Reuniting! But Does It Feel So Good?

One of the cyclic topics of MMO bloggers is “how the genre or industry is changing.” Whether it actually is or not. Gordon brings up the topic today, which is in response to Syp’s similar article.

The catch is that in the past year or two, and increasingly over the next couple of years, it’s less a matter of “the MMO Industry” changing per se, and more a matter of the Videogames Industry as a whole changing and incorporating more of the microtransaction and so-called “Free 2 Play” business model aspects, something we’ve been discussing on Google+ lately anyway.

The very meaning of the “MMO” acronym is becoming diluted to the point it no longer means what it stands for. Case in point, Gordon says:

Heck, technically we could call Diablo 3 a MMO as, after all, it’s massive, it’s multiplayer and it’s online.

Massive. Multiplayer. Online. Three distinctly separate words and concepts.

Problem is that when “MMO” was coined by the fellows who built Meridian 59 (that’s right, not Everquest or Ultima Online) it meant and has continued to mean (until recently?) Massively Multiplayer Online. The Massively and the Multiplayer are a single concept; a single descriptor, and it was intended to categorize games able to host more concurrent logins than a “normal” multiplayer game, which at the time (and with precious few exceptions, is still the average technical limitation over a decade later) was 64 players.

That original definition is really the only one I’ve ever used, too. There was no “requirement” for a “massive” world, nor a “persistent” world, nor any number of other limitations or other forms of baggage that people attempt to add.

Despite my fondness for my former guild leader, I’m going to point my finger at Massively as one of the prime culprits. Mostly because there really isn’t much of an alternative to Massively unless we get desparate and look to I could pick on a few others, too but I’ll keep it simple. Even though Massively is technically a blog, most readers (and the Massively staff) tend to go ahead and make that leap and consider it an “MMO news” site, not just a blog.

Just picking on Massively, they originally started off adding their Not So Massively column which usually talks about MOBAs like League of Legends. Gradually, though, they start talking about non-Massively Multiplayer titles without the Not So Massively column, and usually (mistakenly) using the “MMO” acronym in the article. I recently went on a G+ rant over an article talking about a new upcoming F2P MMO shooter. Problem was that going to both the official game site and the publisher’s site, both specifically stated the game was not an MMO but simply a normal (8v8 which is even fewer than most typical shooters) multiplayer shooter, but one using the F2P business model. Some time afterwards, the article’s title was changed and “MMO” removed though the URL obviously had to remain with “MMO” intact.

In a perfect world, Massively would simply report on Massively Multiplayer Online games and their sister site Joystiq would report on all forms of non-MMO games. As both Gordon and Syp state, rumors of the MMO genre’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Despite no single title having such a massive (pun intended) audience as World of Warcraft, there is no dearth of existing MMO titles and the list of in-development MMOs is just as lengthy as it’s always been, and in the greater world of “normal” videogames console titles still increasingly sell like hotcakes and PC gaming is finally starting to pick back up again after several years of being treated like red-headed stepchildren undeserving of anything better than scraps from the console table.

It’s never clear how much the two gaming audiences, Gamers and MMO-Only Gamers, pay attention to the other side. League of Legends alone has brought a new form of multiplayer gaming — and the F2P model — into the limelight. Team Fortress 2 has done the same with shooters. I could add Tribes: Ascend and any number of other purely multiplayer games which are built as a monetized service and routinely have the “MMO” label applied.

We are not seeing just the MMO Industry change, if it’s really even changing at all. What we are seeing is the convergence of Gaming with MMO Gaming, or more to the point, a shift from the development of Games as a Product into Games as a Service, especially using the Free 2 Play model. See Crytek’s announcement at E3 a few days ago for further evidence of this, but any given day browsing Massively (and other /cough “MMO News” sites) will show that increasingly we (the collective “we” as in not only the gaming industry and media but also the players and communities) are diluting “MMO” to mean any online game with more than one player and — here’s the important part — treats said game as a service not a product. Hence, under the Games as a Service umbrella, Diablo 3 is absolutely an “MMO” as we are allowing the acronym to be degraded to mean, despite not qualifying in any sense under the true, original meaning.

Within today’s paradigm what we’ve been seeing is Joystiq blogging about Games as a Product while Massively reports on Games as a Service. I suppose very generally, I’m okay with that except my opinion on the matter is that I think if that is going to be the rule from here on out, that Massively should be renamed to reflect what it has become and is becoming, and hopefully allow “Massively Multiplayer” to retain some meaning and dignity to differentiate it from all the other multitudes of games increasing being designed under the Games as a Service banner.

Otherwise, at this rate, soon an online game of checkers or any other two-player game will be considered “MMO” if it has a monetized service business behind it.

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