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What is an MMO?

29. November, 2011Tags: MMO Blog

What is MMORPG

We are all playing MMO games and game developers continue to produce more games, even the likes of games with multi-million dollar budgets. Star Wars The Old Republic, World of Warcraft and the likes of Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World... But some of you may be wondering what exactly an MMO is. This article is for those of you who are new to the genre or who have never had an answer to this question...


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What is an MMO? - What is MMORPG? When I first started writing for DevilsMMO I was hardly an expert on the genre; a little research and time turned into the History of the MMO series, and even after hours of writing and a now “encyclopaedic knowledge” (as in, “I’ll go check my notes…” ) of the biggest MMO games of the last 20 years, I’m still not sure I could answer that question.

The title of MMO seems to be added onto anything with an online component that doesn’t get released onto consoles. The other descriptions run wild: sometimes it’s a marketing ploy by the developer sometimes it’s a misunderstanding by the press, sometimes games that you would think to be an MMO aren’t branded as such and vice versa.

And that’s where the confusion comes in. Any game that wants to be an MMO is an MMO or an MMORPG as many people call it. This was brought home to me this week as I’ve been playing World of Tanks, a game that certainly blurs the lines. With 30 players in every game and literally thousands of people blowing the hell out of each other, I would certainly say that it is a “massive” game.

But with only a couple of different levels to choose from and not a huge amount of time dedicated to exploring it’s not a massive game in terms of depth, no more than the average shooter.
The common argument that I see brought up a lot when discussing World of Tanks’ genre is “if World of Tanks is an MMO, so is Call of Duty and Battlefield.”

It’s a difficult argument to counter. What’s the difference between an FPS and an MMOFPS? Nobody could claim that MAG wasn’t an MMO, but is it different enough from Call of Duty to warrant an entirely different genre dedicated to it? The difference between the two is scale, but in MAG I never really considered myself part of an army, no more than I did in Call of Duty.

That probably wasn’t helped by the sheer wall of deaths I faced every time I went around a corner, but that’s because I’m terrible.

But at the same time in both Call of Duty AND MAG there are thousands of players online at the same time. That’s stretching it a little in my opinion, the idea of an MMO is that you all occupy relative space. Just because there are 12,000 people playing Nuke Town at any given moment doesn’t mean they’re playing in relation to one another, they just happen to be playing in the same map.

The big difference is that MAG boasts hundreds of players in the same battle whether you notice it or not. That things were separated into smaller battles doesn’t change the fact that the battle was still being effected by other goings on.

So is being part of some bigger, overarching world the key to an MMO? In an RPG setting yes, but in an FPS that would be much harder to pull off without having some link to another MMO, like EVE Online and Dust 514.

All of this is theoretical though because by any of these standards World of Tanks isn’t an MMO. There are 30 players in each game and each battle is a standalone affair, affecting nothing but your experience level and, depending on how well you’ve played, your self-esteem.

But that’s only if you play alone. Does an MMO need to have hundreds of players together in the same game or is just having them in the same clan necessary? If World of Tanks allows you to create a group in which you can discuss tactics with allies, start a game with allies, change your group’s standing within the community does that make it an MMO? You may not be playing with your friends all of the time, but you’re having an effect on an overall rank.

I would say yes, that makes it an MMO, but that leads us into murkier waters. Call of Duty Elite lets players form groups based on all sorts of things, and communication/competition as part of that group is key to that experience.

Does that now make Call of Duty an MMO?

But I wonder how many of our readers just shuddered at the thought, pressing alt and f4 and making a mental note never to visit this site again for the mere suggestion that Call of Duty could be anything other than an arcade shooter and, if it COULD be placed into another genre outside of that then it certainly wouldn’t be MMO.

The key to the genre seems to be this idea of a persistent world, a world that exists even when you’re not there to witness it. That could almost doubt as the definition of an MMO game. But that doesn’t clear much up, again this applies to both World of Tanks and Call of Duty Elite – your group can still carry on without you and you’ll still be affected despite not playing.

But it’s easy to misunderstand the meaning of “persistent world” as well, very easy. Does it mean that the world carries on without you, but nothing except the location of fellow players really changes? That would define most of the MMOs based on World of Warcraft, you play the same missions millions of people have played before you and solve the same problems that have been solved too many times before.

There may be updates and slight changes to events and locations (or major changes if you’re talking Cataclysm) but for the most part you’re doing very little that is new. You’ll never manage to clear out a dungeon forever; the monsters will always respawn for others to come back to later.
Or does playing in a persistent world mean that you can actively change events, you can shape the environment and others can vie for power against you. Are there MMOs like that, where if you “snooze you lose?”

That definition would certainly discount a lot of what we see as key players in the genre, almost everything in fact.

What is MMO?

And so we come to the end of the article no clearer than when we began. The truth is that the MMO genre, like the action-adventure genre, is an umbrella term for a lot of different sorts of games that may or may not have very many things in common. World of Tanks may or may not be an MMO depending upon which standards you hold it to, Call of Duty probably isn’t although the inclusion of groups in the free part of Elite makes that debateable, again depending on the standards you place on the genre.

But an in-depth definition is beyond me and beyond most the people I’ve come across during my research. It’s one of those things that seem so obvious until you think about it, a genre which seems so widespread until you question exactly what the developers mean when they say they’re making a Massively Multiplayer game. I hope this still answered your questions, What is MMO or What is MMORPG...

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