A Primer on MMOs and MMORPGs (Or How I Learned to Love the Acronyms)

It’s impossible to explain what Massively Multiplayer Online games are in just a few sentences. To understand the basics and jargon that will be used in the rest of the blog posts, I need to explain just what the label of “MMO” entails. In the most basic of terms, an MMO is a video game in which there are many players together in a persistent virtual space, typically hosted on online servers. Just about any genre can be considered an MMO, as long as it fits inside these loose guidelines.

The first true MMO, Maze Wars, released in 1974.

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Taken from http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/12/the-game-archaeologist-maze-war/

Games like Second Life that focus on creating a “virtual world” fall into this category. However, these types of games are typically considered to be extremely niche in comparison to the undisputed king of the genre: the MMORPG. These days, a “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game” is what people typically mean to when they use the term “MMO.”

Your typical role-playing game (RPG) will let you create a character, gain in power through a leveling system, and earn powerful loot to enhance your character. MMORPGs do this on a massive scale, putting players together in an open RPG world to interact with each other and the environment. The mechanics and presentation vary wildly from game to game, but the basic concept remains the same.

In the last decade, the mechanics of the MMORPG genre have spread from their own bubble to seep into many other genres. Practically every modern triple-A title has adopted MMORPG mechanics in some fashion. The 2014 first-person shooter title Destiny boasts persistent server lobbies and a bevy of multi-tiered loot for players to earn with a heavy focus on replaying content for better statistical gear. Several other major current and upcoming games (see: Warframe, The Division) use a similar formula. In fact, even games that are not online-focused have taken to introducing in-depth customization, stat-heavy elements, and leveling progression systems to keep players occupied—just like a typical MMORPG.

Mainstream first-person shooters like Call of Duty use MMO-inspired leveling systems to keep players engaged.

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Taken from https://www.callofduty.com/blackops3/loyalty

As a result, it’s important to distinguish between games with quasi-MMORPG elements and the more traditionally defined tropes found in the MMORPG genre. There is enough discussion material here to write a book; for the sake of this project’s length, I will try to keep the discussion specifically to MMORPGs.

The rabbit hole goes even deeper! The genre can generally be divided into two categories: “sandbox” and “themepark.” A sandbox MMORPG focuses on an open-ended experience and relies on player interaction to provide the fun. Sandbox MMOs like Ultima Online, RuneScape, and EVE Online typically focus on player vs. player (PvP) combat, crafting and mercantile gameplay systems, and robust tools to let players make their own entertainment. Sandboxes have fallen out of mainstream popularity over the last 15 years, but there are a surge of upcoming titles aimed at fans of this once-popular genre.

The big daddy of the MMORPG world is the themepark. Games like EverQuest and its more popular copycat, World of Warcraft, defined the tropes on which the mainstream genre still defines itself. Developers in this genre aim to create a more linear and directed experience for players to go through, with a finite amount of content to experience at any given time. These games let players adventure through a pre-made world with static quests and goals to achieve up to a set maximum power level. Repeatable, challenging combat encounters are the primary end-game focus, with a minimal focus on crafting, mercantile systems, and PvP.

As a pioneer in the popularity of themepark MMORPGs, expect World of Warcraft to come up often in future blog posts.

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Taken from http://us.battle.net/wow/en/legion/

 

With these distinctions out of the way, we can get started on exploring the nuances of these games and what makes them tick.

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