MMO on the Go

Over at Ferrel (of Epic Slant) had submitted a sweet post on Mobile MMO’s. Personally I love the idea. OK well really I love expanding on the idea. I’m sure I’ve seen folks comment on this before, but as mobile technology becomes more advanced, it’s really only a good idea to well, spread the seeds of desire.

MMO’s take a LOT of time. They really do when you lump in getting items into and out of an auction house, gathering materials, crafting, traveling, waiting for groups, waiting for quest items to drop, you end up with endless little time sucks. I mean really that is part of the entertainment value of MMO’s, they’re a great way to spend some dark winter evenings when you’re stuck indoors and the time just blows right by.

One of the biggest complaint that both casuals and non-casuals have with well, casual folks, is lack of in game experience, knowledge, and sometimes just plain time. We have less time to spend on the fun stuff because we’re plowing through all of the ‘chore’ type tasks. Thing is, what if you do these little things remotely here and there through out the day, then get right into the game when you log in.

What if you could get crafting done via a mini game on your smart phone? What if that same phone just showed you what’s in the auction house right now so you could assess what you want to post or sell when you hop online? Hell what if you were able to put those things up for auction while you were at lunch or on break?

What if you could get a lot of these little things done without having to wait for the game to boot up or better yet, while you’re away from your computer running errands, on break from the daily grind, or even in commute from work or school (ON THE BUS I MEAN by the way, not if you’re driving).

What if you were able to jump right into questing, leveling, raiding, even fishing, without having to get the little stuff done for the day? How much time would that save each time you log in? Probably not much, but over time, it’d probably add up. Little things have a way of doing that.

Smart phones, for the most part, have access to the net is included in the plan. You can surf the web, read e-mail, manage appointments, etc etc etc. A lot of really powerful applications are developed and used by folks all over the world every day that work right in the palm of their hand.

Now if you think about the back end of an MMO, it’s really a big database. Sure it may or may not be a database, but it’s still a bunch of stored values or variables that tell you how much mana you have and reduce it based on how much mana that last spell required.

Since the game needs the data to work, which means the data’s already there, what if you could make that data either visible in a sort of static form on a mobile device, or better yet build in a way that people could interact with their favorite game in a whole new way.

OK well I know it’s not remotely that simple (no pun intended). Technology wise you’re looking at in securing the data, making changes to or even just letting people see the data, even making sure the data is right there when the user wants it, well these aren’t easy tasks. Worse is, that’s just the beginning when looking at it from the tech side.

On the money side, you’re probably going to want to look at a database solution that would be able to store data, give users access to the data, then write back the changes the user made. Well hopefully you are, otherwise you’re spending time and money writing the whole mess from scratch. Not to mention the fact that traditionally games don’t use a database system to store game based information because it can take too long for database programs to sift through the information stored in it, give a response, and then write that response back to the database. Not to mention when you have hundreds or thousands of people doing things in the game that need that information and they need it now.

You’ll also have to spend time and money on folks who can set up the database, or whatever you end up with. That’s all before you start looking into how you’re going to put a face on it that your existing and future users will be able to work with. Then you have to get into deciding on a platform, getting buttons and other interface elements designed, etc etc etc.

Yeah it would not be a walk in the park to set up mobile access, even to just view the back end data systems of any game. For the most part just keeping it secure would be hell enough for most game companies to want to run away screaming. Honestly I can’t say I’d blame them.

Thing is though, we know there’s already precedence when you think about the fact that a lot of games already display in game data on web pages. WoW lets you see what’s in your guild bank. For security reasons they probably don’t want to let people see what’s in folks personal banks. Lord of the Rings Online implemented an API that lets developers access game data that they can display on their own web pages or use in web based application that would use that data.

Thing is that it would take quite a bit of time, effort and cash just to get the back end game systems talking to mobile devices or web applications. Probably the best way to add mobile elements to a game would mean building them into the game right from the start. The cost of adding something functional into a existing game is probably a barrier that many MMO’s just don’t want to breech. Forward looking though, adding some kind of mobile access to MMO’s would really make a game stand out.

This could also be a boon for independent studios. By building up a web or mobile interface for their 3D game environment, they’d already have a win for folks who want to get some stuff done without having to log in. Web development, while not cheap, is still a lot less time consuming that working up 3D assets and adding zones, quests, levels, you name it, to the base game. Saving a little dough on the outset may well make it easier for these games to get off the ground by reducing the amount of starting capital required. It’d also allow them to focus on a smaller starting game and hopefully getting down that spit shine polish that’s so popular these days.

Once again though, all ideas, ideas, ideas. Now if I could only use them for myself.

Mobile MMO’s –

Ferrel – Epic Slant


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