The Watchmen movie is currently enjoying incredible success in the box office, and although it's had mixed reviews from critics and those of us who "knew them before they were a household name," marketing opportunities abound. One such obvious venue is video games, which can be distributed to comic book readers and game players alike, blending them into a medley of glorious capitalism. Warner Bros. announcement last week about a Watchmen MMO game was a little surprising, but the fact it would be on the Apple iPhone was mind boggling. Does this story have what it takes to survive in the MMO world and can the iPhone support such a venue?

There are two basic components of the Watchmen MMO game that have both advantages and risks. The first of these is the use of the iPhone as a gaming platform. The 640x480 pixel video is a little on the small side, but workable even in the PC gaming world. With 3G data transfer bandwidth shouldn't be a huge obstacle, and there is plenty of memory available for data storage if the product is client side. As you can see, from a technical standpoint the iPhone has what it takes to run a game, but looking beyond the fact it's a phone, not a Nintendo DS, there are a few more things to consider.

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The MMO game world has a long standing tradition of launching epic sized games that draw players into a complex and compelling world. Our standards as fans are high, and many of us have become jaded to much of what has been released over the past few years. With expectations so high how can any iPhone app live up to such a lofty standard? We expect vast worlds with exciting content, and while the simplicity of free to play games has opened this door a little, such a game will have an uphill climb. If they can keep peoples expectations reasonable however (come on people it's a $0.99 game) it could be one of the premier apps available.

On the flip side of this however, there is no standard set for MMO games on a phone. You could say "this is the worst mobile MMO game ever" but what are you comparing it to? An untapped market of millions of people is a game developers dream, and the potential for profit is enough to make any financier drool. Creating the app can't have an astronomical cost and on an abbreviated timetable you could pop out something for a few dollars a unit and make millions. This is the strongest argument you'll find for not only the Watchmen but any MMO game on mobile phones.

One major challenge an iPhone MMO game is going to find is the need for simplicity. Let's face it, those of us who have played games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft realize that it's not a simple genre. With maps, skillbars, journals and chat boxes even the most casual person can become overwhelmed with data. Hardcore raiders used to a HUD the equivalent of an FA-18 fighter jet in their games can also attest to how deep game systems can become. How do you fit something so complex on a little phone? The lack of a keyboard for the iPhone is also a big problem meaning input to the game is limited to screen tapping and communication could be tricky.

We've covered the technical and design aspects of running an MMO game on an iPhone, but looking at the specifics of Watchmen there are some significant hurdles to overcome. Even if this was designed from the ground up on a console or PC the story presents key issues that can't be ignored or bypassed by flashy graphics and combat.

The Watchmen is a complex story of anti-heroes and human tragedy. I know what you are thinking, "I saw the movie, I understand." No, you saw the film adaptation of one of the most intricate and well known graphics novels ever written in history. Long before the movie was even considered, it had a cult-like following beginning with many of us reading it under covers at an inappropriate age. It's difficult to translate comic book heroes into a game, but something as sophisticated as the Comedian’s story arc would perplex designers and writers alike.

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To do this story true justice would require making the game extremely dark and menacing. Exploring the brutal side of human nature was something this story did well, but that isn't something you can market to a wide audience. Warner Brothers apparently toned back the content enough to make it rated for 12+ so the gore, assaults, and hatred that makes up the human condition is notably reduced. While this may not do justice to the true intent of Alan Moore's vision, if it's fun that can easily be overlooked.

This brings us to the final issue, the gameplay with a focus on player characters. While the Watchmen universe did paint a colorful picture of an alternate reality, the environment was just the backdrop for the story of a few individuals. No one asked what random soldier #2 guarding the military base was thinking, and even characters with small parts were used to move the story forward. This was about Nite Owl, The Comedian, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, Doctor Manhattan, and that kooky Roschach. How can you allow thousands of people to create characters that stand up to their awesomeness?

The world of mobile phone MMO games still has a long way to go and while I have pointed out many problems, it's still very important to keep reasonable expectations. This is a $0.99 app on iTunes, which places itself in a category with juggernauts such as Warhammer Online and Lord of the Rings Online. I personally haven't been able to play, but the few hundred reviews I read stated quite a few people were having fun. If you have an iPhone and a $1, why not check it out and let us know how it is? If it's amazing, email me and tell me I'm wrong about it. I have to know because I'm the Comic Book Guy.


Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016