What Is “MMO”?

The original term, as far as I know it, was MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. It spawned when the concept of the RPG game was taken live across the Internet and introduced to hundreds of thousands of players in a simultaneous world (I don’t know how the term MUD fits into this or even if had anything to do with the term MMORPG so feel free to shed some light on it if you know). Since then people have often shortened the term to simply MMO and used it to define RGP style games like World of Warcraft and Everquest.

The term has also been prefixed onto other classic gaming terms like FPS giving, you guessed it, MMOFPS. Tabula Rasa for instance was often called this (whether that was truly accurate or not) and now we’ve got the forthcoming Global Agenda which certainly fits the bill quite aptly.

Aside from being shortened to more conveniently describe MMORPG, you have to wonder if the term MMO isn’t actually a genre unto itself. Technically speaking there are lots of MMOs out there. Quake Live is a MMO and so are games played over Battle.net. They’re “massive”, they’re “multiplayer” and they’re “online”. So really we could define MMO as any game that involves a lot of players over the Internet, not necessary something that fits into the Ultima Online or original Everquest gameplay style.

Although this may all sound like pedantry waffle (and it probably is), it could have quite a big impact on the future of our gaming. If MMO really is a genre by itself, then the barriers that define games are going to start dropping and we’ll be seeing vast varieties of them going massive, multiplayer and online.

It also shakes up our traditional definition of MMORPG. Take Torchlight for example. Runic have stated that they will release a “MMO version” but, frankly, that could mean anything. It might end up being a vast world spanning multiple servers like World of Warcraft, a single world like EVE Online or something like a heavily instanced, arcade style world like Warrior Epic. Either way, it will be interesting to see.

So there you have my take on what “MMO” is. What does this really mean to me though? Well, not much other than I’m probably going to have to change the strap line for my blog. We Fly Spitfires – MMO Blog? Doesn’t quite roll of the tongue the way MMORPG does :)

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  1. Longasc says:

    You try to play as fast as humanly possible through the online world all alone, you join a guild to crawl with them in a few underground holes in said world in multiples of the games party size. If you have more than one party in the instance, you are in a raid hole and likely to gangbang a dragon!

  2. MUD is a term for the original text games over the internet. The first one was co-developed by Dr. Richard Bartle, and he coined the term as an acronym for “Multi-User Dungeon”. Eventually some people count the “D” as meaning “Domain” to include games that aren’t about guys in dresses (sorry, robes) hiding behind guys with big swords in underground lairs.

    As I’ve heard it, Raph Koster takes partial blame (or credit, perhaps) for coining the phrase “massively multiplayer”. This term was intended to excludes online games where the limit was 8-16 players on a single server, like most FPS games. Games like Meridian 59 counted as “massively multiplayer” because the servers could hold more than 16 players at once. (But, perspectives change and now that larger games host thousands of players at once, some people try to exclude smaller games from the MMO category; often these people try to show that the game they played first was the first “real” MMO.) Note that the first M is “Massively” not “massive”. “Massively” is a modifier to “Multiplayer”, indicating that there are a lot of people playing the game (with a cap higher than 16 or 32 or whatever). Size of the world has nothing to do with the definition.

    You’re wrong that MMOs are a genre. Genre indicates either setting (fantasy) or gameplay (RPG). It might be better to think of MMOs as a medium, an alternative to “consoles” or “PC” or “handheld”. You could take a game concept and put it on different media, but the limitations and strengths of each one changes how the game would play. An RPG on the consoles (like popular Final Fantasy franchises) is different than one on a handheld system (consider the Final Fantasy Legend games on the Game Boy). An MMORPG is a different beast altogether, something people on here are probably familiar with.

    • Gordon says:

      Cheers for the info. And yeah, you’re right about MMO being a medium rather than a genre – never considered that!

    • Geoff says:

      Yeah i was gunna say about the MUD being Multi user Dungeon – A dungeon like you might have played out in a pencil and paper RPG like D&D on a board with miniatures, remade in a computer game to crunch the numbers for combat and to serve as GM to tell the story, mutli user because you can have many people in the dungeon at the same time (and there were whole worlds with dungeons within the worlds, much the same as WoW but far more basic and 2D)

      The term MMO came later i think (?) used to describe the 3D worlds of EQ and DAoC so although both (MMO and MUD) are technically massively multiplayer the connotations of these terms is more about the 2D / 3D of the graphics than the amount of players.

      I play Savage and Savage 2 which are commonly played with 25 or 32 players per team (though can be played with less, perhaps as few as 3) i have seen servers with caps of 128 which would be 64 per team, but i would not count these large matches as being massively multiplayer because they are just matches, short games lasting at most a few hours.

      Just like Brian says above the terms are reletive to the times and perspectives change and its all to do with player numbers not the size of the world, Morrowind for example is a massive single player RPG with comparable size / scale game worlds to a MMO game but as it is offline it cant have the O and its single player so no MM either heh the fact that millions of people might play such a game is irrelevant, they are each playing their own game by themselves – same with battlenet or whatever.

      All of these terms though are just words we use to help communicate what we are talking about, if you say mmorpg to someone they know you mean a game like WoW if you say mmofps its a game like planetside.

      So could say that im excited about the new Sci Fi MMOFPS and everyone would know what i was talking about (unless they are 12 and then they might think that FPS meant Free Player Shooter, i can only guess this is because they are too young to remember Side and Vertical scrolling shooters, so they dont get why shooter games would be called first person and why that is a big deal, they dont know any other kind! – athough there are still platformer / shoot ‘em ups that are often 3rd person
      I dunno, these are the explainations i give to myself so i can think of them as young and niave in an aww thats cute way instead of being angry and thinking they are idiots)

      if you are looking for an alternative to mmo you could perhaps say persistant world, as although this has a different meaning (in that the world continues to be there even after you have left) it goes hand in hand with being massively multiplayer but this could lead to some confusion as people may wonder why you are saying that instead of mmo.

      A game like battlefield does not have a persistant world, you get a new version of the world each game wtih all the bullet holes patched up and the vehicles put neatly back in their starting positions.

      Actually while im rambling and pondering these terms, theoretically if you had a big enough house or something with a massive lan network you could load up a game like wow and play it on lan then it wouldnt be online anymore and would be a MMLANRPG but as youd all have to be in the same place to play it you probably wouldnt really need the term.

      Down the road as technology advances and games like battlefield are on the scale of planetside and planetside scale games are bigger again you will probably have new terms like SuperMMOFPS, but knowing what advertisers are like, this term will be brought in prematurely as a selling point which will lead us to need an even bigger term for when we really do have bigger games and then we will end up in a right mess with something like: EpicallySuperMassivelyMultiplayerFree2PlayPay4AdvantageOnlineFirstPersonShooterRealTimeStratagy+TacticsRolePlayingGames. phew, be thankful things are still pretty simple! lol

      And years after that you will be able to trace it all back here to me having coined these future terms ahead of time ;-)


  3. Jeremy S. says:

    I remember New Gen Gamers did an extensive podcast on the history of MMO’s starting with muds. I believe they covered it all. Who first coined what phrase, when, why, and how.

    But that is history, not really current perspectives like you give.

  4. Jeremy S. says:

    forgot to add.

    I try to be careful in my terminology. I purposely try to always use MMORPG when talking about wow, rom, etc…

    I use MMO and MMOG interchangeably for any online game that allows more than one person to play, but excluding MMORPG, MMOFPS, etc..

    Usually if the games a bit ambiguous or doesn’t label itself anything.

  5. [...] be seeing vast varieties of them going massive, multiplayer and online.” – Gordon, What is “MMO”, We Fly [...]

  6. Mechzoro says:

    Kesmai was calling its games multiplayer online games (MPOGs). In 1997 they started using massively multiplayer when describing their games, such as, the Airwarrior series, Legends of Kesmai, Multiplayer Battletech and any new additional game in the Gamestorm service and AOL lineup.

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