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Player Versus Player: Are Mobile MMORPGs Real MMORPGs?

Columns By Ryan Getchell on April 04, 2015

Are Mobile MMORPGs Real MMORPGs?

You can trace MMORPGs all the the back to their roots of Pen and Paper RolePlaying Games. They’ve evolved from Pen and Paper to massive digital worlds that we’ve spent countless hours within. They’ve slowly been branching into the mobile world offering stimulating worlds for us to adventure in without being tied to a computer. However, can these mobile versions compare to our immersive, story-driven MMOs that we have today?

Player Versus Player is your bi-weekly debate column where two MMO writers come together to debate the topics you care about. Your combatants:

Ryan “The Traditionalist” Getchell: Ryan believes no mobile MMO can compare to the boundless worlds we have now.

Beau “A Guy With Several Tablets” Hindman: Beau believes that the delivery option does not make the game.

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Ryan: Hello Beau and thank you for taking the time to join me for a PvP discussion. I’ve been wanting to discuss this topic for a while and I know you’re passionate about the Mobile gaming world so who better to discuss this topic with than you.

Mobile games, while they are great fun to play while visiting the lavatories, I don't believe they can compare to the modern day MMO. The technology used by MMOs nowadays is leaps and bounds ahead of what can be used in a mobile unit. Mobile games are restricted to limited controls, we end up with games that offer time based restraints, turn based combat and worst of all, no sense of freedom. 

Beau: I think the argument comes down to a few points.

  1. Technology - PC gamers sometimes feel threatened by the cheaper and often more useful tablets.
  2. Graphical quality - While I will not compare Pocket Legends to The Elder Scrolls Online, I will compare Order and Chaos Online to World of Warcraft. Still, graphical realism is never a guarantee of quality gameplay and never will be.
  3. Mechanics that are not real MMO mechanics - As you mentioned, turn-based combat or energy mechanics do appear in some mobile games, but I believe you are referring to mobile casual games. Real mobile MMOs like the Legends franchise, Parallel Kingdoms, many MMORTS’, and many other titles do not force any such mechanic. By your definition, Dofus or Wakfu would not count as authentic.

While I understand the lack of freedom that you speak of, you must remember that these smaller mobile games (a result of technological limitations which will change in time) are not exclusive to mobile.

Ryan:You have some extremely valid points some of which I can’t argue. That said, MMORPGs are the original social game, they were the games that brought like minded nerds/geeks together. Mobile MMORPGs are the opposite of that, the games are played in isolation, they are rarely discussed outside the game, and communicating to other players via in-game mechanics is in most cases a tedious ordeal, having to jump through proverbial hoops just to send a message to someone. Sure you can play them and compare them graphically to games like World of Warcraft, but can they match the social experience that a classic MMORPG can offer?

Beau: A side note: I would argue that MUDs are the original online social game. Anyway, I just am not seeing how you can say that because a player accesses a mobile MMO on a tablet that he or she is not participating in the same thing that someone in WoW is. Remind me to send you a list of mobile MMOs that do not behave how you seem to think they behave. Mobile MMOs use chat boxes, text input, even voice. Let’s look at a mobile MMO that people often sneer at: Parallel Kingdoms.

It can be accessed through client or app and sets the game world on top of a map of the real world. You can build persistent, open-world housing, work with other to build actual persistent, open-world towns with actual mayors (the places are based on RL locations) take on quests, level up, PvP, access dungeons, communicate in the same way as client-based; everything you can do in a 20 gig client-based game. Yet, because it looks primitive, it does not count? Or because players play it on their phones, it does not count?

If anything, mobile MMOs add on not only the same social value but tack on an additional layer of being able to be played anywhere - places you cannot take a gaming PC or laptop.

Ryan: Hmm, okay well it seems I have more ignorance to this topic than I had originally thought. You’ve brought to light some interesting points. I will stand by my point that (as of yet) there are no immersive Mobile MMORPGs that someone can lose themselves within. You won’t see people starving themselves because they were immersed in a game on their phones. As you said, the technology isn’t there. The point of freedom is one that you haven’t been able to debunk, which I think freedom is one of the biggest draws for MMORPG players. Perhaps I will check out some Mobile MMORPG that you recommend.

This entire article I’ve been comparing Mobile MMORPGs to PC/Consoles. Perhaps that is why I will never see a mobile game on the same level, they are two completely different style of games. It would be as if we compared Atari to Nintendo. Each have merit but one is just so far behind the curve when it comes to technology.

Beau: I will have to admit to something myself: I get where you are coming from, exactly. I know what you mean completely. It’s hard to explain, so let me see if I can add to it as well.

When you speak of technology, I believe you mean the ability to draw a certain number of players on the screen, or the ability to display amazing graphics that only a gaming PC can do. Of course, one needs to look at a game like Horn or Infinity Blade (both iOS) to see that the graphics capability is there, but not yet to the point of drawing such a game while displaying all of the information that an MMO like Guild Wars 2 might need. But, as I pointed out, I think that graphics are by no means an indicator of universal quality. If that were the case, games like TESO might be doing as well as Runescape or Maplestory.

Still, what you are speaking of is the ability of a gaming PC, a large monitor and huge surround-sound speakers to draw a player into a world. An actual, living world. I agree with you on that. Mobile units and games have not yet -- yet -- reached that level. But, as I said, I will not discount a player’s intense feelings for games like Warspear Online, Star Legends, Arcane Empires, Tribal Wars 2 or Vendetta Online (yes, all MMOs by the “real” definition) because they play while sitting in bed. It’s also important to remember that lack of immersion is not exclusive to mobile.

Ryan Getchell / Ryan is our resident Elder Scrolls nerd, and columnist for Zenimax''s MMO. When he''s not out killing things in Tamriel, he''s working in IT professionally.