With professional MMO development soaring and a whole new generation of promising titles on the way, we stand on the cusp of what could be the next big evolutionary leap for online gaming. In the coming weeks and months, Massively will be examining how the MMO genre has been redefined during the current generation of games and where it's headed in the next. If you have something important to say on the topic, feel free to post a comment on page 2 or even write your own "Redefining MMOs" blog post and leave a comment with the URL.
In this introductory article, I ask why we use the terminology we do when talking about MMOs and if perhaps it's starting to change.
The term "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game" or "MMORPG" was reportedly first used in 1996 to describe early online games like Meridian 59. This mouthful of an acronym has stuck to the genre like glue, being used to describe similar games ever since. The main thing that differentiated an MMO from other games was the fact that it was multiplayer with a potentially huge number of people. The prefix "Massively Multiplayer Online" made a lot of sense back then and for a time the main games fitting the description were role-playing games. Developers have now explored a number of facets of the market more fully and the MMO genre has been expanded to cover other types of game. Over the years, terms like MMOFPS (First Person Shooter) and MMORTS (Real Time Strategy) have been concocted to describe new subdivisions in the genre.
Types of MMO:
The interesting thing is that we have traditionally subdivided the MMO market by these subgenres. In reality, the MMO market can encompass almost any type of game from the entire games industry. With sufficient development, any game type can be feasibly adapted into an online multiplayer one with a common persistent server space. In that sense, "MMO" isn't so much a genre as a prefix applied to games with online persistent qualities. If we must subdivide the MMO market, divisions like MMORPG and MMOFPS seem insufficient to describe the qualities of the game in question.
The true subdivisions of a market are those that are with major cohesive properties that matter to us, in this case group types that give us an idea of what the game's style and content are like. So while MMORPG sounds like a good heading to group games under, it doesn't really tell us much about the gameplay or content other than that we have characters that progress (a staple mechanic in the RPG world). There are so many different styles of RPG which bear little semblance with each other that it would make more sense to refer to games by gameplay style. Groupings like "Fantasy MMO", "Space MMO" and "Super Hero MMO" offer us a much better idea of what to expect.