View From the Road

A View From the Road: Welcome to the Massive World

John Funk | 31 May 2010 21:00
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If there's anyone particular topic that has repeatedly come up in this column (other than that I think WoW rocks socks), it's the exploration of just what precisely counts as an MMOG. Is Pokemon an MM(Offline)G? Is the Portal ARG? Where do you draw the line?

As our world becomes increasingly connected, it's clear that said line is growing more and more blurred. Soon, it might even go away entirely.

This struck me over last weekend while I was playing - of all things - Sony's ModNation Racers to review. It sounds crazy, doesn't it? ModNation Racers, on its surface, appears to be just another kart racing game with a fair amount of customization behind the scenes: It's Mario Kart with a touch of LittleBigPlanet.

Instead of a traditional menu screen, ModNation Racers sets you in a miniature "hub world" where you can drive around and enter buildings that each represent a different part of the game. This is the Career mode building, that is the customization building, this is where you go to quick play and this is where you go to play online - you get the idea. Simple enough, right?

If you're connected to the PlayStation Network, though, the hub changes ever so slightly. You see, ModNation Racers is built on the concept of not only being able to design your own karts, racers, and tracks, but to share them with the world, and the most popular vehicles and race outfits are prominently displayed on pedestals at the front of the hub. What's more is that your hub will actually be populated by other racers who are also in the hub, and you can talk with them, add them to your PSN friends list, inspect their custom rides and digs, so on and so forth.

How is that not like an MMOG?

In fact, if you change some of the words around, I could have just described hanging out in Orgrimmar or Sanctum or Jeuno: You run around town, admiring the people with the shiny epic loot. You bump into somebody, chat with them, inspect the gear they're wearing, and /friend them to chat again later. Then you head to the auction house, where you see what's on display - in WoW, you're looking for gear, but ModNation Racers' auction house just has a bajillion fan-made tracks, outfits, and cars.

It's massive: Thousands of people are all interacting with the same data you're interacting with. It's persistent: The most popular designs will change and people will upload tons of new stuff while you're not playing the game.

Considering how crucial the online element is to Microsoft and Sony's strategy going forward (and even Nintendo, though it's treating the whole "online" idea like a particularly befuddled and lackadaisical sloth), this sort of thing is only going to become more common.

It isn't just traditional videogames, either - MMOGs are going to be everywhere you look before you know it. Take the incredibly popular FourSquare application for mobile phones: You claim mayorship of places by visiting them more and more often, and must continue to visit them lest you be knocked from your hill by some upstart.

You can lose while you're not actively playing, so it's persistent. There are millions of people playing, so it's Massive. Hell, you could even argue that you're being forced to grind, only instead of killing wolves you're getting a mocha latte at Starbucks.

The world ahead is Massive. It may seem scary and intimidating, but don't worry. If all of life becomes an MMOG, we just might get some phat lewt.

John Funk downloaded a Gundam skin for his racer. What, you were expecting something else?

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