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What's in a Genre?

Jon Wood Posted:
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Community Spotlight: What's in a Genre?

his week, in a new Community Spotlight, MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood addresses a thread from our forums and tackles the question on genre in MMORPGs and Fantasy's place at the top of the mountain.

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Managing Editor, Jon Wood. Each week, Wood takes to our message boards and examines a specific topic raised by our community. This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the policies of MMORPG.com.

Recently, I came across this interesting post on the forums:

I've been following many titles that have come out recently and that will be released soon and I noticed a pattern. Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Fantasy (now copy what I said and push control v 90 times and that will be the accurate number of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Games out there). There are a few games that are a bit different like Guild Wars and CoH,CoV, but are basically following the normal MMO pattern. I was wondering if any of you had any ideas for new MMO Genres, what would their "genre" be named, what would be the objective, skill tree vs. purchased abilities, and how do you improve your character. I'm interested to see your ideas because I'm at a loss.

-MACKNEB (MMORPG.com user name)

This is a subject that seems to have been plaguing the industry for some time now. It's not hard to look at a Games List like we have here at MMORPG.com and see that there are a huge number of Fantasy games, and that Sci-fi is slowly catching up as well. In fact, 140 of the 196 games currently listed on our Games List are classified under the Fantasy heading, that's over 70%, for anyone keeping score at home.

That's not to say that innovation doesn't take place within the fantasy genre, not every fantasy MMO is the same. Compare the popular World of Warcraft (some would say the perfect example of a fantasy MMORPG), with the upcoming fantasy MMO Chronicles of Spellborn. Genre-wise, while they share the fantasy title, the two games are quite different.

The reason that people make Fantasy MMORPGs is a much-talked-about subject in the MMO industry. Back in March, I wrote an article summarizing a panel called "Beyond Men in Tights" that I attended where Daimon Schubert of BioWare Austin where led a panel on this very subject.

The question that Mackneb posed though, is what other genres could be explored, excluding the big two.

MMORPG.com member, Infliction was the first to answer:

"I'd like to see an MMOFPS that isn't strictly competition based. Basically the same stylings of other MMORPGs but with guns that you aimed yourself or spells/arrows you aimed yourself etc. Something either similar to Oblivion or S.T.A.L.K.E.R."

Indeed, this very idea is being explored by the folks at Webzen who are developing a game called Huxley that bills itself as a MMOFPS, but still retains the trappings of an MMORPG. With quests, character advancement, an economy and similar game features, this is probably one to watch if you're looking for something out of the ordinary.

Infliction's answer, while interesting, still doesn't really address the Fantasy / Sci-Fi problem. Flyte27 speaks more directly to that question:

"Well you could make a MMO based on real life like the Wild West or World War 2. Other then that, you have to come up with another genre because I haven't seen any others in the bookstore. Basically you have Fantasy/Sci-Fi/History/Present. I believe most people go for for the Fantasy/Sci-Fi because it allows them more freedom to makeup whatever they want."

Wild West is a genre that always comes up in the "Men in Tights" style discussions. The problem here is that while fantasy and sci-fi offer a wide variety of challenges (let's take monsters for example), what does a player fight in a Wild West MMO? Someone in one of those discussions(it may have been Schubert himself), said that once you've had your character fight the bad guy in the big black hat, what's left other than to have your character fight a bad guy with a bigger black hat. In short, and like a few of the members in the thread bring up, Sci-Fi and Fantasy offer developers more options.

While Fantasy has been king in the world of MMORPGs, it's easy to see that the scope of MMO genres is being expanded every year. Sci-Fi has clearly made the most gains in recent years, but they're not the only players in the game. Historical games are becoming more popular with excellent, high-end games like Pirates of the Burning Sea and Gods and Heroes on the horizon, joining games like Voyage Century, Tales of Pirates , Roma Victor and others already on the market.

The announcement of Funcom's Secret World (a game that supposes a secret world inside of our own where monsters and magic are quite real) and the creation of CCP's upcoming World of Darkness MMO represent more games built outside of the traditional MMORPG genre-mold. Obviously there are many others out there that weren't mentioned here, but if you're interested in non-Fantasy / Sci-Fi games, I invite you to visit our Game List and sort by genre. There's a lot out there.

So, in response to Mackneb's original post. Yes, Fantasy and Sci-Fi are dominant right now in MMORPGs, and maybe they always will be, but rest assured that there are companies out there producing top end games in other genres.


Jon Wood