Redefining MMOs: Developers weigh in, part 2

Tracey John
T. John|09.24.09

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Redefining MMOs: Developers weigh in, part 2

Erling Ellingsen, Director of Communications, Funcom:

"A bit surprising to me is that in terms of number of players, it hasn't changed a bit. Ultima Online, EverQuest and Age of Conan has roughly the same number of players per server -- which is quite interesting actually. These worlds have remained quite the same in size, so apart from EVE Online -- which is in a slightly different category because of their game world -- these games haven't become any more massive in terms of population and size of the game world. I'm still waiting for that super-MMO with 500,000 players, one billion square miles of fantasy world and a complex, virtual society filled with political intrigues and personal and social challenges.

"The truth is, however, that the size and scope of MMOs has remained relatively the same except for development in graphical technology. It's the same number of people playing, roughly the same size of the world, and we're doing the same things -- building houses, killing critters, leveling up and looking for loot. In many ways, the MMO genre is still in its infancy, and I am looking forward to more advanced MMOs in the future that really challenge the genre standards.

"We don't need [a new term for 'MMO'] yet, I think. We're still quite early in the MMO era, and I think some of the big changes are yet to come."

Min Kim, Vice President of Marketing, Nexon America:

"By definition, MMO means that a game is massive, multiplayer and online. MMOs therefore provide an environment where one player is able to interact with many other players through a setting facilitated through an internet connection. ..

"Today, the term MMO is taking on a broader definition where character persistence combined with the ability to play with multiple people suffice (i.e. session-based MMOs like Combat Arms, and KartRider). MMOs have evolved to adopt multiple genres, and the gaming genre should now be attached like a suffix to "MMO" to fully describe the type of MMO a game is (e.g. MMORPG, MMORTS, MMOFPS). However, this starts to get confusing for many when one considers online versions of games like Texas Hold'em or Chess, where there are massive player bases that have high levels of engagement and some level of persistence. ...

"I believe the definition of MMOs has elevated to a point where it is bleeding to define games that simply have players that play with each other online. At Nexon, we have tossed the idea of calling our games 'connected games,' 'live games,' 'social games,' etc. However, at the end of the day, our goal is to grow truly massive player bases. The reality is that the majority of these massive player bases probably won't care about whatever we call our games, as long as they are fun and keep them enjoying the experience. Rather than thinking of new terms, I want us to focus our energies on creating great playing experiences with massive player bases to justify the existence of the terms that currently exist.

"When people outside the industry ask me what kind of games we work on, I simply say 'online games.' The frustrating result is that sometimes people respond with, 'I heard those poker games make a lot of money.' ... I would like people to call our games FFOs -- Fun Free Online games."

Laralyn McWilliams, Free Realms Creative Director, Sony Online Entertainment:

"It's interesting, because I think there is a shift in terminology. 'MMO' has come to mean a specific kind of massively multiplayer game, as the short version of MMORPG rather as a general term for all massively multiplayer games (where MMORPG is a subset of MMO). You see the term 'virtual world' used now to describe massively multiplayer games that don't feature strong character progression or RPG elements. We classify Free Realms as a 'virtual world,' despite the game's light stats and character progression, because Free Realms emphasizes moment-to-moment fun over the grind to level 80.

"I think we'll see new terms evolve as the genres deepen and clarify. I would bet, for example, we start to see more sports MMOs, and then we start to see more specific kinds of sports MMOs. There will probably be an 'MMO' sports game, where you level up as a baseball player by playing baseball in the game, and there will probably be a 'virtual world' sports game, where you hang out, talk about your favorite teams, and have fantasy football in a virtual setting. It's such a new area in game development (which is itself a new field) that I think we have only just started to scratch the surface."

Fernando Paiz, Dungeons & Dragons: Eberron Unlimited Executive Producer, Turbine:

"To me, 'MMO' means a game where thousands of players can simultaneously connect together in a persistent world where they can play and socialize together. When the term was first used, it was narrowly defined to be a fantasy RPG game in the mold of Asheron's Call or EverQuest. Today MMOs are quite diverse and can be in a variety of genres and for a variety of audiences.

"[We] probably [need a new term for 'MMO']. But no one has come up with a term for it that is both appropriate and catchy enough. I think 'persistent online game' is the closest phrase that captures the essence of what MMOs are. To me a 'virtual world' specifically describes a shared online environment. You can have a virtual world that is not necessarily a game."

Bill Roper, Design Director, Cryptic Studios:

"I don't think 'MMO' means anything differently now than it did when it was first used, except that now MMO almost always has an implied RPG (role-playing game) attached.

"I think the [term] we have right now is simple and explanatory. If someone is going to make something outside of the understood definition, they should come up with an acronym or terminology that makes sense. For example, an MMOFPS (first-person shooter), or MMORTS (real-time strategy) would be examples of this.

"'Virtual worlds' tend to denote a lack (or limited amount) of directed game play. These are more sandboxes that thrive or die purely on player-generated content. Second Life is obviously the best example of this concept. MMOs do best when the developer continues to create new content and give players new systems to explore with existent characters."

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