The MMOFPS – Doomed To Fail?

Compared to it’s MMORPG cousin, the MMOFPS hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with huge success, partly because there actually haven’t been that many of them. First person shooter games with online capabilities are available in abundance but usually the lack of both RGP-like character development and persistent large scale worlds excludes from being labelled with the MMO prefix. Wikipedia suggests that an online FPS needs to surpass 64 players in an instance to be considered “massively” multiplayer although I would reckon it’s even more than that (but then there isn’t exactly a rulebook available to consult on such matters).

Tabula Rasa: The 70's In Space

Tabula Rasa: The 70's In Space

So, that pretty much leaves us with only PlanetSide and Tabula Rasa (even that technically only being a MMO-shooter but heck, I’m going to include it anyway) as being the only MMOFPS games we’ve seen so far. Others like World War II Online, which I’ve not played, apparently being debatable as to whether or not they’re really MMOs – either way, there haven’t been many. PlanetSide was fun and I just loved the whole parachuting out of spaceships into enemy territory bit but, although it’s still running, it’s never achieved the popularity or critical and financial success that a lot of MMORPGs do. And Tabula Rasa is dead.

Still, I’ve always had high hopes for the MMOFPS genre and have been looking forward to games like Global Agenda. Unfortunately GA doesn’t seem to be getting glowing recommendations from reliable beta-testers like Keen and Graev and br3ntbr0 over at I’m Talkin’ Games. Apparently it’s “meh” at best, something which just isn’t going to cut it in today’s day and age.

I can’t say for sure why the MMOFPS isn’t more popular but I do have an idea. To me, it seems like MMOFPS’ are neither one thing nor the other – they aren’t your standard FPS which is free to play online or your accepted longterm and heavily involving MMORPG.  They come across as ‘enhanced’ FPS games that require a monthly subscription fee but don’t offer any of the large scale worlds, content or deep character progression that we’d expect from a traditional MMOG.

In short, if I want to have a quick blast in a FPS, I’d load up Unreal Tournament 3 or Quake Live and if I wanted to have a more immersive and involved gaming session, I’d play World of Warcraft or EVE Online. The current MMOFPS games don’t seem to fit the bill for either, failing to offer me either the short term, commitment free pleasure of a FPS or the long term progression and entertainment of a RPG.

Thus the burning question: are MMOFPS games doomed to fail? I personally don’t think so and I haven’t given up hope on them yet. However, they certainly need to change the direction in which their going and move away from either just being enhanced online FPS’ with subscription fees or poor implementations of shooter MMORPGs if they want to be more successful.

I still have hope that we’ll see an excellent MMORPG/FPS hybrid, one that combines all of the best elements from a MMORPG with the fast-paced, twitch based combat of a FPS. Some may argue that those two concepts are mutually exclusive but I think the appeal would certainly be broader than just a FPS with a subscription fee.

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Related Posts

  1. Tabula Rasa 2 (aka Defiance)
  2. The Twitch Comes Back To The MMO
  3. MMO Win, RPG Fail
  4. Fantasy VS Sci-Fi MMORPGs
  5. What Is “MMO”?


  1. Longasc says:

    Yup, you nailed it. Just give the usual shooters online lobbys and a wealth of maps and you have something that beats a MMOFPS. So far they have not managed to merge the strengths of both kinds of game but were rather weak in both parts.

  2. Arkenor says:

    I don’t think there’s anything really stopping an MMOFPS from working. I could see something along the lines of a Cyberpunk one working, but they’ed have to do it right, which is something MMO developers have gotten rather bad at recently.

  3. Andrew says:

    I don’t think GA is nearly as bad as Keen makes out – he’s just trying to apply the fantasy MMO template over top of that HiRes studios is doing, and letting those preconceptions shape his opinions.

    I’m sure GA will do just fine as a shooter, and may even start to soften up FPS players to notions like paying extra to play in a persistent world. (Keep in mind how their payment structure steers this).

    Also – watch for Dust 514…. it will serve as a very interesting experiment indeed.

    In the end, it’s important not to pigeonhole MMOFPS games into the fantasy quest grind we all know so well… let them break new ground, and enjoy them for what they are.

    • Gordon says:

      I agree that MMOFPS need to find their own path because right now they are neither one thing nor another. I feel confident saying that until they do though, people will be very hesitant about paying sub fees for essentially ‘just another’ FPS.

  4. Scott says:

    I think it was Brian “Psychochild” Green who said they originally came up with the “massively multiplayer” term to differentiate their game from however many players a “normal” multiplayer game could support. Typically this has been 64 players on dedicated FPS servers — although Joint Operations supports 150 and does not bill itself as “massively multiplayer” — and I didn’t play Neverwinter Nights so not sure how many players that supported, but in general 64 seems to be the magic number for the past decade or so.

    I think MMOFPS has potential but — at least for myself — only if they incorporate more than just shooting. Something like Planetside was kinda cool in concept for a few minutes, but bottom line: 100% shooting is just too shallow to warrant a subscription. Even today, sure Modern Warfare 2 can be fun, but I can’t take it for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time; it’s just too mindless, shallow and spastic.

    Depth was a huge problem for Tabula Rasa as well, and it wasn’t even a shooter, nor was it first-person (until the final patch but even then it was *only* first-person camera; they didn’t switch to a first-person field of view as well). I heard a lot of people complaining TR was too shallow but they never explained what they meant so I can only say what that meant to me once I tried it. In a normal fantasy MMORPG I’m not always holding my weapon in a combat stance. I have an entire world to explore and even though combat is the first priority in video games still, and the primary concern in MMORPG’s, I can always find something else to do if I’m not in the mood to swing a sword or sling a spell. But TR put a gun in my hands. Give me a sword and I’ll happily strap it to my back and craft a leather belt or drink ale in the local pub. Give me a gun, though, and I want to shoot it. So even though TR technically had a world, crafting, etc. they weren’t enough to sway people from shooting their guns. Then we turn around and say “gee, I’m doing nothing but running back and forth shooting my gun. Why am I paying a sub for this exactly?” I think the overall pace to TR was just enough faster compared to your run-of-the-mill fantasy RPG that they really needed to severely up the ante on developing real virtual worlds and having a lot of other activities that flowed well and were fun so we weren’t just shooting stuff and blowing stuff up.

    To clarify my terms, for something to be an MMOFPS it has to be an actual FPS. First-person camera isn’t enough, otherwise I could scroll into first-person with a hunter in WoW and say “I’m *shooting* arrows in first-person therefore WoW is a FPS!” RPG combat also doesn’t count — it has to be actual shooter mechanics, not virtual die rolls determining combat. Also, while first-person is cool and all, assuming I get my wish of a top-notch virtual world with top-notch gameplay and shooter mechanics, I’d want top-notch third-person as well because if I’m getting new gear, armor, vehicles, clothes, etc. I want to be able to see my character.

    Global Agenda I’m not playing or even following, but I have no problem with their overall design concept. After all, it’s a proven design of having small skirmishes but a persistent war in the background. The recently shuttered Chromehounds did this, as does Tom Clancy’s EndWar, for two examples I have any experience with. Personally, I always felt Warhammer would have been much better served with that design rather than the poorly constructed MMO “world” that it has. But Chromehounds and EndWar don’t charge subscriptions to play. If GA does, then it’s just not worth it to me.

    I’ll be all over DUST 514 when it launches though. Last I checked they were still fiddling with how many players per map but it sounded like 64-ish, and definitely nowhere near 128 or more. But again, if it’s nothing more than 100% PvP matches — and that’s probably all it’s going to be — it’s going to run into the problem of being shallow, not to mention all the heavyweight competition from big-name shooter IP’s on the consoles. Then there’s the “new shiny” problem it will have to contend with every few months (if not sooner) when new games are released. We’re accustomed to one DLC map pack, two tops, for the top-selling AAA shooters. CCP is going to have to beat that with constant updates to keep anyone’s attention, assuming they get enough attention away from those big-name brands to sell enough boxes to continue development on new content anyway. And they have to make sure DUST 514 is a solid, SOLID shooter out of the gate and all the matchmaking systems work and work well immediately because unlike PC gamers who will stick by their broken games (see: Vanguard and others) if stuff doesn’t work on the console, it gets dropped immediately for something else that does work, and players never look back. CCP gets one chance, and only one chance, to pull this off.

    • Gordon says:

      Very fascinating comment.

      I agree on the depth issue and that seems to be a by-product of the subscription fee and the terminology used in the game. When people say “MMO” – even if they don’t mean MMORPGs – we expect large, persistent worlds that will satisfy us every day for months to come. This means more than just some instanced battlegrounds and a small RP mechanics for your character. Aside from anything, that doesn’t justify a subscription fee.

      Tabula Rasa was fun but, yes, it lacked content. I’ll give you a few examples: only 1 race, not enough areas to play in, not enough missions or things to do, no end game. Thus I enjoyed it for about 5 weeks then gave up, bored.

  5. Stabs says:

    I think one problem with the term MMOFPS is that it implies there’s not much to the game except shooting people. I think that’s why Fallen Earth didn’t go that way because it has extensive crafting, exploration and social elements. They didn’t want to brand themselves in a way that would discourage people who are into those sides of games by implying it’s all about action.

    That of course is another issue – is pure unadulterated action a workable MMO concepts? Do we need the slow times to give the fast times meaning?

    I’m doing some pvp in Eve, not terribly successfully so far. But it’s really intense. What I found in WoW was Afk Valley just got too meaningless to be fun – why am I playing this instead of doing something else? Imagine WoW without the PVE – would that really be enough to hold people?

    • Gordon says:

      I think the FPS combat mechanic is perfectly viable. It wouldn’t fit so well in a fantasy setting but I could easily imagine a game like WoW but instead of pressing 1,2,3 on the keyboard, you actually have fast-paced combat. It was what Tabula Rasa tried to do. At the end of the day though, these games need the content and depth to be able to hold on to players.

  6. will says:

    Fallen Earth is definitely an MMO. It’s also an RPG, with levelling through a couple means – points to spend on stats (dex, int) and skills (science, ballistics) and skilling up tradeskills via use (scavenging). It’s also an FPS/TPS, no target lock – gotta keep the reticle on target to hit. MMORPGFPS? :)

    Currently it’s single shard, east coast US, and I believe the plan is to remain so ala EVE. There are plenty of EU players to tell by the french chat in the help channel.

    • Gordon says:

      Definitely want to give FE a shot at some point cause I’ve heard so many great things about it. I like the idea of a single server too. What’s the population size?

      • will says:

        not huge, but I’ve been able to find people to team up with anytime I’ve wanted to. There are town events aeound some of the starting towns that are group events and there’s always players attending them, a good sign. I have only been playing a couple weeks so my experience is limited to Section 1 and I can’t tell you anything about end-game.

        definitely give it a try, FE could use a good blogger. :)

  7. Tesh says:

    Does the DIKU level grind even work with FPS mechanics? To me, the whole point of a FPS game is player skill, while a DIKU grind is about time investment and avatar skill. The two are working toward completely different purposes, and trying to mash them together is a bit like trying to breed mushrooms and lemurs.

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe. I still reckon it could work although it would take a unique design and playstyle. I like the RPG elements in games but I don’t think that means we have to restricted to 1,2,3 hot button combat.

      • Tesh says:

        Oh, I’m no fan of the mindless hotkey combat, to be sure, I just don’t see the “player skill” and “avatar skill” mindsets playing nice, just like PvE and PvP are different tastes.

        • Gordon says:

          Maybe there’s a good balance like how in Fallout 3 your accuracy in shooting etc depends more on your character skill than anything else.

        • Scott says:

          @Tesh: If done right, player skill can combine nicely with avatar/character skill. I thought Borderlands did it nicely, being a “true” shooter that relied on 100% player skill for the aiming and shooting, etc. but RPG skills/attributes that provided additional abilities.

          I blogged about a DUST 514 interview awhile back and they say progression will be through what they’re calling an “achievement matrix” which sounds similar to the Unlock system of the Battlefield series or the Perks of the Modern Warfare series. Some of the unlocks can provide persistent enhancements to weapon attributes, etc.

          They just have to be careful to avoid an “invulnerable soldier” build like Modern Warfare 2 has accidentally created…

  8. will says:

    so did you download FE yet? :)

  9. Gareth says:

    A online friend (A WoW fan and SOE hater, dunno why…) got me to check out Global Agenda’s video saying it was just like Planetside.

    Now I was impressed by the concept and it did sound like Planetside right up until they put in the Monty Python moment. It was when they said everything was 10v10, I thought “you what?” (it reminded me so much of that John Cleese sketch where he’s the salesman extolling how to sell several miles of string cut into 3″ lengths and how useful something useless that would be :) ). I wish them well, but 10v10, I’m not sure what that is, but it sure isn’t massive.

    • Gordon says:

      I thought GA was huge and had hundreds of people in matches? I was looking forward to that :(

    • A person says:

      Yeah, I am glad you said that Gareth. I was rolling around the web and I some how came upon global agenda. I was extremely excited. I then discovered a day later or so that they had a beta going. I jumped onto that boat as quickly as possible. I played the game for about a week and as each day passed I felt a bit more confused as to where the ‘mmo’ portion came into play.
      I soon discovered that their version of massive was sort of like your average FPS meets risk. There is a number of sections on a map that you can see by hitting a button on your keyboard, each section represents part of their pseudo persistent world. Basically it’s nothing more than a series of first person shooter matches. Long story short, I stopped playing the game.

  10. will says:

    GA looks kinda like Quake in an RPG wrapper. Maybe I’m doing them a disservice in thinking that.

    you try FE yet? New patch tomorrow, 1.3, with lots of starting area improvements. Good time to try it.

  11. A person says:

    Planetside is still a playable game. However there have been several key portions where SOE basically failed with absolution. Likely the biggest key factors was advertisement and new content. They did try, I use try mildly, to include additional content but their was little success in their efforts and far from enough effort put into the ideas. I am sure many here are aware that come across this, planetside 2 is in the works. Lets hope that it becomes a reality in a time frame that isn’t similar to huxley.

    This portion is something of a rant that might not directly have to do with the content of the post at the top of the page. I’ve been looking into this idea for more than a little while. It is no secret, many people are incredibly greedy. I feel that their is a greed surrounding much of any creative industry that we know today. Music, media, entertainment industries as a whole. Generally, we find games that have little content or meat, a fair bit of flash and a whole lot of hype. What we end up with is a plate of bullshit, half complete games and companies devoting tons of their development expenses into counter piracy ideas, all of which don’t work, and never will. There is only one sure fire way of getting sales in the video game industry. Create a mind blowing multiplayer experience with a 14 day trial that creates some form of incentive to go beyond the trial.
    I’ve seen this work before and I know it can continue to do so. Some key features that many developers seem to overlook is the essence of community tools. An easy way for people to communicate with each other. A reason for them to work ‘together’, a common goal and idea that binds them together. And something that seems at least as important as all these ideas combined, customer support that is real and there 24 hours a day. When someone in the game is really caught cheating there has to be someone around to observe and stop the event going to make sure the aura of the game isn’t totally destroyed.

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