Call a spade a spade

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Destiny is not a MMO

I completely disagree with Rob Pardo’s recent statements to Develop.

“If anything, I think people are even avoiding the term MMO. A really good example is Destiny. It clearly is an MMO. But they’re really trying to avoid calling it that, and obviously it is a very different type of game. But I think that’s a good example of how with MMOs, the term has been eliminated. But you kind of continue to see the influence in games that are persistent world games that have spawned out of that. It’s just people seem to avoid the term MMO now.”

I haven’t seen a decrease in the misuse of MMO terminology. In fact, Pardo proves my point right here. Destiny is not an MMO. I’m playing Destiny right now with Graev. This is a multiplayer co-op game — a well-built one at that. Max “group” size is three players, dungeons are auto-matched, and you can’t communicate with anyone other than the other 2 people in your group via voice comms. Destiny plays no different from Borderlands other than creating an easier online interface for people to join up. There is no “MMO” here. This is a fun multiplayer shooter.

Player expectations matter. Yes, calling your game a MMO will set expectations. Yes, the label will draw comparisons to previous MMOs. That is how it works universally, not just with MMOs. Want to avoid the comparison? Not making an MMO? Then don’t call it one! That’s why Activision didn’t call Destiny a MMO — not because the term is “poison,” but because Destiny simply isn’t one!

Insinuating that SWTOR and WildStar flopped because they were called MMOs and thus were forced to draw comparisons to World of Warcraft shows a complete lack of understanding. The bigger picture matters: Those games were not fun. Their fate was sure to be the same regardless of their genre or their label.

Flip this around for a second. What if someone releases an MMO and doesn’t call it one? Let’s actually take WildStar as an example. If NCSoft/Carbine called WildStar a “Cooperative online universe” and never once alluded to it being an MMO what do you think would happen? They would never have heard the end of, “WTF! This is just a WoW clone themepark! Evil marketing people!”

This entire discussion can and should be distilled down to setting and tempering customer expectations. Say you’re making the game you’re making, and make the game you’re saying you’ll make.

  • There was a certain amount of “man who helped create popular MMO isn’t quite sure what an MMO is” going through my head as I read what he had to say. For a while people were claiming just about anything multiplayer, online, and with any modicum of persistence was an MMO. I do think we might be getting past that, but that is more reality setting in I think than people avoiding the term.

  • I completely agree, especially with reality setting in vs. people avoiding the term. I think we’re starting to see the industry settle a bit. I’m writing a post on this for tomorrow.

  • I’m not sure I agree with you, I think Pardo does have a (small) point.

    Destiny IS an MMO. It is a Massively Online Multiplayer game. You are sharing a persistent multiplayer environment with hundreds of other players, that’s all it takes to be an MMO. Changing party size to 3 instead of 5, and raid size to 6 instead of 20, it’s just numbers. When Destiny developers say not to call it an MMO it’s understandable because they don’t want players expectations of how an MMO plays (text chat, large raids, a continuous open world) to dictate what needs to be on the game. Destiny doesn’t play like WoW, and because players expect games under the MMO umbrella to play like WoW, its developers prefer not to use the term, but it’s perfectly valid to call it an MMO.

    I saw the same discussion recently on Reddit over the upcoming game No Man’s Sky. It’s a game where all players share a single persistent universe. That’s an MMO. But due to its design, chances are you will never EVER see another player, and even if you do it’s possible you won’t notice the difference between a player and an AI. There is no communication between players, and no systems in place for working together. So naturally the developer constantly says on interviews that he doesn’t want people to call it an MMO. To me that says it all: he knows the classification is valid, but doesn’t want the gameplay baggage to be expected, because it won’t be there.

    Now, whether games like Wildstar or SWTOR failed because they call themselves MMOs… that’s another story. I don’t think that’s true at all. They failed because they didn’t connect with players, not because of whatever acronym was featured on their boxes. Pardo’s comparison makes as much sense as saying that Evolve failed because they call it a first-person shooter; no, the game failed because it was not fun to play, and the developers were greedy. But a spade is a spade: it doesn’t take playing like WoW to be an MMO, that’s a consequence of former MMO trends, not requirements.

  • People use MMO all the time, and they use it horribly incorrectly. Massively Multiplayer Online is exactly what it says. That’s exactly what it means. There are many many Multiplayer Online games that people misconstrue as being MASSIVELY Multiplayer, that quite frankly aren’t. At all.

    Counterstrike is a Multiplayer game. Not a Massively Multiplayer game. Why? It is popular, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people play it online regularly. So why doesn’t it qualify as an MMO? Because you can’t fit 2500+ people onto one server at the same time. People have falsely called even Ark an MMO. It is NOT. Do you see 2500+ people logging onto the same server and interacting with each other there? No. Nothing massive about up to 100 people playing together.

    I’d hesitate to use No Man’s Sky as an example for anything right now, as it really doesn’t exist (as yet, not saying it’s vaporware or anything).

    Does each server hold a MASSIVE amount of people (2500+) that can all interact with each other? Yes or no. Only question you need to ask. End of discussion.

  • The term “MMO” has been watered down for sure but i’m fine with that. Anything that involves up to 4 people seem to be called MMO’s today. Now MMORPG’s? Not even close. When that term gets watered down, then i’ll raise a stink. Most so called MMORPG’s are nothing more than lobby games nowadays anyway.

  • > Does each server hold a MASSIVE amount of people (2500+) that can all interact with each other? Yes or no. Only question you need to ask. End of discussion.

    That’s exactly how I see it. All MMOs have limits to how many people can simultaneously occupy the same space, be it through hard limits or using technologies such as “mega-servers”, instancing, and so on. So you will never see every player at once, but one way or another all players have persistent characters in an also persistent world. That’s what defines an MMO. And under that definition, games like Destiny and No Man’s Sky are MMOs just as WoW or Wildstar or Guild Wars 2 are. I don’t blame developers for rejecting the acronym to avoid market confusion, however.

  • You have given some examples of what an MMORPG is not. So what features makes a game an MMORPG then?

  • @Kemwer: Yet it’s not persistent. The “worlds” in Destiny are instanced to a handful of people. Playing Destiny and running around it becomes very obvious that there aren’t just 10 people playing. You’re just being allowed to participate in a game where you can see a handful of the people.

    In the end, the definition of MMO was never meant to be “a lot of people playing.” That would make Diablo, Call of Duty, and LoL MMOs too.

    @Simon: Defining what an MMORPG IS can be tougher, and often easier to describe it by what it is not. A shared persistent world where thousands of players are actually playing TOGETHER, not just necessarily “with” each other. I could say it needs character customization, progression, etc., but those are just components founds in dozens of different kinds of games. it’s the way in which all of these things are brought together to create a contiguous world where players “live” and “log in and interact” that makes it a MMO.

    When a game is meant to be “played through” or “beaten” or played in sessions with or without small teams, then that is not a MMO.

    EverQuest, World of Warcraft, EVE, SWG, Ultima Online, etc. These are/were MMOs.

    Destiny, Call of Duty, League of Legends, Diablo 3 are not.

  • The world needs to be truly persistent. Not this fake persistent crap people have been throwing around. Lobbies that are always online =/= persistent.

    Let’s take PoE for example. PoE does not have a persistent world and the most basic way you can see this in action is when you log off where do you appear when you log back in? You appear in one of the towns which are actually just cleverly disguised lobbies woven right into the game. (Not bashing PoE, I love the game. PoE also only claims to be an online Action RPG which is correct. They are not an MMORPG)

    In a persistent world when you log off and log back on next day, week, month, or year you will log back in at exactly the spot you logged off at (barring any Cataclysm style xpacs)

  • @Keen: you will need to define what you call “persistent”. The maps of Destiny exist despite the presence of players, events happen, succeed or fail even if you or other players are not there. More instances of the map are created to accommodate more players, but these instances have world states that don’t depend on the player’s presence.

    That is exactly how Guild Wars 2, for example, works. The fact that Destiny limits the number of players to smaller numbers has more to do with how they deal with instancing (each area of the map is instanced separately from the entire “planet”), and with their specific performance requirements. Since GW2 creates one instance for the entire map, and features a lot simpler mechanics than an FPS, it can hold more players at once, but players come and go the exact same way as on Destiny’s planets, which to me means they are both part of the same category of games from a technological point of view.

    That’s not at all the same as your remaining examples. Call of Duty, League of Legends, Diablo 3, none of these games feature worlds that are persistent under any definition of the word. It is possible to start an event and have all players leave together, while another entirely new group of people continue the same event on Destiny or GW2, but on CoD, LoL or D3, once all players leave the match is over, the world is gone, and returning to the game means the world restarts from scratch.

    Allowing a massive amount of players using persistent characters to return at any time to a world that has a continued existence despite their presence, that’s how I understand MMOs are defined, not by the number of players currently online on one area playing together, otherwise a game could be arguably cease to be an MMO at quiet nights when no one is online. I think that unless you can specify exactly what an MMO is, instead of what you think it isn’t, your definition of MMOs will get stuck to a No True Scotsman fallacy. Doesn’t mean your definition has to agree with mine, but right now it just means whatever you want it to mean.

  • To echo TAGN, the real story here is Rob doesn’t understand what an MMO is, which might explain why Titan morphed into Overwatch.

    @Kem: “otherwise a game could be arguably cease to be an MMO at quiet nights when no one is online”

    The definition isn’t “does the game always have a massive amount of players in the world”, but “does the game allow a massive amount of players in the world”. Destiny does not (nor does LoL, D3, CoD, BF, Rust, ARK, etc), GW2 and other MMOs do.

  • @Kemwer: Persistent or not (which I still think is debatable since spinning up a new instance for 10 people when needed doesn’t seem persistent to me), Destiny never allows for “massively multiplayer” interaction. A lobby/hub where you can simply see other people does not an MMO make.

    There isn’t any interaction. Even SWTOR in its narrow focus on the individual story manages to employ some sort of interaction and social elements. Grouping up with random people (unless you queue with friends) for a dungeon doesn’t constitute social interaction on a level I would classify “MMO.” That’s “multiplayer” interaction. The actions of all of the players need to, even in a small way, affect the world and the other people playing — even if only indirectly.

  • MMO is such a crap term. People take the literal definition as gospel and it drives me nuts. It’s massively multiplayer and online clearly it’s an MMO!!! No, please, just no. Almost every game is technically a Role Playing Game, but not every game is an RPG. I see so many disagreements over what an MMO is and you know what? I’m fine with Destiny being called an MMO, but I want a new genre classification for UO/EQ/WoW etc. because they are/were SO much much than just a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. These were Online Virtual Worlds, they were Social Adventuring Games, they were so much more to simply be classified like other games. So yes, let Destiny take the MMO title, but lets look inside ourselves and realize that an MMO is not what we grew up, it was much, much more.

  • MMO is a bit of a semantics game. To those of us that grew up in the early days of this genre there are clearly some games that are not “it”. A much better point is are they fun, and then who cares what we call them.

    A nod to Raphael Koster. I swear I will read that book someday.