Let’s talk Xbox MMO’s. Two words most gamers don’t expect to hear in the same sentence are Xbox and MMO. The reason is two-fold Microsoft and Developers. To see why developers aren’t eager to create Massive Multiplayer Online games we must look to Microsoft, and to see why Microsoft isn’t making it easy for developers we need to look back to them. The entire issue of Xbox MMO’s is an endless cycle that has been going on for years.

Here are the two sides of why Xbox MMO’s are usually something out of the question.

microsoft xbox banner

Microsoft has a lot of titles under its belt, in the game space alone it’s a Console creator, a game publisher, and in terms of its in-house studios it could even be considered a game developer. One of the reasons that Microsoft is capable of covering such a wide spectrum of the industry is its experience in monetization.

Microsoft has monetized Xbox in such a way that even if the hardware was sold at a loss (it’s not), it would still be profitable with the monthly subscription of Xbox Live. With most online functions of the Xbox requiring Gold Membership (the paid option of Xbox Live) Microsoft has made sure that most gamers are constantly putting money into their ecosystem.

Unlike console competitor Sony who has opted for a completely optional PlayStation Plus membership, which offers things like discounts and free games and DLC. Microsoft has made things like talking with friends, and even playing an online game of Black Ops II require Gold.

Gold is a good way for Microsoft to keep the Xbox profitable but when it comes to traditional MMO’s such as World of Warcraft or Rift which require a monthly subscription the benefits are harder to see. Microsoft has an end goal of getting a chunk of whatever profits these MMO’s get. To anyone familiar with the MMO space on the PC these games can’t stay subscription based even without Microsoft breathing down their necks for a cut of subscription fees.

What this means for gamers is regardless of whether developers want to develop for the platform, Microsoft hasn’t necessarily made it easy at all for them to do so.

Though there must be a reason for that, let’s take a look at this problem from the point of view of

phantasy star developer

If having Microsoft cut into profits was not a surefire way to ward of developers, the track run of Xbox MMO’s to date should be.

Here’s something to wrap your mind around, Final Fantasy XI one of the most popular MMORPG’s on the Xbox 360 is a port from the previous generation. Let’s get this straight, in the year 2013 nearly seven years after the first MMORPG has been released for the 360 the most popular MMORPG is a port from the PlayStation 2 and Xbox era.

Which is followed by Phantasy Star Universe, released on PS2, PC, and 360 in 2006. Up until last year, Phantasy Star Universe was running with hundreds of players going through dungeons daily. That being said, the game was published by Sega and ported to the 360 months after the PS2 and PC version. That means, the already “okay” game of Phantasy Star Universe really didn’t take advantage of any of the features available on the 360. Graphically the game was sub-par compared to other big-name titles released around the same time like Call of Duty 3 and Dead Rising. Additionally the online communications were poorly designed at best. The Xbox 360 Chatpad made a splash the year after the release of Phantasy Star Universe but never was made compatible with the game, this led gamers to need to use the games soft keyboard to chat with others. A situation that was less than ideal for gamers.

To add on top of the shabby game, the process of cancelling your monthly subscription was obtuse and unclear. Ultimately the issues were ironed out years later, only for the game servers to be shut down shortly after late last year due to low server population (and presumably to prepare for Phantasy Star Online 2).

Final Fantasy XI screenshot

On the other end is Final Fantasy XI, the series’ first foray into the MMORPG space. The Xbox 360 version of the game was released in 2006, a full four years after the original launch. However despite receiving average reviews on MetaCritic the game is still going strong with an expansion titled Seekers of Adoulin set to release this year with two all new classes.

However the issue here with these games isn’t that people aren’t playing them or willing to pay for them (they are), it’s that aside from a niche community there isn’t really much interest in playing a mediocre MMO. With huge publishers like Sega and Square Enix only able to bring in games that were showing their age when they released years ago, smaller developers would feel no hope of possibly developing an MMO for the 360 and would instead go for the tried and true PC platform.

Perhaps Microsoft and developers aren’t to blame. MMO players would be the first to tell you that an MMO is an intimate experience with many hotkeys and in most cases a customizable UI, anything short of which would be deemed unacceptable. Hence it may be simply the controllers form factor and limited amount of input combinations that prevent the genre from thriving.

Bungie Destiny Banner

That being said, let’s take a look at what the future of Xbox MMO’s will hold. The recently revealed Destiny is possibly the best bet MMO gamers have for the genre.

Coming from Halo developer Bungie, these guys know a thing or two about sci-fi shooters. Destiny is a shooter that claims to blend the line between single player and multiplayer. (While similar claims were made for the ill-fated Brink) The folks over at Bungie have a more successful track record. Destiny by the looks of it isn’t a traditional MMO, there aren’t endless UI customizations or semi-turn based battles. Bungie is sticking to what they know while exploring a whole new genre. The game promises a massive amount of players and requires an internet connection regardless of playing single or multi-player.

Jason Jones, the studio co-founder told IGN in an interview that, “We built this game from the ground up to be social and cooperative.” Leading me to believe that the game will be an MMOFPS of sorts, the closest comparison to which could be Borderlands in a much more massive world with many more players. (Maybe something for GearBox to consider)

Unlike traditional MMO’s though there aren’t any plans to charge a recurring subscription fee, though they do plan to charge for expansion packs. If there is a developer with strong enough ties with Microsoft to allow them to develop a triple-A console based MMO it’s going to be Bungie pushing the boundaries of the genre using their past experience from Halo to draw on.