The last decade has seen a flourishing of a new genre of gaming known as the Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game, (or MMORPG). The most popular of these to date has been World of Warcraft, published by Blizzard Entertainment.
As a result of the somewhat complex and social nature of the MMORPG, the existing games have been mostly Desktop or Laptop centered. The Desktop PC allows the user to chat, interact and activate many abilities with the keyboard and mouse.
For this and several other reasons, MMORPGs as they exist today are not totally suited to the console market. See this article related to console MMORPGs for a discussion of this topic.
But what of the portable platforms?
Nintendo’s DS device has been enormously popular. With it’s dual screen and touch capabilities, it is probably the best suited system to facilitate interaction and communication between players (handwriting or handwriting recognition).
But the DS has some very important barriers to the introduction of MMOs. The most important being connectivity. The DS is wifi only, and does not include support for 3g connectivity. In addition to this, the DS supports only WEP encrypted wireless connections to a hotspot, whereas most wireless hotspots will be using WPA encryption.
Therefore to use the DS for an online game, the user would have to downgrade their security on their home router, or find a hotspot that works with their device in order to play their game.
Another barrier, however less important, is the limited saving capabilities to the cartridges used in the DS. Generally MMORPGs require various patches to upgrade security and connectivity. So basically any game of this type published for the DS would be static on the client side.
The true portable counterpart to the Desktop/Laptop, in terms of connectivity, interactivity and platform freedom, would be the smartphone. Phones are becoming much more suitable for MMORPGs.
The newest generation of smartphones sport large touchscreens, have fast 3g (and soon 4g) internet connections and, with the exception of the iPhone, allow the user to freely install any software made for their platform.
With the immense popularity of the iPhone, and the success of the App Store, there has been a boom in game design for the platform. So despite the somewhat restrictive nature of the distribution system, there has been an immense amount of creative energy poured into games for the iPhone.
In the last year or so, there have already been a couple (if not more) of mobile MMO releases, including The Watchmen and Pocket Legends.
Other foreseeable contributions of the MMORPG to a mobile platform would be in the form of an extension or tie-in “app” for phones that would allow players to interact with the online world of their PC MMORPG. An example of this would be to allow people to access markets, character modification, and social interaction in a game such as World of Warcraft.
Another important way for MMO games to find their way onto mobile phones and devices can already seen in those such as the oddly named Methuselayzedestructer. That is, through the web browser. At the moment, the most powerful and dynamic platforms for online gaming in the web browser are proprietary plugins such as Flash, Silverlight and Java.
The gradual incorporation and adoption of HTML5 however, means a greater flexibility for developers to make what could be considered a true MMORPG deliverable to any web browser.
Ultimately, The most successful portable MMORPGs will be those that are built in tune with the lifestyle of the portable gamer. A smartphone gamer might have 10 minutes, an hour, or several hours to spare, and might want to log off at any moment. This presents challenges to the design of such a game, but one well worthy of undertaking.
And so it would seem that the dawn of the portable MMORPG is upon us.