The term MMORPG – or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – came about to describe a genre of online games that had many characteristics of role-playing games, and were played online simultaneous with other players. Over the years, MMOs have evolved to include several other sub-genres of video games, leaving us with one crucial question: what makes a game massively multiplayer?
The first key to being massively multi-player is being massive. This component to the MMO formula is difficult to define, and has been under recent scrutiny.
It should be noted, first of all, that “massive” does not indicate the number of active or registered players enjoying a game. A game can be massively multiplayer with 100,000 subscribers or 10,000,000. If subscriber numbers influenced terming an online game as “massively,” then many games would fluctuate based on their active playerbase.
Instead, “massively” refers to the support a game has for multiple players online, in the same world, at once. This is tricky to define, but in general, a massively multiplayer online game should be able to support at least one thousand people simultaneously on a single server. However, many recent games have defined themselves as MMOs with only one-hundred players supported per server, further pushing this boundary to new definition.
The second key to being massively multi-player is being multi-player. Defining multi-player in the context of MMOs can be difficult, especially as many online games feature social components of varying degrees. Being multi-player leaves out many flash games, but what about online games featured on social networks like Facebook?
To be truly multi-player, an MMO should offer these features:
- Ways for players to interact with each other on-screen. Simply put, players should be able to interact in a tangible way, via chat, trading, grouping, or other general cooperative or competitive concepts. Simply being able to leave posts on a Facebook wall, outside of the game, does not qualify.
- A persistent world. This means that there is a tangible “place” that exists whether there are one-hundred players present or none at all. A cute little farm only exists when the player or their friend visits it; Goldshire only stops existing when the server crashes.
- Cooperative and/or competitive gameplay features. Cooperative features include encouraging grouping for dungeons, guilds and alliances, and player economies; competitive features include dueling, leaderboards, battlegrounds, and arenas.
While components can be mixed in inventive ways in an MMO, these three core components should be present in some way that not only allows, but encourages, players to interact with each other, rather than solely participating in a single-player experience.
By bringing these two components into the online space, a game may be defined as massively multiplayer online. Although this is a definition that is being constantly reshaped by the genre, these expectations help seperate MMOs from both social games and multi-player online games in the video game industry.
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