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I remember when I first got my hands on Order and Chaos Online Order & Chaos© Online - Gameloft, Gameloft’s ambitious move to create a true, open-world MMORPG experience on iOS. Playing those early levels was like a revelation: yes, a true, WoW-stoye MMORPG play experience was possible on mobile devices.

At the time, I thought that OnC would spearhead the genre. Open-world MMORPGs, lighter than their PC equivalents but still true to the genre, would begin appearing on the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod Touch.

Now, more than eighteen months later, what has happened? Where are all the true MMORPGs?

There are a few out there. Celtic Heroes 3D MMO Celtic Heroes - One Thumb Mobile is a shining example here, an open-world game that continues to plug along, an impressive achievement in independent development. Then there are the Legends games from Spacetime Studios, which are limited MMORPGs only. They’re MMO, surely, but with the “core zone leading to contained instances” build they’re hardly open-world.

Where are all the true MMORPGs?

I got excited earlier this year when Sega announced that Phantasy Star Online II would be coming to mobile next year. After seeing so many “MMOs” come to iOS that were little more than social games with avatars or multiplayer games with global chat rooms, here, maybe was the next big MMORPG.

But now word is coming out of Japan that the mobile version isn’t so much MMO as just multiplayer runs through pathed dungeons with some social gaming thrown in. I hear that to get the more authentic MMORPG experience, players will need the PC version.

Where are all the true MMORPGs?

The freemium model has to be, in part, to blame. When Order and Chaos Online released, it was built around the standard MMORPG revenue stream: subscription. Like PC MMORPGs before it, You had to pay for access to OnC. A lot of folks in the community liked this; it kept out casual players and trolls who might otherwise clog the bandwidth but not otherwise contribute to the experience of the game.

That has since changed, however. While OnC still costs money to download — a feature that is unique among iOS MMORPGs — the subscription is gone, and in its place is a play structure that demands more IAPs to truly play at high levels, more nagging little moments where you’re reminded that you could play a little easier, resurrect a little better, gain experience a little more quickly if only you’d pay a buck or two.

Buying runes in Gameloft’s Order and Chaos Online.

And everything else out there that calls itself an MMORPG — and boy, is that term used liberally by some devs — is built squarely on the freemium model: microtransactions, timers, in-app currencies, and the rest. Freemium is the business model for mobile, and these freemium model games aren’t very interested in offering up open-world MMORPGs.

Where are all the true MMORPGs?

Maybe the MMORPG model and the mobile model simply don’t go well together.  Maybe mobile players simply aren’t the same kind of gamers as PC players. Maybe it really is harder than Gameloft makes it look to offer up an open, streaming, active MMORPG world over Wi-Fi and cellular. I’m not a dev, so I really can’t say.

So, where are all the true MMORPGs? They’re on PC, and they don’t appear to be coming to iOS anytime soon. Fans of both MMOs and RPGs have plenty of games to play on iOS; but those of us looking for that sweet, sweet combination of the two may find ourselves wanting for a long time to come.


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  1. Agree completely. So much is possible with the hardware of later ios devices. OaC plays on an old iPad 2. Now I’ve got an iPad Air and wish something closer to PC style mmorpgs would come out now that the newer models are primed for them. Albion Online looks promising…

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