Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Moving to Metropolis

This week, PS3 gamers find themselves fighting crime and saving the innocent. For today marks the release of DC Universe Online, the Massivly Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) for the PC and PS3. This isn’t the first time one of these infamously addictive games has come to console gaming (Phantasy Star Online (DC) and Final Fantasy XI) however this is supposed to re-open gaming companies and players minds to a genre often considered to be a PC Nerd-only affair.

Before I continue, I should say I have yet to play the game and don’t see it happening in the near future as I only own an Xbox 360, so everything here is speculative and based on my own research. This is the first MMORPG to catch my attention in a way I never saw possible. The RPG I ever played was Pokemon Blue but back then I wasn’t even aware that it was part of a bigger genre, I just thought it was a game. I was definitely apprehensive when I started my first console RPG, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic but was lured in by the well told story and familiarity with the universe. However, I am strongly planted within the mainstream of the DC universe and could absolutely see myself delving into this game on a console. Traditional single player, console RPG gamers like myself, could alone save this game but there are many things this game allegedly does that would win mainstream gamers over.

During my undergrad, I took a class on video game culture. One of the units covered MMORPG’s, specifically World of Warcraft. Our teacher asked one of the students to bring his laptop in to show the class what the game was actually like. This and my freshman roommate were my only exposure to the series. In both instances I found the games to be extremely complex with an immensely busy screen. While DC Universe Online is sure to have plenty of activity, the dependence on a standard console controller – and all its assumed functions – potentially simplifies each activity rather than dumbing it down.

The other reason the game play has the potential to capture the mainstream is that it also has to work less. Other than the fact that all the action takes place online, DC Universe Online doesn’t seem very different from the Marvel Ultimate Alliance or X-Men Legends franchises. I remember playing both of these Gauntlet­ – style games and found them both fun and addicting. Add full character customization, multiple types and sides to play with and the potential for new additions all of which could offer the ultimate superhero experience.

The mythos of the game also has potential to attract the non RPG players. At one point or another, every kid fantasized about being a super hero. While we also played knights of the roundtable, or something of that nature, the mainstreams interest in knights and trolls is significantly less. Superheroes, while certainly geeky, always have the potential to be cool, which can be attributed to the financial success of The Batman and Spiderman film franchises. If the game manages to capture that aura DC Universe Online will become one of the most successful MMO franchises of all time.

Despite all these promising features, there are still some hurdles ahead. The first being in the format, mainly that pay-to-play is still the MMO standard. Many games like Lord of the Rings Online are now free to play but games like this are definitely in the minority. This poses a problem for console gamers who pay $60 a year for Xbox Live and $50 a year for Playstation Plus. With the current pay to play structure, DC Universe Online costs $10 a month, now gamers don’t have to pay for Playstation Plus to play the game but the request to pay more or pay at all to play a game is a tall request for gamers who have played games for the standard $50-$60.

There is one more problem facing Sony Entertainment and the worst thing about it is they caused it themselves. Since their new game is available on both PC and PS3, Sony is dividing their audience. I understand that if home console MMO’s turn out not to be the next big thing, there will be a more traditional home for the game but if Sony wanted this game begin a new age in console gaming, they should fully invest in the game rather than hedge their bets.

If DC Universe Online succeeds as a console game, then the doors will be open for gamers and game developers to a whole new type of game play that could change the gaming landscape forever.

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XBL: Docholliday8706

Currently Playing: Super Mario Bros X, Halo: Reach, NHL 11

Can’t wait to Play/Wish I was Playing: DC Universe Online, Portal 2, L.A Noire

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