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Community Spotlight: What is a "real" MMOG?

Posted by MikeB Thursday December 17 2009 at 2:59PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a thread started by form user aranha entitled “Quit the BS devs and gives us a real MMORPG for once!” In the thread aranha laments about the direction the MMOG genre has taken in recent years:

“Im done searching for mmo's since the games just arent fun anymore. I play EvE from time to time and its great but wth happend in this genre?
If we look back to the oldies of UO, EQ, AO, RO and the rest of the oldies there was passion and fun ideas for the games. There was something to do everyday and it was FUN

Ive allways been against WoW not becose it sucks or that smelly 11 yearolds call them self mmo vets for playing it for 8 months but becose of the negative impact it had on the mmogames. Arent we freaking tired of doing 213 quests everyday to gain a level and get a few more crappy skills that barely do any diffrence at all since you have to kill higher lvl mobs anyway becose some bum in a camp would give you a cheeseburger and XP if you did?

What ever happend to stat and skills that affect eachother and making characters with real builds that stood out from eachother and especially how those builds had an effect in PVP making the class you played diverse and something YOU layed thought into and created. The char becomes more than just one of "that" class that just differ in levels.

What ever happend to free choices like entering a game and just walking a path and see where it leads instead of some hobo telling you to go kill 10 hogs or whatever. Theres so much old good stuff like the sandboxing ideas and real character customization that just got lost when all the new features got implented. Features that some of us mmorpg vets still see and the best things in mmorpgs and that kept us playing those old games for months and years with nothing more than a smile on our faces.

For me WoW isnt something i like to call an mmorpg as it showed the gamedevelopers that simplicity is a winning concept. That any player can jump in and enjoy it no matter how young or stupid. Doing quests for exp, Grinding for crap, Raiding for gear, PvPing for gear or faction status. What ever happend to PvPing for your clan or territory or fun?”

One thing that stood out about aranha’s thoughts was the bit about PvP. What happened to players simply PvPing for the fun of it or for the pride of their faction or realm? This particular point sticks out to me because we have a very recent example to refer to: Warhammer Online.

I used to write a column on Warhammer Online at the now defunct MassiveGamer before coming here to, and it was interesting to examine the fact that Mythic had really banked on that apparently now apparently “old school” concept of realm pride established by the now venerable Dark Age of Camelot to drive the RvR experience in WAR.

That didn’t pan out.

RvR lakes were empty, no one really cared or participated in RvR. Everyone was cobbled up in scenarios simply trying to get as much exp as possible as it happened to be the path of least resistance. It was only when Mythic took action in the late Fall of 2008 by adding more incentives to the RvR lakes such as RvR influence, exp boosts, etc that players started paying any attention at all. This, I think, marked the death knell of realm pride as a major driving force for large-scale or territorial based PvP in a contemporary MMOG.

Now there are clearly many MMOG gamers who are still around that love the idea of fighting over realm pride and territory, but I think we are a bit of a minority now.

PvP aside, it’s clear that aranha in particular recalls joyous times in sandbox MMORPG’s, but is he really asking for developers to put out a “real” MMORPG, or a sandbox MMORPG? More importantly, what IS a real MMORPG?

I think that is the crux of this entire thread, and a contentious issue for the entire community. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve added games to our game list only to have members of the community cry out that the game is not a “real” MMORPG, or even when we break news of a new game’s announcement, or an update to an existing game that some sects of our community don’t consider to be a “real” MMORPG.

The industry and the MMOG genre in particular are far too young to really establish what is a “real” MMORPG. The definition, it seems, for most users appears to be very personal. If you ask someone who started playing MMOG’s with World of Warcraft you will get a very different answer from someone who started with Ultima Online.

User Ceridith thinks he may have found a common thread between us all, however, “I think what's missing from MMOs these days is the virtual world aspect. The original MMOs were made with the focus on making a gaming environment that felt like it was a living world that players could explore and interact with, and then the gameplay was built around that world. It feels like these days however, the gameplay has the main focus, and the game world is made as an afterthought simply as a container to jam the gameplay into. That is why I think we're ending up with so many static and bland feeling MMOs, because the MMO environments aren't being designed nearly to the quality they previously were.”

User wisesquirrel concurs with Ceridith, though he also adds that community is also a key factor in a “real” MMOG, “I agree on that, gameplay is crucial, but for an MMO to be an MMO there has to be a sense of community, the best way to do this is let players handle their own economy, cities and politics in some way.”

The aforementioned two points struck a chord with user Kaneth, who has to search back all the way to the original Asheron’s Call to recall the last time he felt a MMOG felt like an actual world, “I agree with both quoted posts. The last mmorpg I played that felt like the world was living and breathing was AC1. I really loved that game and I often think about going back. I remember loading up my packs with the basic essentials and then running out into the wilds. Coming across merchants in the middle of nowhere, finding a nice hunting spot where there wasn't another soul for miles, or just roaming from lifestone to lifestone killing whatever was in your way.”

So what makes a “real” MMORPG to you? And do you think any game on the horizon embraces these qualities? Let us know in the comments below!