Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why Is There No Pokemon MMO?

Pokemon is a very popular series, but most people will admit that it definitely needs a refresh of some sort to keep it going on into the future. The most prominent idea floated around is that Nintendo needs to make some sort of Pokemon MMO (massively multiplayer online game).

In fact, most people who follow gaming closely will express bewilderment that Nintendo hasn't already done so. After all, it's an idea that’s just out there, waiting for the picking. People are clamoring for it. It's the next logical step. Why has Nintendo done nothing about it? What's wrong with them? They don't like money, or what?

There's one major reason that Nintendo hasn't made a game like that, and it actually gives us some hope for a future Pokemon MMO.

Anyone who plays MMOs knows that before your game starts, it checks major files with the server and patches the game. This is a constant process on the part of the developer because there are always new exploits and hacks that damage the game and make it unstable for other players. An unpatchable MMO would be anarchy, a lawless wasteland that would leave players disenfranchised and the MMO makers completely vulnerable to attacks.

Maple Story was a popular MMO, and they made a version for the DS. However, it was entirely single-player with very few multiplayer features. How come? There was a huge problem: The DS didn't have the capability of upgrading firmware, much less installing patches into games. That made it a prime target for hackers, who were able to run almost any DS ROM off of a flashcart and very nearly kill third-party support for the DS. Imagine what that sort of environment would have done to a Pokemon MMO.

The Wii had the capability of upgrading the firmware, but not to install patches. That led to major problems. For example, Metroid: Other M had a show-stopping bug that could trap players in one room, and the only way to fix it was to send your save file in an SD card to Nintendo for them to fix it and send it back. GoldenEye for the Wii had persistent multiplayer that quickly got hacked. Imagine what sort of environment that would have been for a Pokemon MMO.

The good news is that the 3DS accepts patches. They've already tested this with Mario Kart 7 by closing off an exploit in one of the races. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would guess that Nintendo purposely left the exploit in until after launch so they could test out the patching system.

Either way, that’s a good sign. Now that Nintendo has games out there that accept patches and can stay abreast of the crazy things that hackers are going to try to do, there’s a really good chance that they’ll bring a Pokemon MMO to fruition, either on the 3DS or the Wii U. At the very least, we have more hope now than in the past.