Feature: Rise of Mobile MMO Gaming
By Vincent Haoson & Kei Beneza (dividelife), OnRPG Journalists
The idea of Massively Multiplayer Online games has gone beyond the confines of desktops and laptops. With companies releasing new state-of-the-art mobile phones and handheld devices that support today’s gaming requirements, it would seem that we’re looking at the future of MMO gaming as we know it. Hoping for more information regarding the matter, we took the opportunity to research more about the roots of mobile MMO gaming. we found a lot of interesting things while browsing for answers… interested?
The first ever pocket MMO to journey into the realm of mobile gaming is a German-based game called TibiaME. The game is the mobile equivalent of the MMORPG Tibia, which are housed under their developer and publisher, CipSoft.
What really impressed us was how TibiaME managed to copy its desktop-powered big brother down to the last detail. The only difference between the two is the medium used. While TibiaME is not an innovative game in any way, it did present us with the possibility of mobile MMO gaming; in fact, since its release in 2003, the community has grown and is still alive and kicking, which is rare considering the short lifespan of MMORPGs these days. Howeverwhat is interesting is the fact that it still took TibiaME six years before it reachedany kind of popularity. You might as well compare it with a plane that has been taxing and only took flight after six long years. And with that scenario in mind, the only thing left for us to wonder was why it took that long.
Considering that TibiaME’s platform is the mobile phone, the game is limited in a variety of ways. The lack of powerful mobile phones can be considered as a valid reason on why TibiaME and other succeeding mobile MMOs came out pretty basic and used the 2D platform.
In a time when 3D mobile MMO gaming has yet to make a foothold, there was a company that was ready to take on the challenge . In an attempt to optimize today’s phones for MMO usage, the company Fish Labs took its first shot at 3D Mobile MMO gaming with the release of the alpha version of Blades & Magic in 2006. While the game still retained a lot of 2D elements for its interface, the battle system is complete 3D This was a big leap for mobile MMO gaming as its linear 2D gameplay was taken to the next level…
Now, 3D mobile MMOs such as Pocket Legends have made their debut in the world of mobile gaming. We can’t say that it is on par with desktop MMOs, but it’s quite refreshing to see that the visuals have improved. Visuals serve as a medium for MMO games to attract gamers, especially with all the graphic-whores out there. With a bit of work, we may actually see PSP-level graphics in our mobile MMOs soon.
With the graphical limitations of mobile devices being a problem for most companies, developers were put to the test, creating a variety of catchy systems that would cater to the increasing number of mobile gamers. Some mobile MMO games even utilize more than just the graphics and net capabilities of units but of other phone features as well.
One good example of a mobile MMO that’s pretty out of the box is Parallel Kingdom. It is a mobile MMO that relies on the GPS locator of the iPhone or an Android phone to transport you to a “parallel world” where you get to build your kingdom.
Of course, it’s no big secret that a wide variety of mobile MMOs still draw their charisma and gimmicks from existing desktop MMOs; however, the possibility of being more creative is there. We think they’ve yet to uncover the true power of mobile gaming, but they’re definitely on the right track. They already have 3G signal system intact (World of Magic for the iPhone), so who knows? Maybe they’ll even feature a game that uses the mobile camera soon XD.
Speculations On Creativity
Come to think about it, there’s also a possibility that they’re on the wrong track. Since these games are trying to base their gimmicks on existing desktop RPGs, there’s a big possibility that the only thing we’ll be getting as a finished product is a mobile port of PC MMOs. For creativity’s sake, they seem to be ignoring the capabilities of mobile phones, completely focusing on the desktop MMO system and not the fact that these are two different platforms. There is nothing wrong with what they are doing but they really should focus more on the mobile phone’s exclusive capabilities rather than keep it paired with the PC. As far as creativity goes, there are a lot of phone features left untouched. If they can create magic seals with the Nintendo DS’s touch screen in Castlevania, I’m sure they can utilize the modern phone’s touchscreen features as well.
The thing about mobile MMO gaming is that the growth is highly reliant on the growth of the mobile phone industry. Seeing how companies keep on churning out one phone model after another, it’s highly unlikely that the mobile MMO industry would have a steady platform (in terms of unit models anyway) to rely on.
Unlike desktops, mobile phones are not only different through their specs but their OSes as well, and unlike computers than contain emulators like Wine and Bootcamp, mobile devices are stuck with their OS, making it hard for developers to stick to one application. Also, since the mobile scene is rapidly evolving, it will be hard for developers to keep track of the upcoming models. We can hardly recall any phone application that has graphic-tweaking option, so it would definitely be hard for them to support all devices with one client or application… that is unless all these phones had the same set-up (specs and all).
Another downside of mobile MMO gaming is the longevity of the language used in games. There will come a point where the language used for the game system would die out, making companies transfer to a newer and better source. Unlike PCs, mobile specifications upgrade extremely fastwith each new phone being very different from its predecessor in terms of OS and capability. This again affects the game’s respective application, as it will have to upgrade regularly to cope with the new system’s compatibility issues. It’s actually somewhat similar to the Windows Vista problem, where drivers and applications were rejected and were rendered useless after the latest OS upgrade.
With mobile MMO gaming starting to gain steam, the first and most obvious people who would be experiencing this sudden change of trend are the casual gamers. With companies churning out mobile MMOs for a lot of units, there’s a possibility that casual gamers will soon join the MMO scene. The probability is high because the fear of “MMOs are for people who love sitting down in front of PCs” is slowly disappearing. With “clients” and “installers” becoming “apps”, games, or rather MMOs in general have been presented in a more “non-gamer” friendly language.
The mobile platform has opened the awareness to non-gamers, that MMOs are not as scary as they thought and that they can learn pretty easily. With the basic control scheme of mobile MMOs, non-players who are easily overwhelmed may in fact enjoy the game without worrying about the complex control scheme or interface.
Aside from being friendlier to casual gamers, people love being mobile these days and it translates to the preference of their gaming platforms. You don’t have to be tied down to laptops or PCs to play with mobile MMOs and that’s what makes it so special and fun at the same time.
In our opinion, player to player interaction plays a big role in mobile MMO gaming. Since MMOs were specifically made to let players experience living in a persistent fantasy world along with other gamers, no other platform would have been more perfect than mobile phones. Think about it! Mobile phones have become a mandatory feature of our everyday lives. As early as five years old, kids are presented with their very own mobile phones, and if that doesn’t make things clearer, KIDS love to play games.
Anyway, if the sales rate of mobile phones surpass laptops, then it’s a sure bet that you’re bound to get a community there. We were utterly surprised at the virtual world’s population after playing World of Magic for the iPhone. What really caught our attention was the fact that we keep seeing people wherever we go in the game. Again, be reminded that this game is an iPhone/iPad/iTouch exclusive, meaning it can only be played onApple products. The fact that an exclusive game could have this many players already guarantees a crowd on every mobile MMO you decide to try out, and since some of these games can be played with 3G signals, you no longer need to worry about missing out on that scheduled raid (if ever they make this system).
Come to think of it, this is a very huge step for MMO gaming and could very well shape the future of Massively Multiplayer goodness as we know it. No, this is no longer the same as your Nokia Java games, this is a friggin’ persistent game where you are allowed to interact with other players not only through virtual emoticons but through an impressive chat interface commonly found in desktop MMOs. The whole portability concept is definitely a big leap toward the future.
DAMN IT! ATTACK!!! PLEAAAASE!
Perhaps one of the biggest problems plaguing the MMO industry is the lag. Since mobile Internet isn’t really as fast as your average DSL, most players may encounter different delays in their online actions. This is likely one of the things that hinders phones from launching MMOs with exceptional graphics. Since graphics have a big impact on your gaming latency (you might have encountered this on your desktop games), mobile MMOs would probably suffer from lagfests unless the graphics are tweaked.
We really wish that there would come a time when phones could display premium MMOs that are on par with today’s PC goodness. From how things are going, it will probably take years to develop this system for it to cater the same experience we get with our desktop MMOs. Looking back, both of us remember playing Snake on our Nokia 5110s a decade ago, and then came the multiplayer version after the infrared sensor was made. Isn’t it amazing how technology managed to get this far? Think about it! From multiplayer Snake to mobile MMOs… Yes, we know for a fact that the mobile industry will soon give us the experience we’ve longed for.