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Ask Massively: Defining MMOs


Welcome back to Ask Massively, gamely answering your wacky questions since 1738.

spacejesus3k wrote, "'MMO' is a watered-down term that means nothing more than 'online game' now. But why report on something like World of Tanks and not Call of Duty? They really aren't that different. Even games like World of Warcraft aren't that different in what they offer. They all have 'lobby like' co-op and PvP content; the only real difference is the single-player campaigns vs. the leveling world (which is often soloed). So here is a good question for Ask Massively: How do you pick and choose what online games you report on? Is there a set of criteria they must meet?"

Yes, but I warn you: This is not a scientific process.

And how could it be? People just don't agree on what constitutes an MMO or where the split between MMO and MMORPG is. Each of us has his or her own working definition, but nobody's lines up perfectly with anyone else's, not among our own staff and certainly not among the readership. We don't generally agree on what defines sandboxes, either. Or whether PlanetSide 2 is a true MMO. Or whether we should cover lobby-based online games like -- I'll say it -- Guild Wars 1 but never lobby-based online games like Diablo III or Torchlight II. And on and on. It'd be a lot easier if it were simple, that's for sure.

The primary focus of Massively is massively multiplayer online RPGs. That's a given. But we occasionally cover other games, which is why we run The Firing Line, Not So Massively, MMO Burnout, and MMObility. We have the freedom to cover online games that rest in that grey area. So how do we pick and choose?

Avoid conflicts: We try not to tread on the coverage of our sister sites. That means we don't cover WoW in extreme depth (our competitors do), and we don't cover most of the games Joystiq covers unless they are perfect for us.

Listen to our readers: If you guys don't like coverage of a game, it'll be reflected in our page views. We avoid a lot of games you (plural) just don't care about, and we try to focus news and column coverage on the things you (plural) demonstrate you do like (or might like if you'd heard about them). That often means that little side-scroller out of East Asia probably won't get much ink on our pages, and it means that huge Western releases will probably get more attention since we're based in the U.S.

But don't forget the little guys: Certain indie gems fill us with joy even if our readership is less than enthused. Games like Glitch and Darkfall get more coverage than their numbers deserve because we like them or think they offer something unique and fun to write about.

Work within our staff: We won't run a column just to have one; we like to distribute game columns to writers who actually play the games. Sometimes that means we don't have a column on a game because we're not in a position to hire a new columnist, but sometimes that means we have multiple columnists collaborating on a game. Either way, the interests and expertise of the staff drive a lot of our coverage.

Weight everything accordingly: We're far more likely to cover something not-so-massive, like Diablo III, than Toenail Clippings Online with its 50,000-player single-shard massive universe (I am making this up). People care a whole lot more about Diablo III. Bringing you daily updates on Toenail Clippings Online would ultimately cost us our jobs when no one really wants to read about that.

So that's the bottom line: We cover what we like and what you like while trying to have fun and work hard and not lose our jobs. You're not going to appreciate every game we cover (I don't either). But unlike yours truly, you can choose to skip the articles you don't care about. I still have to read them all!

How do you perform such miracles and filter out things you don't want to see? I'll let Massively's Brendan Drain explain:

If you want to follow only certain games, you could subscribe to each game category with an RSS reader or just copy and paste this full link:|eve-online|Age-of-Wushu|planetside-2|the-elder-scrolls-online/

You can specify whichever categories you want as a list separated by | and it'll show only posts in those categories. You'd be missing out on finding out about new games, though, and some of the best games right now use some kind of free-to-play model.
Thanks, Brendan!

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is there no edit button? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every Thursday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!

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