Your MMO on Mobile

27th April 2009 by Thomas Bidaux

iphoneThe week-end saw the video from a World of Warcraft client on iPhone get featured on a series of website. Whether or not the video is a fake and the whole story a hoax is actually irrelevant as this is more the concept that we actually want to discuss (it should be noted that they still have an accessible website but, with a quick Linkedin research, most of the management teamĀ  seems to have moved on other projects).

You can go see the demo video at Kotaku as the Youtube versions are getting removed as they pop up.

But the basic principle is an app acting like a 3D client for WOW that would run on your iPhone. And the question that actually gets asked is who on earth would like anything like that?

Not that the idea to actually play an online game from anywhere at anytime is not very enticing, but the execution of said idea seems very awkward and actually, a bit naive.

Each device and hardware has strengths and weaknesses, they all have certain feature sets that encourage your design to go in a certain direction. And a 3D WOW on the iPhone seems really overkill.

WOW is not actually that much about the 3D experience. As a rich universe, the part of the game that actually properly use the 3D rendering is the one thing that you don’t want to do via an unreliable device (from a network point of view):
- Exploring becomes bland, you can’t actually appreciate the environment. You are more likely to get lost with a small screen not displaying enough of the landmarks. It also becomes a lot more dangerous, your combat capacities being limited by the interface.
- Killing mobs, being done via the gimped combat interface, is very likely to become tedious due to the limitation of the interface, or very dangerous if you don’t stick to lower level mobs (to grind your pre-raid craft ingredients for instance).
- Raiding isn’t even a remote possibility.

True there are key to the fun you have playing the game, but they aren’t the whole thing, by far…

So, what would one do on a WOW app for iPhone:
- Use the auction house. Something that in the game already is done via a full-screen window with all its elements in 2D.

- Craft. 3D isn’t necessarily useful for that part of gameplay either.

- Manage inventory. Or more interestingly, manage your inventory between your bags, your bank and your guild vault. All of this space is rendered in 2D in the game.

- Social interaction. While grouping is probably not an option, you can still manage your guild, your calendar, send mail or just chat with friends. There are plenty of IMs applications on iPhone and community being central to the online game experience, it is actually surprising that the Vollee demo (fake or not) doesn’t even touch that topic. Adding a live feed of your friends in-game actions (a la Hearthstone) would be very beneficial to keep in touch with the game while away.

- Travel. That’s probably a bit more controversial, but travelling in the game translates mostly in time-to-travel. A 2D app could actually extrapolate the travelling time based on where you are. It would add a safety dimension the game doesn’t have, but the way it is currently designed, there aren’t many areas in the game that are actually really dangerous. Even as a low level character, you can actually reach a lot of locations – locations that matter at least. Accessing the characters unlocked flight paths and some extrapolation on travelling time based on which zone you are in and which mount you use shouldn’t be a problem. You can even use the background use of application to actually move your character when looking at your emails and get an alert when she finally arrived at a capital. That would open for some limited exploit possibly, but, let’s face it, the time your character is spending on a flying mount is that much time your are not really playing the game anyway.

- Check out and manage your character. By adding some Armory-like functionality, you could have a feature set that is richer than the one you currently have in game. You could easily respec and play around with your different talent trees on the go.

- Check and compare your achievements, as you can already do via the website.

- Check and update your in game calendar. And synchronise it with whatever calendar applications you are using.

There could also be a suite of functionalities to leverage the actual features of the device: sync up your contact list with your buddy list or vice-versa (controlled by a confidentiality setting system), receive auction house alerts (or any in-game message) while off-line, or set an alarm with the phone based on some event in the game calendar.

The point is, Blizzard could develop a really nice application on iPhone (and they might already be doing that), without a 3D render of the game. It would actually very likely be easier to use, quicker to connect and over-all better designed. They could have to develop it in-house though but with their level of resources, the extra engagement and retention they would get from their usersĀ  would probably make it worth it alone.

There is a real opportunity at the moment to develop very nice features for AAA MMOs on phones (iPhone leading the charge, Nokia and its Ovi platform is also probably worth considering too), but like so many things, you have to pick your fights.
Would a real 3D environment really add to what you offer, or will it hinder what you try to achieve?

3D virtual worlds on mobile are more likely to actually be specifically designed for those devices.

One Response to “Your MMO on Mobile”

  1. Broken Toys » WoWPhone Says:

    [...] up my reaction to this, but Thomas Bidaux (formerly of NC Europe, now running his own consultancy) said what I would have already, and probably in greater detail. (tl;dr version: nice technical achievement, not actually playable, but the market is [...]

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