223: M is for Massive

M is for Massive

We're living in the age of Massive - MMORPGs, MMORTSs, MMOFPSs and so on. But what does the word actually mean? Brendan Main parses the terminology behind today's most popular online games.

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"It isn't games that are massive. It's us."
Cool article but ending on this line made me think of the South Park WoW episode: they certainly did get massive.

Now that I got the fat joke out of the way, I have to say that for mmos to really catch on, they need to get the player even more involved. For example if WoW provided users with ways of making their own dungeons I would probably know more people that play it. As it stands the only person I know into WoW is a rich housewife which brings me to the other drawback, the fee. Most people I know wouldn't pay a continuing fee for a game.

I have actually tried a couple of free mmos (Most recently D&D) but while the intention I believe is freedom the gameplay always seems strangely linear.

Interesting article. Quick query - in your last page, you assert that any game can be massive. Does that mean you'd think, for example, a game like TF2 qualifies as an MMOFPS due to the nature of it having a colossal, at least somewhat cohesive community? I'd certainly agree, though I'd never thought of it in that way. I think a part of the 'MMO' (though I know you only focus on the first 'm') seems to have connotations of unspoken 'RPG' so that even if it is -not- an RPG, people expect elements, because it is an MMO. Certainly, we're outgrowing (or growing into and expanding) our vocabulary and intent when it comes to online gaming.

It isn't games that are massive. It's us.

And ho- drat! My fat jokes have been taken D< Curses *fistshake*

But on a more serious note, having had the misfortune to grow up mostly in the 90's (I blame my parents), I have observed the humble beginnings of the MMO from a distance, watching it grow from the modest Ultima Online, to the juggernaut that is WoW, and branch off into other areas besides role-playing games.

GonzoGamer:
Most people I know wouldn't pay a continuing fee for a game.

Sadly, I've seen people in FtP (Free-to-Play) games pay top dollar on the in-game premium content, only to use it in fairly idiotic ways; this is exceptionally prevalent in MapleStory, where certain individuals spend hundreds of real-life dollars on NX cash (the game's currency for premium content), only to use it to buy "megaphones" and post obscure - and occasionally obscene - messages for no particular reason other than to waggle their willies =.= Trust me, its as bad as it sounds, but that's what you get (at least that's what I think) when you push together hundreds of sexually-charged and emotionally needy 12-14-year-old children. In my experience, despite the occasional oddball older player (*cough*), this is the average age demographic, or at least how old they act as a whole.

Also, most don't work for their money.

Funny thing is that you often end up playing with more people in non-MMO games than true MMO's. Games like WoW may have billions of people, but you still only interact with a relatively small group at any given time. Except for raids, you often are alone or with a small party. Halo has millions of people playing at any time, and when you jump online you're pretty much always playing on large teams.

So how is a 32-man TF2 game less massively than a 32-man raid party? How are the millions of people outside the dragon's cave different from the millions of people playing on different servers?

Just my food for thought.

swytchblayd:

It isn't games that are massive. It's us.

And ho- drat! My fat jokes have been taken D< Curses *fistshake*

But on a more serious note, having had the misfortune to grow up mostly in the 90's (I blame my parents), I have observed the humble beginnings of the MMO from a distance, watching it grow from the modest Ultima Online, to the juggernaut that is WoW, and branch off into other areas besides role-playing games.

GonzoGamer:
Most people I know wouldn't pay a continuing fee for a game.

Sadly, I've seen people in FtP (Free-to-Play) games pay top dollar on the in-game premium content, only to use it in fairly idiotic ways; this is exceptionally prevalent in MapleStory, where certain individuals spend hundreds of real-life dollars on NX cash (the game's currency for premium content), only to use it to buy "megaphones" and post obscure - and occasionally obscene - messages for no particular reason other than to waggle their willies =.= Trust me, its as bad as it sounds, but that's what you get (at least that's what I think) when you push together hundreds of sexually-charged and emotionally needy 12-14-year-old children. In my experience, despite the occasional oddball older player (*cough*), this is the average age demographic, or at least how old they act as a whole.

Also, most don't work for their money.

But that's a big part of the whole draw I think:
That whole "hey everybody, dig me" attitude that's made facebook and twitter so popular.
Anonymous preening and virtual popularity.

nmaster64:
Funny thing is that you often end up playing with more people in non-MMO games than true MMO's. Games like WoW may have billions of people, but you still only interact with a relatively small group at any given time. Except for raids, you often are alone or with a small party. Halo has millions of people playing at any time, and when you jump online you're pretty much always playing on large teams.

So how is a 32-man TF2 game less massively than a 32-man raid party? How are the millions of people outside the dragon's cave different from the millions of people playing on different servers?

Just my food for thought.

This, 100%.

Also, I'll be damned if any of my raids were as satisfying as a simple 4v4 CTF on a Quake Live server, which has something like 600,000 active accounts...MMOFPS, somewhat? Not like Planetside, but in its own sense. :)

Starcraft may be a MMORTS, in its own sense, too, but not about to get into it.

I think the only real difference are things like Wintergrasp battles that end up being like 300v300 sometimes, (but even then it devolves into smaller skirmishes most of the time), or the way EVE has more than 300,000 players on just one server, (though every star system is instanced as far as I know), and TF2 will never create an environment like that.

But Steam and its players might create the same community that would come of sitting in trade chat talking and interacting with the other hundreds of players online - because even in WoW, it's not like you play with every single one of your friends all at once.

beautifully written article, I quite enjoyed it. Your look upon the word massive in the context of gaming is quite intreaging and I have to say that you changed my point of view on what qualifies a massive game.

Thanks for the article keep up the good work.

I think Champions Online has the right approach. Sure, you're limited to 100 players a zone, but you'll still trip over players to stealing your kills, and even if the game were only being played by 500 players you'd still get the full game experience because it scales very well.

I think part of the problem with this plethora of MMOs is they all try to attract the same amount of players as World of Warcraft
and spend like they're Blizzard Entertainment.
I think a game that is scaled back to a somewhat more reasonable player base of EVE online is more a realistic goal.
"As of May 6, 2009, Eve Online has more than 300,000 active subscriptions and 45,000 active trial accounts."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eve_Online

FPS online multiplayer games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare use a persistence for characters in an rank based system with perks.
This rank based leveling system makes these online games closer to feeling like a MMO.

The article should've focused more on the subject matter of the last sentence, in my opinion. Because that's exactly what the Massive in MMO stands for currently; its community, not the content, size of the world, lore, etc.

Developers and publishers need to stop talking up their games beforehand and hailing them as "massive" at conferences 'n whatnot. THE COMMUNITY is what makes or breaks a game, and truly makes it massive and worth all the talking up. And as you explained, can also turn a once-sprawling area that's full of life, into a ghost town.

And it's depressing having been pretty muched raised on games from well before mmo's, until now. They all borrow from Ultima Online and Everquest in one way or another, and proceed to act like it's somehow different from the other copycats. WoW just got lucky with release date, no real competition, simple interface, and low computer requirements. But a lot of people have grown out of it or refuse to try it. Nothing lasts forever, and eventually that too will be a ghost town.

Whether or not any sort of innovation gets introduced to this
so-called 'MMORPG/FPS/RTS genre', is really up to the community. We can continue playing the same games over and over, or we can stop, and make them come up with something different. I'll be waiting until then, 'cause flyingspaghettimonster knows I don't want to play another clone...

The size and persistence of the game world is one grand fractured and fragmented instanced illusion, where even very popular MMOs probably rarely have more than 100 people in a single questing area or zone, and probably usually a lot less. Major cities in MMOs are themsellves usually broken up into multiple instances. Orgrimmar, for example, probably has at least 4, not counting the dungeon instance.

The massiveness is the size of the player base you have exposure to--either in passing,or guilds, or zone or trade chat, or even just though the auction house--during the course of playing the game. This initial amorphous juxtaposition of random people gradually organizes itself into friends lists and then guilds, and then guilds slowly relate to one another to form the loose underpinnings of a server-wide society. If a game can get there, it has arrived.

Is the persistence of an online game world a single handed refutation of the observer effect? Since the world is still there and can be observed despite the absence of observers, I'd say it is.

nmaster64:
Funny thing is that you often end up playing with more people in non-MMO games than true MMO's. Games like WoW may have billions of people, but you still only interact with a relatively small group at any given time. Except for raids, you often are alone or with a small party. Halo has millions of people playing at any time, and when you jump online you're pretty much always playing on large teams.

So how is a 32-man TF2 game less massively than a 32-man raid party? How are the millions of people outside the dragon's cave different from the millions of people playing on different servers?

Just my food for thought.

I think the reason MMORPGs are thought of as massive, and shooters aren't, is that whilst you don't interact with the thousand people you see in WoW, the fact they are there, and with a couple of letters you could interact with them, makes it massive.
Its also the reason that i reckon games with small instanced areas aren't really massive.

Serenegoose:
Interesting article. Quick query - in your last page, you assert that any game can be massive. Does that mean you'd think, for example, a game like TF2 qualifies as an MMOFPS due to the nature of it having a colossal, at least somewhat cohesive community? I'd certainly agree, though I'd never thought of it in that way. I think a part of the 'MMO' (though I know you only focus on the first 'm') seems to have connotations of unspoken 'RPG' so that even if it is -not- an RPG, people expect elements, because it is an MMO. Certainly, we're outgrowing (or growing into and expanding) our vocabulary and intent when it comes to online gaming.

You know it's getting real annoying that everytime somebody questions the definition of a mmorpg someone has to bring up TF2, there are a few games sitting in about the same boat as TF2, and please get over it.I'm not just trying to shoot at you, its just I figured someone would say what you did, and yours was the first i saw.

I thought "massive", taken literally, meant "possessing mass" - i.e. "heavy". Except in space, obviously.
So, a MMOG is indeed more massive than a single-player game because it requires a quantity of servers and computers/consoles to work rather than just the one machine.
[/nerdage]

dragonsatemymarbles:
I thought "massive", taken literally, meant "possessing mass" - i.e. "heavy". Except in space, obviously.
So, a MMOG is indeed more massive than a single-player game because it requires a quantity of servers and computers/consoles to work rather than just the one machine.
[/nerdage]

Just to be a bit pedantic:
'Heavy' is actually the weight of the mass due to gravity. A massive object in space will still have mass but no weight (assuming no gravitational fields, although this is impossible).

To me a truely massive game would be one that can support several thousand people in a persistant enviroment yet have enough size where you can effectively play on your own and not see another person.. or very few people (ie being out in a wilderness and feel like it's a wilderness), but then visit major social hubs and see tons of people. With of course many areas in between (the game being persistant) with traffic matching what they are supposed to be.

Very few games have achieved this, and many (due to player populations and such) have been unable to maintain it.

Despite liking the game, and having a lifetime membership, I kind of see Champions Online as being a game that failed in this regard. Even with heavy instancing (50-200 people) when playing I typically run into dozens people in areas that are supposed to be relatively isolated. The world is just not big enough with enough things to do at any given point that things spread out to make the game feel big... it feels tiny even if it's not in absolute terms.

So basically, I kind of feel that to be massive a game needs to both be persistant, with a large number of players co-existing, but spread out enough in the right areas so while you might occasionally meet other people ourside of your group (such is the point of persistance) you aren't going to see 40 people running around trying to do the same quest your trying to do at exactly the same time.

In truth I think standards are changing as time goes on, and being able to hit this nail on the head perfectly is going to be one of the things the next generation of MMORPGs is going to have to achieve. He who does it well, shall produce the next WoW.

whaleswiththumbs:

You know it's getting real annoying that everytime somebody questions the definition of a mmorpg someone has to bring up TF2, there are a few games sitting in about the same boat as TF2, and please get over it.I'm not just trying to shoot at you, its just I figured someone would say what you did, and yours was the first i saw.

Yeah, you're right. Next time I see an interesting point connecting to a game I enjoy, I'll ignore it and make a blatantly surrealist reference that nobody but me and those with an intricate knowledge of finnish MMOFPS games will get. Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

Or I won't. Guess which.

Serenegoose:
Quick query - in your last page, you assert that any game can be massive. Does that mean you'd think, for example, a game like TF2 qualifies as an MMOFPS due to the nature of it having a colossal, at least somewhat cohesive community? I'd certainly agree, though I'd never thought of it in that way. I think a part of the 'MMO' (though I know you only focus on the first 'm') seems to have connotations of unspoken 'RPG' so that even if it is -not- an RPG, people expect elements, because it is an MMO. Certainly, we're outgrowing (or growing into and expanding) our vocabulary and intent when it comes to online gaming.

I think that's an excellent example, actually, and I'm sorry to see that it's become a point of contention. I'd agree that games like TF2 have fostered communites in their own right, with their own sort of persistence and multiplay. You mention how MMO connotes RPG. I'm equally interested in how even definitions such as RPG have changed connotation as well. When we say "RPG elements", we often think of stat progressions and skill trees, but in another sense, TF2 is an RPG, at least so far as you're playing a role. There's something infectious about the character's personalities that colours the way I see the game, and how I play. I go Scout, and suddenly I'm "kind of a big deal." I go Heavy, and my I.Q. drops ten points.

I don't mean to suggest that these flights of fancy make it an "MMORPG" in the classic sense - only that our current language continues to shift to describe new modes of play.

Serenegoose:

Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

That reference is worth ten surrealist bonus points. Save those babies up for one of many fabulously surreal prizes. The floating hat is popular, though my favourite is the melting clock. It gives new meaning to the question "Hey, is your watch running?"

Seriously though, who needs to invoke Rene Magritte to make a point about video games?

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_211/6281-Kill-Billy.2

Oh. Um. Oops?

Brendan Main:
even definitions such as RPG have changed connotation as well. When we say "RPG elements", we often think of stat progressions and skill trees, but in another sense, TF2 is an RPG, at least so far as you're playing a role. There's something infectious about the character's personalities that colours the way I see the game, and how I play. I go Scout, and suddenly I'm "kind of a big deal." I go Heavy, and my I.Q. drops ten points.

The 'what makes an RPG' is something that's been fought out on videogame forums the world over, and I don't foresee any resolution any time ever. I get the same thing when I play TF2 though, at least for the scout. Normally, I play as the sniper, and though I very quickly get delusions of grandeur (the ability to send someone back to the spawn point with a single mouseclick, to the sound of their swearing over the microphone is intoxicating) but with the scout, I get hyperaggressive, and very childish. I'll giggle with glee as I bat a heavy to death, and trash talk wildly as I dance about dodging bullets. The scout makes me insufferable.

Back to that kind of point though, RPG seems to mean different things to different people. Under some definitions, Duke Nukem is an RPG. You play as the Duke, after all, and that's a role. Then some people confuse it by saying that, if we want to give the genre a concrete definition that isn't so vague as to be useless, what is 'essential' to the genre? Stats? Levels? The ability to wander wherever you want? Side Quests? Character Creation, as opposed to a fixed character? The JRPG/WRPG mix complicates things further, as JRPGs are undeniably RPGs but are typically considerably more 'linear' than WRPGs, which can themselves be argued, through not forcing a role on you, aren't RPGs at all, because you can arguably play as -yourself- and that most certainly isn't a role. Personally I've always been a little bit of a WRPG superioritist, but that's only because I like to fling spells as a dwarf, and the default 'RPG' character tends to be 'the sword guy' that is, human, mediocre but capable of producing magical effects, and using a two handed sword. See Geralt and cloud for examples of 'the sword guy' from W and JRPG.

Certainly, the debates that spring from the fact that our language is adapting or becoming inadequate are fascinating. Sorry for the brief threadjack to make that point.

Serenegoose:

the default 'RPG' character tends to be 'the sword guy' that is, human, mediocre but capable of producing magical effects, and using a two handed sword. See Geralt and cloud for examples of 'the sword guy' from W and JRPG.

The Sword Guy. I know that guy.

Probably had a bad childhood. Possibly an orphan. Possibly amnesiac, with vague memories of a bad childhood at an orphanage. Probably has spiky hair. Is there a correlation between spiky hair and orphans? Possibly.

Possibly knows a guy with a gun for an arm. Possibly has a sword that's a gun for a sword. Why does the gun-in-the-sword guy get to be The Sword Guy, but the gun-for-an-arm guy gets stuck being the Gun-For-An-Arm Guy? He should have replaced the arm with a sword. Then at least he'd have a chance.

Possibly plays a bizarre cross of football, water polo and quidditch. Possibly wearing lederhosen. Possibly a dream of a ghost's memory of a magical fluffy cloud.

Possibly ALL OF THE ABOVE.

A curious and thoughtfult piece.

Brendan Main:
You mention how MMO connotes RPG. I'm equally interested in how even definitions such as RPG have changed connotation as well. When we say "RPG elements", we often think of stat progressions and skill trees, but in another sense, TF2 is an RPG, at least so far as you're playing a role. There's something infectious about the character's personalities that colours the way I see the game, and how I play. I go Scout, and suddenly I'm "kind of a big deal." I go Heavy, and my I.Q. drops ten points.

Hm. Perhaps the answer to "what is Massive" is similar to the answer to "what is an RPG": there are "massive elements" just like there are "RPG elements". (I hate the term "massive elements" already and I just made it up.) Where leveling up and character statistics might be "RPG elements", "massive elements" might be a persistent, large world and a large number of players interacting. So yes, in some sense TF2 might be "massive", but maybe not in the same sense as MUDs or WoW. And you can have "massive elements" without being a MMOG, just like you can have "RPG elements" and yet not be an RPG.

Philosophical yet at the same time interesting and readable. Sweet.

And somewhere on the corner of MMORPG country, almost forgotten yet unfeasibly still in one piece, remains old, weathered Ultima Online, a game still played by a double-digit number of thousands, on hundreds of inofficial, player-run servers whose permanent population each rarely reaches "enough for a riot" and which, yet, feel strangely alive to those willing to invest the time.

Really, though, I wonder every time the point about the "olden days of MMORPGs" is brought up: what *did* UO do right that modern Mumorpugers seem to do wrong?

 

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