Over the weekend, Bob “MovieBob” Chipman tweeted:
“Hey, Blizzard? Here’s how you put WoW on consoles: Make a WoW-specific controller/keyboard, sell it with the game. PROFIT.”
Were it so easy! World of Warcraft wouldn’t work on the current consoles. I’m not sure if it would be feasible on the next generation, but I have my doubts. Now, that’s not to say MovieBob’s idea is bad. He’s a rather insightful guy who seems to know games as well as he knows film. In fact, it’s not unprecedented for console games to go beyond the standard controller—just look at the custom hardware made for games like Rock Band. A controller specific to World of Warcraft could work, especially if Blizzard could work something out with Razer and ship Nostromos for the game.
However, accessing Azeroth from a console would not be as simple as shipping a custom controller.
The game currently sits at 20GB. A Blu-Ray disc can hold 25GB, which makes it an option for the PS3. The Xbox 360 uses 8.5GB DVDs, which would require 3 DVDs to fit the entire game. It would also be possible for the data to be streamed in as needed using the same tech introduced with the Cataclysm launcher. Regardless, the game would require an HDD to store all of that content. Honestly, this is the easiest problem to solve, but it’s still a problem that needs to be solved.
And don’t let the game’s stylized aesthetic fool you, as World of Warcraft is a graphical beast. The graphics engine for a console port would need to be massively overhauled to effectively make use of the limited GPU memory while still making the game look good. It would probably be easier than I make it out to be, because World of Warcraft already runs on a wide band of hardware specs. The trick will be squeezing every bit of power out of the fixed hardware. The PS3 GPU is limited to 256 MB of GDDR3 RAM while the Xbox 360 uses 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM shared between both GPU and CPU, and both chips are clocked at 700 MHz. If Blizzard didn’t opt to address this, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see players occasionally see Azeroth as a twisted hellscape.
The game isn’t designed to be played with a controller. It needs a keyboard. Each class tends to have around 30 baseline abilities, and each talent spec can add anywhere from 2 new abilities (Marksmanship Hunter) or 11 new abilities (Balance Druid) . Druids have 40 baseline abilities! Additionally, each class can have up to 6 more abilities added just from their talents. Let’s not even factor in the number of abilities taught by inscribing different glyphs.
Of course, that’s not to say that all of those abilities are going to be needed at any one time. In combat, each player will use anywhere from 5-10 abilities, with the exact number depending on their class and specialization. However, this reduced number doesn’t factor in the various cooldowns each player will have. Regardless, there are too many abilities to fit comfortably on a standard controller with only twelve face buttons. Custom hardware is the way to go.
You use the mouse to look around. You use the mouse to click NPCs, chests, levers, target AOE spells, and interact with the UI. The way the player interacts with the whole game would need to be redesigned to accommodate the lack of a mouse. The game simply isn’t designed to be played without one. And make no mistake, there would be a lack of a mouse, because the Xbox 360 does not support one. This effectively limits Blizzard to porting the game solely to the PS3.
It wouldn’t be impossible, mind you, but there would be a huge dependence on navigating through menus. I don’t know about you, but I had enough time with bad menus in Skyrim and Fable 3. A new control scheme would need to be devised, as well; I’m speaking of action bars, for the most part. I could see Blizzard taking a cue from an addon I’m fond of called OPie to handle most of the heavy lifting. They would need to take cues from a number of other addons as well, such as the IceHUD addon, because the default UI is not streamlined for console play.
The game would require a keyboard, if not for the huge number of abilities players have at their disposal, then for the sole purpose of communicating with other players. WoW does have VoIP, but it’s like watching a movie in a well-lit theater; the point gets across but it isn’t worth your time. If players wanted to talk to each other in-game using their headsets, Blizzard would need to significantly improve their VoIP function. They’d also need to solve issues like “how to communicate with other players who aren’t in your channel;” in other words, you can’t speak to other players who aren’t in your group. Furthermore, you wouldn’t be able to speak to players across platforms, and I have my doubts that World of Warcraft could succeed in an isolated environment.
Blizzard would need to make console WoW work with PC/Mac WoW. That means PC/Mac WoW needs to be able to receive any speech from console WoW via VoIP. That also means Blizzard would need to run some sort of interface to allow Xbox Live and PlayStation Network users access to their Battle.net network. It would also introduce an unknown number of security problems for Blizzard, unless everyone forgot that PSN has been hacked in the past. Then there’s the issue of how RealID and BattleTags would be integrated alongside those networks. Microsoft has been notably stingent with the Xbox 360. If Valve, with all of their success, can’t get Steam on the Xbox 360, then it seems equally unlikely that Blizzard would be allowed to get Battle.net onto the Xbox 360.
Finally, let’s not forget the cost of everything. It would cost Razer money to produce a Nostromo that is compatible for the PS3 and/or Xbox 360. It would cost Blizzard money to redesign their engine to not only push the fixed hardware to the limit, but also work in absence of a mouse. There likely wouldn’t be any addons to allow users to customize their UI, meaning Blizzard would need to invest in overhauling the default UI and testing it thoroughly. To top it all off, there would be the cost of unshipped units if a console version fails to gain significant traction—moreso if custom controllers are bundled with every copy. At the end of the day, I’m not sure Blizzard could actually turn a profit from porting World of Warcraft to the consoles.