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Ten Most Misused Words in MMOs

Editorial By Jon Wood on May 26, 2009

Every group of people has its own variant on language. Whether it’s a group of friends with inside jokes, colleagues talking shop, or any other sub-group of society, people will always use “insider language” that anyone who isn’t “in the know” will have a tough time picking up. If you have ever been at a work function with a spouse or significant other, you are probably familiar with the phenomenon, it presents itself right around the time two people start talking about the regional interoffice roundtable, your eyes glaze over and you head for the bar.

The world of MMORPGs is no exception. Developers, players and journalists all share a common vocabulary that includes words and terms like: PvP, RvR, Raid, Guild, Grind, Gank, Exploit, Loot, Farm, Bot… The list is near endless. It isn’t that all of these words are foreign to the rest of the English speaking world, but when you’re talking about MMOs, the word “farming” doesn’t mean tilling fields and milking cows, it means: performing collection actions over and over again in order to increase wealth and / or resources, often for the purpose of Gold Selling.

It isn’t that there is anything inherently wrong with “inside language.” In fact, it helps to strengthen ties to community and gives people a sense of belonging. The problems begin, at least in the world of MMOs, when words begin to be used too often or even inappropriately. When this happens, the meanings of the words become diluted.. Below is a list of ten such words from the vocabulary of the world of MMORPGs:


THIS was innovation.

#10 Innovation

Innovative (or innovation) gets thrown around a lot in MMORPG circles. Generally, this comes in the form of developers expounding the virtues of their latest MMOs and forum posters complaining that nothing new is happening with their favourite genre of games.

The word innovative has been misused by both sides for some time, with the real meaning falling somewhere in the middle. Here are some examples:

“No, they’re not Wood Elves, they’re Fri’renias,” does not qualify. Simply changing the name of a classic fantasy race doesn’t make it innovative.

Similarly:

“There’s nothing innovative in this game, it still has systems that are similar to other MMOs,” likewise falls short. A game doesn’t have to be radically different from its peers in order to be innovative, it just has to take a recognisably different approach to some aspect of its design.


If you want a theme park, go here.

#9 Sandbox / Theme Park

The term sandbox was originally used to describe an “open world” style of MMORPG where players of all advancement levels were encouraged to wander the virtual world in search of their own stories and adventures. The metaphor is pretty self explanatory: put a child in a sandbox and they will use their imaginations to create all manner of fun for themselves. Theme Park games, on the other hand, are MMOs that guide players through the game’s experience. The developers craft the rides and players need only jump on and enjoy. Each is a different approach to MMO development, valid for its own reasons and appealing to its own audiences.

Over time though, the term sandbox has been somehow misused by some to describe a game that is questless, and levelless, devoid of any and all developer meddling. Theme Park, on the other hand, has become a word to describe a gaming experience that provides the players with no choice at all, no variation and no choice.

Sandboxes, for all of their freedom, should probably have a few toys thrown in: a shovel, maybe a few buckets and a Tonka bulldozer. A Theme park, while it does have predictable rides, should offer variation and choice in what you want to ride. Don’t like rollercoasters? Try the Merry-Go-Round or some carnival games.

In the end, neither term was meant to represent the extremes that many people use them to represent.


Only Garriott launches this way.

#8 Launch Date

I think that Mandy Patinkin said it best as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word… I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Time after time, developers announce a launch date for their game. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they announce that date as a hard and fast date, a quarter and a year, or just a year. It seems completely inevitable these days that if a studio declares that their new and much anticipated MMORPG will go with a launch date of X, that the game won’t see the light of day for at least another few weeks.

Now, to be fair, it is almost impossible to determine an exact launch date, especially before the game hits the beta or even alpha stages. At that point, the only thing that a studio can really offer is a best guess that will almost certainly change at least once before the game sees the light of day. Still, companies need to be careful, especially in the early stages, not to announce a launch date before one has been finalized.

A launch date is firm, an estimated or projected release date isn’t. Companies (and news outlets) should call a spade a spade and acknowledge that announced dates are always fluid and changing.


True vaporware?

#7 Vaporware

It isn’t so much that the term Vaporware has been misinterpreted, as it is that it has become one of the most over-used terms in the MMO lexicon.

In an ideal world, Vaporware is a term that applies to a game that has a lot of build-up and hype, but truly never existed in any form remotely similar to what was hype. Dawn was Vaporware.

The unfortunate truth is that sometimes MMOs just don’t make it. This can happen for any number of reasons: the project runs out of money, the studio gets sold, legal troubles sink the ship, or some other unforeseen circumstance rears its head.

As time has gone on, the term vaporware is thrown around more and more often. Games that get delayed, even for as little as a month or so, are suddenly saddled with the label as thread upon thread asking “is X game vaporware?” pops up on MMO forums everywhere.

There is no real answer to the problem other than to say that, as was touched on in #8, MMO launch dates are fluid things, and jumping to conclusions doesn’t help anything.


Not a screenshot of Auto Assault!

#6 Failure

World of Warcraft raised expectations for players, journalists, investors and developers in terms of the astounding numbers that an MMORPG has the potential to attract. With 11.5 million subscribers worldwide, no other subscription based MMORPG has come close.

While this is great news for Blizzard and even good news for the health of the MMO industry as a whole, it has led to a phenomenon where any game that fails to reach and maintain the million subscriber number is seen by many to be a complete failure.

The truth is, as Cryptic Entertainment’s Bill Roper pointed out in a recent interview, the high water mark for MMO success used to hover around 300,000 active subscribers. Sure, the landscape of the MMO world has changed since the Pre-WoW era, but there is no reason to believe that a game has to maintain a million or more subscribers in order to not be considered to be a failure.

Success or failure of an MMORPG based on subscribers can only really be determined by the studio and the publisher who have looked extensively at the costs involved and know very well the number under which the game can be considered to be a failure.

Take Warhammer Online for example. Many have called it a failure, and it’s failure to retain all those impressive box sales as subscribers is not encouraging, but 300,000 subscribers is not exactly going to leave anyone at Mythic penniless.

Simply put: Failure to kill WoW is not failure.

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