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MMO Wanna-Be’s

(The title may not be grammatically appropriate but darned if it didn’t look wrong without that apostraphe!)

Lately, it seems like a new MMO is launching just about every month. Games are coming out of the woodwork and pushing the limits of what we expect to see in a new MMO. This is a great thing and an exciting time to be an MMO gamer. If you have the money to try them all, of course.

Which I don’t. I can only go by what I read and see on YouTube. But what I’ve noticed is that, even though more games are calling themselves “MMOs,” a lot of them just don’t seem to fit the bill. Part of it has to do with what we really consider to be an MMO and, as Massively has shown with their “Redefining MMOs” series, there’s a lot of gray area under the current definition. If you and I see this, you can be sure that publishing companies see it too.

The result is the term “MMO” being used for marketing when the game itself may not live up that expectation. Usually, the companies cover themselves by removing the “RPG” portion of the acronym but, frankly, I think they’re being intentionally deceptive. When you hear the term “MMO” you’re thinking World of Warcraft and not CrimeCraft. As players, I think a lot of us take the “RPG” in MMORPG for granted, so when companies change the last three letters to “PWN” or “FPS,” we still have the expectation of RPG somewhere. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics and probably not very appropriate of us but it doesn’t change the truth.

So, when games come out claiming to be an MMO that “pushes the boundaries” of what we’ve come to expect, I’m always a little bit skeptical. Is the game really an MMO or are they just trying to capitalize on the insta-sales and publicity using that term promises? There are two games that come to mind here: All Points Bulletin and Cities XL.

All Points Bulletin

The game looks fun, in a Grand Theft Auto kind of way. As a big GTA fan, I’m not complaining. But, based on everything I’ve read, seen, and heard, this game is not an MMO. It has more in common with an Xbox Live game than an MMO. They say the world is persistent, yet it is also very segmented. Players do their dirty work in “districts” (instanced cities) limited to 100 players. That’s a lot of people in a small area, sure, but it still breaks apart players so much that you could hardly consider it “massive.” You can get together with your friends in the “social” districts where you do your customization but it’s hardly a “whole world” experience like what most players in the genre would want. If we call APB an MMO, then we may as well call Battlefield an MMO too.

APB might be a fun game and worth the box price but it falls short on its promise. It’s actually far less of an MMO than even Guild Wars. APB is a game I’d expect to stack up against other online games on my console, not games like Fallen Earth and Aion.

Thus, I dub thee: MMO Wanna-Be

Next, we have…

Cities XL

Cities XL, again, is probably a fun game but it’s not an MMO. It’s SimCity 2009 without Will Wright’s support. As Gordon notes, you can choose to play the game all by yourself if you want to. In my mind, that makes this a single player game with a multiplayer option. This is the kind of thing you’d expect to see city builders evolve into, just like how the Sims went online, but it’s far from an advancement of the MMO genre.

Again, for all of the touting the title got as being an MMO, it falls short of its marketing.

Thus, number two, I call you: MMO Wanna-Be

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how we define an MMO. Yet, defining it really won’t amount to anything because the term “MMO” is married to “RPG.” Publishers can call a game an MMO all they like and defend it by taking the literal definition of the word but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s really just a money grab. Syncaine’s theory on WoW Tourists is more than that, it’s social trending, and the game’s industry is well aware of its truth. The minute you attach “MMO” to your game and start spreading the word, you guarantee immediate sales from the most devoted of genre fans. Fish, here’s your worm, ignore the hidden surprise it’s impaled upon.

It’s time for a new term to describe these games. The movement of games from solitary to social was a natural and expected part of the internet explosion, so why do we need to confine it to such a generic and misleading term? That’s a consumer thought when the answer is obvious: money. They want it, we have it, and we’re more likely to pay for something familiar than daring.


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  1. Andrew

    “[The APB devs] say the world is persistent, yet it is also very segmented. Players do their dirty work in “districts” (instanced cities) limited to 100 players. That’s a lot of people in a small area, sure, but it still breaks apart players so much that you could hardly consider it “massive.””

    You’d better call out Champion’s Online then, because it’s hugely instanced. And Guild Wars. And DDO.

    It’s a slippery slope you’re treading here…. be careful. 😉

    “At the end of the day, it all comes down to how we define an MMO. Yet, defining it really won’t amount to anything because the term “MMO” is married to “RPG.””

    Disagree! MMO is *NOT* married to RPG.

    Personally I see no reason to get into a debate about semantics like this – the line between a “traditional MMORPG” and a modern day multiplayer game is blurring more and more with each release. I think that the term “MMO” is just fine for describing *ANY* large-scale multiplayer game.

    “Publishers can call a game an MMO all they like and defend it by taking the literal definition of the word but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s really just a money grab.”

    Again, disagee – but this time on a factual basis…. MMOs don’t – in general – come anywhere near the revenue of a big single player game (which sells MILLIONS of copies). The MMO market is populated more by failures and break even titles than cash cows.

    1. Chris

      Okay, but when someone describes something as an MMO, what comes to mind for you? GTA/SimCity Online or WoW, AoC, and the rest? That’s what I mean by the term being married to RPG. By perception, when people hear MMO I think they have a certain expectation. I don’t disagree that the literal definition of the word is incorrect for the description but I think it carries with it the weight of past MMOs.

      As far a champions and the others, I’d say that they *are* a step away from a traditional MMO but they make up for that in other ways, such as functional economies, customization through equipment, and other such things we’re used to seeing. We know that APB has social districts that allow for customization but a lot is yet to be seen on how many of the other MMO staples fall into place. DDO, if I remember correctly, was criticized because of it’s lack of a real economy. GW and CO too for the heavy instancing. Each has a way to make up for the segmentation though. Hopefully APB will too.

      On the last quote, I think I need to clear up what I mean. You’re definitely right in your point. The way I’d imagined it is more along the lines of companies marketing a game for its own originality and features and then throwing MMO on top of it to make that extra money grab. That’s what I noticed APB and Cities XL doing. It was like “Hey, check out this awesome game we have where you can do X, Y, and Z. And we’re an MMO, so if you’re an MMO fan, buy this game!”

      Thanks for calling me out Andrew, good comment 🙂

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