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The List: Five MMOs Doing it Differently

By Jon Wood on December 09, 2009 | Columns | Comments

Five MMOs Doing it Differently

There was a time when an MMORPG was an easy thing to recognize. As time has passed and the genre has matured, the definition of everyone's favorite video game acronym has changed and evolved.

If you ask the average passer-by with even the slightest interest in video games to tell you what they know about MMORPGs, there's every possibility that they're going to talk to you about fantasy settings, World of Warcraft, levels, classes and linear RPG style stories. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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The thing is that I think a lot of people out there believe that this is the one and only way to make an MMORPG, and that just isn't so. Sure, World of Warcraft seems to have been the greatest thing since sliced bread to at least 11 million people worldwide, but the idea of a massive multiplayer, persistent world where people can interact and socialize isn't restricted to what we'll call traditional style MMORPGs. MMOs come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees separating them from the apparent (at least financial) watermark.

The MMOs on this list are some of the best at deviating from the WoW mould and while it certainly isn't a complete list of games that are definitively "not WoW," it should be enough to get our juices pumping for games that walk their own paths:

#5 SEED

Just to prove that deviating too far from the accepted norm can sometimes result in disaster, we wanted to put SEED on the list.

SEED, when it was in development, had an awful lot to recommend it to MMO players looking for an experience outside of the norm. The game was about the embryonic colonization of a far off planet. This means that humans on Earth blasted a bunch of embryos out into space in order to colonize a new world.

So, we've got a pretty solid sci-fi MMO premise. Then, you've got the fact that (well before Champions Online did it) the game was to be presented in a comic book style. It was interesting and quirky. Where the game really deviated from the norm though was in the fact that the developers so much wanted to focus the game on political intrigue and role playing that it didn't include a combat system.

A sci-fi MMO with no combat, while certainly an interesting idea, just wasn't viable in a commercial game and it folded in September of 2006, only four months after its launch.

#4 A Tale in the Desert

A Tale in the Desert is an MMO set in ancient Egypt that was launched back in May of 2006. At first blush, I can see why many MMO players might look past it. The graphics are nowhere near the level of today's AAA MMOs, and it doesn't have a flashy ad campaign or PR staff rushing out to every major MMO site in existence handing editors any and all information to drive the masses toward their game.

What it does have, however, is an extremely unique take on the way that MMORPGs are played.

Forget the unique setting, although that's also a major departure from the safe style currently reigning supreme in the MMO world, and let's concentrate on the way that the game and its story are handled, which is really what sets this game apart in the first place. Instead of simply mindlessly progressing to the "endgame" and coming up with more and more awesome epic things for characters to do, the developers decided instead to restart the game and its story by starting what the developers call a new telling.

Next, there is the fact that the head of the development company actually takes an active role in the game as an actual character. Known as Pharoah, Andrew Tepper, the president of eGenesis interacts with the game's players not as a developer but as a living, breathing, NPC. This level of developer interaction is almost unheard of in today's MMO climate.

Then, like SEED, A Tale in the Desert is a political and social advancement game without any combat. Unlike SEED though, A Tale in the Desert continues to thrive and is currently in its fourth telling.

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