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Redefining MMOs: Developers weigh in, part 3

Tracey John

Jeffrey Steefel, The Lord of the Rings Online Executive Producer, Turbine:

"It's been fascinating to see how the MMO game has been evolving over the past 10 years... A lot has happened. Games have become more complex, consumers mostly all have faster internet access, are comfortable buying things online and spending time online. Social connections now happen through the network as readily as in person or over the phone or through mail. Mass consumers regularly consume media content in small chunks through the network; whether its music, ppv video, eBooks, ringtones, games or even now television shows.

"Players don't want to 'play' with thousands of people, they want to play with a small group in the presence of thousands. It's like an old-school arcade. You don't want to play pinball with 10 people, but playing by yourself in a crowded room is a lot more fun. Players have more varied play-sessions. Some still play for hours on end, some want to come in for some quick fun. Subscription is alive and well, but it is not the only way to charge for this kind of experience. Microtransactions, premium services and content, free online play are all creeping into the genre.

"In other words, 'MMO' is too confining. 'MMO' was the spawning point for all kinds of new online entertainment. And it is reaching a much wider audience. Not to mention the critical importance of not only the game, but the service and media infrastructure that surrounds a good online experience.

"So I believe what we're really building is entertainment services, that combine the flexibility and accessibility of the network, the appeal of social networking, the freedom of an online persistent universe, and the structured fun provided by video games. So it's hard to say there is one term that can cover all that this can be or become. I think we need to look at the ingredients -- persistence, sense of place, sense of purpose, social connectivity, social identity, social grouping, participatory experiences and storytelling -- and then perhaps try and find a name for it."

Thom Terrazas, EverQuest Producer, Sony Online Entertainment:

"Obviously 'massive' is the main theme to the name, but what was the target number of people online when the term 'massive' was [coined for] MMOs? I'm no expert by any means, but I believe the term first referred to a couple dozen simultaneous players if not hundreds of players existing in a virtual world, interacting between each other. When it started, it was with a lot of passion from many that pushed the envelope of technology that enabled the first dozen to be achieved. That just set the bar for others to improve on and it continues today. Today, it means everything. It's a game and it's a business and everything in between. It's a place you can go and leave everything else behind, but at the same time, it's a place you can visit and be everything you've ever wanted. It means a release from the real world and an invitation to your imagination. ... I think ['MMO'] only needs a new term for those that don't know what it means right now.....or what it was meant to be."

Rich Vogel, Co-Studio Vice President, BioWare:

"MMO to me means the ability to play with thousands of players in a world. This was actually coined by 3DO back in the Meridian 59 days and later adopted by EA when marketing Ultima Online. ...

"It was coined over 10 years ago to convey a marketing message. There were no games that allowed thousands of players in one environment and it was a great selling point. Today, that feature is well understood. It has branched out beyond the RPG genre into others like MMOFPS, MMORTS, etc.

"No [I don't think we need a new term for 'MMO']. I feel it has become its own category and a mainstream term that people recognize now -- especially after [World of Warcraft]. The term 'MMO' can be applied to any single player genre that wants to have a large-scale multiplayer component. ...

"Star Wars: The Old Republic is an MMORPG in every sense of the term. BioWare has a long tradition of making great story driven RPGs and now we are entering into the MMO market for the first time. Our game has all of the traditional components of MMORPGs like combat, exploration, advancement, great loot, and crafting. However, we are going to add another element to the MMORPG genre -- storytelling the BioWare way."

Raph Koster, President and Founder, Metaplace:

"I think now, at this point, now that we've chopped the 'RPG' part off of it and just say 'MMO,' which by itself is a meaningless acronym. Massively multiplayer online... The problem is the very word massive is not particularly useful. Sorry Massively website! But the problem is that "massive" is kind of relative. New York is a massive city, until you go to Shanghai. It's completely relative. ...

"I was never that crazy about [the term 'MMO']. We've been here before. There was a huge turf battle over the term 'MUD'... There were people coming up with MUVE, multiple user virtual environment... random acronyms people were coming up with to describe the field. Several of us kept saying, 'These are just virtual worlds, damnit!' Part of the reason why that was working okay was it was fairly easy to say, and MUDs do have a very specific kind of family tree that we can point at, and they all fall under virtual worlds.

"That was great until people started calling things -- without any games in them -- 'virtual worlds,' excluding MMO-anythings. This is where you get people saying, 'Well, [World of Warcraft] is a MMORPG, it's not a virtual world.' And it's like...errrr. Because the battle has started all over again with people trying to appropriate the term 'virtual world' to mean Second Life or to mean Habbo Hotel. So now you have things like social virtual worlds and generic virtual worlds, and people think it means just Second Life, and that's... wrong. I'll say it bluntly, that's just wrong, because WoW is a virtual world and so is Second Life, and so is YoVille. A lot of people don't want to claim YoVille as being in the family, but it is. I much prefer to define these things by what they are rather than how many people they hold.

"I do still say MMO, because at this point it usually has the connotation of game. If you say 'MMO' people assume you mean a game. ... Even us design types, we still need to know what we're actually doing. The terms, right? We need to agree on a language so we can talk about it. Disclaiming something that is a massively multiplayer, comma, online, comma, first-person, comma, shooter, and saying, 'Well, it's not actually massively multiplayer online'... whatever. That's clearly marketing talking.

"There are people that call them MWOs, people that called them MOGs, and people that call them POGs. There's PSWs which is an art term for a specific sub-set of virtual world so that one gets misused all the time because it means 'persistent state world.' ... There are some others... PIG, I've seen PIG, 'persistent interactive game.'

Massively: I don't think a game maker would like to call their game a "PIG."

"Probably not."

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