For all the current affairs AAA credit agency jokes and the questions as to whether Nintendo can offer a platform for MMOs in general, there is an unspoken and deep-rooted attitude that MMORPGs cannot be ported to consoles.
It is true that the current control methods are not wholly suited to the idea of an MMORPG. DC Universe, as much as it tried, always felt more suited to a keyboard and mouse than a controller. The same goes for the likes of Champions Online – controller support is there, but it still needs to be teamed with a keyboard to actually be of any use.
Yet the Wii-U controller, from what we know of it, could be the bridge that finally allows an MMORPG to function on a console. The touchscreen interface on the controller itself can change functions on the fly – from menus and inventory management to a touchpad keyboard and everything in between. The Wii U controller, in short, could finally allow MMORPGs to be put onto consoles without worrying excessively over control mapping.
If Nintendo can at least sort out the online networking for it, I would not be surprised to see in the first year some of the worlds better Free To Play MMORPGs becoming available for download through its online shopping channels – Age of Conan, as it was originally intended to be put onto consoles, seems a surefire candidate. As does Champions Online. DC Universe could be possible – Sony may have the PS3, but Sony would be very foolish to reject the kind of revenue stream that would come from allowing its subsidiary SOE to go multi-platform.
And if Free to Play games take root, then the subscription-based models may not be that far behind. Indeed, with Square-Enix talking of console ports of Final Fantasy XIV 2.0, it’s not unreasonable to assume they’re already in talks with Nintendo. Rift: Planes of Telara is a beautiful game and no doubt would be just as beautiful on the Wii-U. And that elephant in the room – Activision-Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick has always insisted he’d like to see World of Warcraft on consoles. With such an innovation in controllers, even Blizzard may end up conceding it is possible – although it would need an interface overhaul (i.e. Add-ons as plugins rather than separate modules, but that’s a LUA thing).
So, knowing the Wii U could be the start of something like that, one has to ask – what kind of MMORPG could Ubisoft be working on? Could it be a Wii U game? And is it a brand new IP or is it based on a pre-existing franchise?
That, of course, we don’t know yet. But the possibility is there, if Nintendo is willing and capable of negotiating deals, to really open up the Wii U as more than a static gaming console. It could steal the thunder from underneath the X-Box Live and Playstation Network platforms if Nintendo are open and more flexible in their licencing agreements – part of the problem that Square-Enix have with Final Fantasy XIV is apparently Microsoft have an issue with an extra subscription fee on top of the Live service.
Nintendo have the POTENTIAL here for something that could shift the console market forward a notch.
Whether or not they’ll achieve it is a matter for personal debate though.