To be, or not to be, MMO

This past weekend I spent my time playing in a couple of beta tests for upcoming MMOs.  I kept having the same recurring thoughts: Should these be called MMOs?  Should they be marketed as MMOs?  Wouldn’t they do so much better and garner more public favor if they were presented to players in a different light?

Take Defiance for example.  I think it’s a really fun game.  Trion is billing Defiance as a massively multiplayer game.  Sure, Defiance could be construed as an MMO, but I think calling it something else may be better.  The console market doesn’t really like MMOs all that much, and the MMO market doesn’t really tolerate games which loosely conform to their impossible-to-meet standards.   Defiance feels more like an online version of Borderlands 2.  Just the feel of the game alone resembles an action game, a shooter game, and coop experience.

Neverwinter is another example.  Neverwinter feels like an action-rpg closer to Diablo than a MMO.  The combat is action packed.  The gameplay reminds me of a dungeon crawl experience I might find in Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance or, like I mentioned before, Diablo.

There may be a lot of players running around alongside me when I play a game like Neverwinter or Defiance, but those players aren’t what make the experience for me.  I could be playing with a group of 5 or 6 people tops and get the same satisfaction.

Not being MMO isn’t a failing; my gosh it might even be a compliment.  Marketing Defiance as a typical MMO, instead of the next evolution of RPG shooters sorta sets the wrong expectations.  The MMO crowd gets confused, and the RPG shooter crowd avoids it.  Neverwinter could be a more persistent evolution of the action RPG instead of a highly instanced, shallow MMO.  Change nothing about either game, but simply alter the way they are presented to set the right expectations.

  • Indeed, it’s funny how the term “MMO” can cloud our judgements! When i played Defiance i was looking at it with MMO goggles and i was immediately going “hmm where’s the crafting” , “the quests seems repetitive, i can’t do this for a year” etc.

    So after playing a game of Starcraft 2, and kinda shedding my MMO goggles, i just jumped in again and felt Defiance is actually great at just being a 3rd person shooter with other players around. So i ended up pre-ordering because i felt i would get a month out of it easily, if not more.

    Maybe we should stop caring whether a game should last years like WoW. We pay $60 for games that lasts 10 hours, but go totally off the rails when a game is classed as an MMO , expecting a thousand hours or something.

    Neverwinter, for example. This game is a free even. So i find it amusing to see the wrath of all hell coming down on this game for not being a true hardcore DnD MMO . Yet, most beta testers probably clocked more time during the beta than they did in Dishonored or Mass Effect.

  • This is also a needed market evolution. Given how hard pirating is to enforce this is a general natural stepped to integrate things online. Asia has done this a while back, the west is actually rather late to the show in this regard.

  • It’s not uncommon for veteran MMO players to post about wanting the genre to evolve. Yet when new games come along that push the definition of what qualifies as an MMO, those same players often find excuses for why these games don’t count. Should the definition of “MMO” really be that narrow, saved only for titles that directly trace their lineage from the classic days of UO and EQ? Or should the definition be expanded to comfortably include games like Defiance and Neverwinter without any need for qualifiers?

    In the strictest sense, they are online games played simultaneously by massive numbers of people, right? So what else are folks expecting “MMO” to mean?

    Not that there still aren’t a lot of games coming along that stay fairly rigidly on the DIKU path, yet there are innovations as well. But if WoW is the lens we examine every game through, it makes it tough to see things any other way.

  • I kind of think, going with Steve Danuser’s comment, that what’s really needed is a specific name for the DIKU MMOs (one that sounds a little less technical). Obviously he’s spot on that MMO just means “online games played simultaneously by massive numbers of people”. We can’t expect to appropriate that term exclusively for the use of a particular interest group. We need another, more specific term of our own.

  • @bhagpuss It (MMO) however does need to be a bit more specific than “many people online.” Sim City is an MMO or so I hear – but no matter how hard I stretch my personal concept of an MMO I can’t fit Sim City into it. And it does not matter if it is being played by 5, 5000 or 5000000 simultaneously.

  • I do not even think it matters if they call it an MMO.
    The moment I seen it was a borderlands 2 clone I instantly became uninterested.

    Why? Well I already have borderlands 2 why would I need another one?

  • I’m hesitant to accept “massive amounts of people playing online” as the definition of MMO. There’s being open to change and willing to look for games that come along that ‘push the definition’ of what it means to be MMO, but then there’s silliness like thinking Diablo 3 and SC2 are MMOs because they can only be played online and tons of people play them. There are people who think League of Legends is a MMO. To me, and maybe I’m crazy, but that’s like saying a Minivan is a sports car because you drive it to soccer games.

    I’d like to emphasize that what I’m saying here isn’t that MMOs are an exclusive club with certain criteria to join. I genuinely think some games are better off being presented as something else.

  • The whole term MMO has been broken for some time. Personally for me a true MMO has almost seamless borders, and little to no instancing. What is considered Massively is the key? For some people it might be be a few dozen people in the same location for others it means being able to have hundreds in the same location. Honestly though it is a very overly used term. People used to (and still do) fight over the original Guild Wars being a MMO or not. ArenaNet was very clear in stating that it was considered a CoOp game not an MMO. Matchmaking areas don’t really count.

    These days when I hear someone say they are a MMO I just assume that it means that it is online, has multiplayer options and allows hundreds of people to play on the same server (be it in the same instance or not).

    @Zyler, personally I think Defiance is better than Borderlands and it is certainly more of a MMO than BL2 which clearly is a matchmaking CoOp game.

  • Part of the issue here is that for a long time “MMO” simply meant “MMORPG”, so we could comfortably drop the “RPG” and we all still knew exactly what genre we were talking about.

    Now, with other genres entering the space, we should probably start putting the suffix back on if we need to be specific: “MMORPG”, “MMOARPG”, “MMOFPS”, “MMORTS”, etc. “MMO” has, for all intents and purposes, already been co-opted to encompass anything “Massively/Mostly/Maybe Multiplayer Online”. While I agree that many of these games would be better off marketed as something else, I think it’s too late to try and go back to the original meaning of “MMO”.

  • @Steve Danuser
    I find your statements somewhat intellectually dishonest. I don’t know anyone who would argue that a game is not an MMO because it isn’t a DIKU mud descendant. Planetside, Eve, Second Life – these are clearly not DIKU inspired games and yet are very clearly MMOs. Slapping the title “MMO” on games that aren’t is not evolving anything. And now I speak for myself, but I certainly don’t hold WoW up as the definition of what MMO means. In its current form with extreme instancing, “phasing,” and auto group tools I would barely classify it as an MMO.

    You say:
    “In the strictest sense, they are online games played simultaneously by massive numbers of people, right? So what else are folks expecting “MMO” to mean?”

    In 1997, I could hop on hundreds of quakeworld servers and play with thousands of different people. If you want to call that an MMO, that’s your right. I won’t.

    My loose definition of MMO would be a massive number of people playing *in* the same game. There is a lot of gray area there. Certainly you can take a virtual world and add instancing, add shards, add “solo content,” lobbies, etc. You can also take a car, and then remove its seats, windows, engine, tires… at what point is it no longer a car?

  • Now there is an interesting question. At what point the car is not a car any more, and at what point an MMO is not. I’ve a suspicion it will boil down to a matter of opinion…