Sony just made one themselves? Sony owns EQ, and after Adventures and EQ2 getting smoked by WOW I guess that makes sense, but still. As for Microsoft, what about Mythica? It looked like a great idea, and if no-one else wants those subscription fees I've never seen MS shy away from cash. Not an RPG, but wasn't PlanetSide a Sony game? That would be great on PS3!