All of this tablet gaming might wound the current style of MMOs. I suspect that within the next decade or two it will all come full circle back to massive three-dimensional worlds on tech that becomes even more powerful and common, so we have to look at what the mobile market can do currently to keep MMOs in the lineup.
Mobile MMOs should take advantage of these longer-but-segmented periods of play. Some mobile MMOs attempt to, but usually the attempt results in an MMO that is more of a pseudo, social MMO with mechanics that do not equal real-time interaction with other players. These social mechanics are great for those who enjoy the style, but for MMO players who are used to logging into a open world with hundreds or thousands of players running around, these social mechanics are far from ideal.
"I'm not just talking about slapping some graphics over a bit of Google maps and calling it an MMO."
I found that location-based MMOs often falter because most of the gamers I know do not live in large cities and tend to find empty games when logging in. The type of real-world interaction that I would to see would involve a combination of real-world information and gameplay. GPS information might not be accurate down to the square foot, but surely a mobile game can predict or create monsters or goals out of thin air? I'd like to walk down the street and receive an alert that a goblin was literally standing next to me. I would have to break out my phone and do combat or lose the treasure.
Some mobile MMOs like Ingress have attempted to overlay information on real-world locations, but I found the game's dependence on real-world hotspots like the local library and firehouse to be counterproductive. Sure, we're supposed to get out of our house and walk or drive to the nearest portal, but what about those of us who live in typical smallish towns that offer no real reason to go downtown or even across the street? Location-based games need to be more considerate of the player's immediate location.
Mobile developers need to remember how a player feels when he or she is playing on a tablet or smartphone. These developers need to consider where the player is playing from and how much playtime the player might be willing to invest. When I play a mobile MMO, I am usually reclining on the couch while my wife is watching television. Sometimes I'll even grab my tablet while doing household chores and log in while standing up, just to check in on a virtual castle or turn in a quick quest. This doesn't mean that mobile gamers do not put many hours into a single title at one time. Many of them do; consider as one example Pocket Legends. To spread the mobile MMO market out of the niche corner that it currently resides in, developers need to be aware of the massive market that isn't being touched: those players who have no idea what an MMO is but enjoy gaming on the tablet.
I'm not asking for a watered-down version of an MMO or for a redefining of what "real" MMOs are. All I would like to see is designs and mechanics that take the mobile gamer's lifestyle into account. These players are mobile, and that means that they do not necessarily play the same way as someone who sits down at a gaming PC for a four-hour raid night.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.