Challenges for MMORPG on cell phones

In 2003, Tommy Palm wrote an insightful piece in Gamasutra about the birth of mobile MMORPG. What is interesting in this paper is the development challenges described by the author:

  • Latency: Whereas latency in network calls for PC games is measured in hundreds of milliseconds, for mobile phones latency is typically measured in seconds. (...) How can these long latencies on mobile networks be hidden from players? (...) Tick-based gaming is a solution to this problem. In tick-based gameplay, you take a turn-based game and allow all players to plan their moves ahead of time, and then the game executes all the moves simultaneously.
  • Device Anarchy: The mobile phone market doesn't offer as much hardware certainty as today's PCs. (...) The screen sizes vary wildly, as do the number of buttons and their locations on the phones. It may go without saying that until there are standards for the most basic hardware capabilities (...) Application size is limited on many models. (...) Color depth also varies substantially between phones, but luckily there are not an infinite amount of color depths from which to choose.
  • Operator issues: Internet connectivity for mobile phones isn't as easy as it is for PCs. (...) everything relies on the capabilities of the operator. (...) network packages are transmitted via the operator's software, and in many cases those messages are like frogs crossing a highway: sometimes they make it, sometimes they don't
  • User Behavior: the average gaming session on a phone lasts just a few minutes. In some respects, this fact bolsters the case for 3MOGs since a persistent world can make better use of short playing cycles than a game that requires a player to start a new session each time the game is played. (...) Mobile games must behave politely and accept that the player's situation must always come first. A game in which the player's character dies and can't be resurrected -- just because the player got off the bus or answered a phone call -- will aggravate users and result in fewer players and lower revenues. Devising multiplayer functionality to accommodate frequently distracted players is one of the great challenges


Why do I blog this? food for a new project I am writing. These elements are very interesting, even though it's form 2003. Most are still relevant today. And I am quite interested as well in the implications for game mechanics plus how to cope with the limits from the user point of view. There are surely near future solutions to put in place to take these problems into account. The creation of playful interactions can use some of the limits.

Platforms such as Tibia ME or Mini Friday are intriguing systems, with different mechanics. Platforms to observe!