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Redefining MMOs: Terminology

As we look back at the past several years of the MMO scene, we see a genre that has gone through significant evolutionary leaps. With those pioneering days of text MUDs and blocky graphics behind us, today we enjoy professionally developed games with impressive development teams and massive budgets behind them. The genre's depths have been thoroughly explored and we've even categorised the features we've come to love and expect from our favourite online retreats. Every part of the genre, from the types of gameplay available to the terminology we use, has been routinely evolving and redefining itself over time.

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.
Changing terminology:
It is because developers have explored these areas of the market so fully that we can say that all games within each of these groupings offers similar gameplay and content. Descriptive terminology like this has begun to surface in everyday conversations about MMOs as we recognise the need to communicate details on game style. But old habits die hard and it's often coupled with traditional acronyms to produce more precise phrases like "Space MMORTS" or "Super Hero MMORPG". Perhaps it's futile to try to fundamentally change the language people have long since anchored themselves on. Clunky, long-winded acronyms may be around for years to come, with change coming only slowly as the genre grows and adapts.

Whatever happens, it's clear that in a market becoming saturated with games, a descriptor indicating the game style and content you'll encounter has become more important to us than the specific genre of game. Oftentimes the "RPG" suffix is simply implied if details of the game's genre are absent as RPGs of one type or another currently dominate the MMO scene. Nevertheless, the growing trend of hybrid divisional terms like "Fantasy MMORPG" and "Space MMO" is evidence of the language we use to refer to online games evolving and the way we think about them changing. Perhaps this is the first step toward a greater switch in terminology to something more elegant than our traditional six-letter acronyms.

What exactly IS an MMO?:
Another issue that circulates widely in online debate is the question of what exactly can be called an MMO. The debate over whether or not a game is an MMO often comes down to the meaning of the word "massively" in the context of the phrase "massively multiplayer online game". While the word hasn't evolved in the past few years, the meaning commonly held in this context has. The defining characteristic of an MMO is now most often seen to be the presence of a persistent universe or space in which our characters or avatars reside.

One sticking point with this is that some games we class as MMOs, such as the Guild Wars series, fall into a grey area. Is it still a persistent online universe if everything is so heavily sharded and instanced and is it still a massively multiplayer game if each instance can only handle a few players? Or is it just an online lobby where we arrange small matches and game sessions, like a 3D version of Diablo II's lobby or even the friends network on Steam? With fully instanced/sharded MMOs becoming more common, persistence is an increasingly blurry line to try and define the genre by. Nevertheless, it may remain the best indicator we have.

More to come:
This article was the first in a new weekly series here at Massively on redefining MMOs for the next generation of online games. In this series, we at Massively are pooling our collective experience to more thoroughly examine how the MMO genre has evolved over the years and where it might be headed in the future. Stay tuned on Thursdays for more from this series and don't forget to let us know your thoughts on this week's topic.

Категория: MMOG articles | Добавил: Khazad (28.07.2009) | Автор: by Brendan Drain Jul 2nd 2009
Просмотров: 23284 | Комментарии: 49 | Теги: redefining MMOs, next-gen, terminology, MMO, mmorts, fantasy | Рейтинг: 0.0/0 |
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