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Redefining MMOs: A final thought

Shawn Schuster

As the final cap at the end of this Redefining MMOs series, I figured I would take some time to gather my thoughts on why we did this, and what we hoped to achieve by exploring the need to redefine the genre we all love so much.

In early summer of this year, I had the idea to get the whole Massively team together to write their take on a particular topic. This is something I want us to do again through other topics, but I figured that something about the evolving direction of MMOs would be an ideal start. So we put our heads together and came up with some great subtopics.

One of the largest reasons we did this was not only to redefine the term "MMO", but also get a better feel for what you want to read here at Massively. As the genre evolves and changes almost monthly, and the traditional sense of the term becomes outdated, we want to change right along with it, but in an educated and researched direction.

It's important to note that many of the classic "problems" with MMOs are in the process of being fixed with these newer games. Server lag in major cities is being resolved by limiting the amount of people per shard, yet still allowing them to play with each other at any time. Soon we won't have to worry about what servers our friends play on, because they'll all be interchangeable at any time.

Grouping problems are beginning to be solved with game mechanics such as public quests, although we're still not entirely there yet. Even business models are changing into something that can be customized to your particular playstyle, allowing a larger variety of gamers the opportunity to play online games, where previously the thought of a subscription rate scared them away.

On a daily basis, we are inundated with press releases from marketing agencies telling us that their brand new game is an MMO. The term is thrown around so much these days because it has become a sales buzzword. This is not exactly something I enjoy. And don't even get me started on the mix-up between the meaning of MMO and RPG. "But our game has character progression and leveling, just like an MMO!" Sigh.

"But our game has character progression and leveling, just like an MMO! Sigh."

Throughout this series, we've explored some pretty hefty topics. Is persistence the litmus test for an MMO? Why is "free-to-play" so over-used? Why do we call it multiplayer when so many people play these games alone? We've even had some major names in the industry tell us their thoughts. Interestingly enough, their opinions varied quite a bit.

So where do we go from here? If a game only needs to be multiplayer in a massive scale, what's the cut-off for that scientific measurement of "massive"? Is Champions Online's 100-person shard considered massive? We have no problems calling that game an MMO, but we flail around in seizures if someone dare call Guild Wars an MMO, with its own 100-person city districts. Entering an instanced battle zone outside of a hub city means that the game is "heavily instanced", yet it's perfectly acceptable for Lord of the Rings Online to have so many instanced missions and dungeons, while still flying its MMO flag high? How many instances does it take to revoke that MMO license?

More importantly, we wonder about the newest crop of upcoming games. We're looking at a half-dozen games that are sci-fi shooters within a hubbed world of instanced battlegrounds, and they're all calling themselves MMOs. I'm not here to argue why these games are being billed as MMOs (I already know the answer to that one), but I'm just here to figure out what to do with these new games as they evolve. None of us can honestly believe that latching on to original ideas of an MMO -- defined over 10 years ago now -- will stay true as we move forward and progress.

Your Thoughts

Last week, we asked you to give us your own thoughts on redefining MMOs, whether it be the terminology itself, where you think MMOs are heading, or perhaps where you'd like to see them head. What we covered ourselves in only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ideas and opinions on how the MMO genre can and will change or improve over time. So our staff read your submitted entries and picked our favorites to showcase here. Below you'll find our top 3, as well as the honorable mentions below that. Thanks to all who submitted!

1. Spinksville
"Let's go back to the pen and paper era. Dungeons and Dragons originally introduced character classes: some would be instantly recognisable to MMO players today and others wouldn't quite fit. The D&D cleric was a healer but had a huge amount of utility spells too. The D&D warrior was a heavily armoured fighter but not really a tank as we'd understand it today."

2. MMOMisanthrope
"There's zero reason why we need to tie games to the old pen-and-paper or offline rpg style of combat. It's a level of abstraction that was needed early on because the simulation aspect of RPGs were limited in terms of what you used to simulate with, be it dice or a 16 bit videogame system. However, those systems still have endured and become tradition, even when they make little sense."

3. Epic Slant
"Long ago, when the MMORPG genre was young, cooperation between players was considered to be almost a necessity. If you were to roam about solo in Ultima Online, you would likely fall prey to a roaming band of player killers. Similarly, should you forgo companions in EverQuest, you would be greatly limited in what you could achieve. As the industry has matured not only has this notion been weakened, it is almost lost."

Honorable Mentions (in no order)

Look for more sets of features like this in the future which focus on one main topic, with a call-out to the readers for their input. This is something we think worked really well in this context, and we look for forward to doing it again.

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