A massively multiplayer online game (also called MMO) is a video game which is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously. By necessity, they are played on the Internet, and feature at least one persistent world. They are, however, not necessarily games played on personal computers. Most of the newer game consoles, including the PSP, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo DSi and Wii can access the Internet and may therefore run MMO games. Additionally, mobile devices and smartphones based on such operating systems as Windows Mobile and Google's Android, as well as the Apple iPhone are seeing an increase in the amount of MMO games available.
MMOGs can enable players to cooperate and compete with each other on a large scale, and sometimes to interact meaningfully with people around the world. They include a variety of gameplay types, representing many video game genres.
The most popular type of MMOG, and the sub-genre that pioneered the category, is the massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), which descended from university mainframe computer MUD and adventure games such as Rogue and Dungeon on the PDP-10. These games predate the commercial gaming industry and the Internet, but still featured persistent worlds and other elements of MMOGs still used today.
The first graphical MMOG, and a major milestone in the creation of the genre, was the multi-player flight combat simulation game Air Warrior by Kesmai on the GEnie online service, which first appeared in 1986.
Commercial MMORPGs gained early acceptance in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The genre was pioneered by the GemStone series on GEnie, also created by Kesmai, and Neverwinter Nights, the first such game to include graphics, which debuted on AOL in 1991.
As computer game developers applied MMOG ideas to other computer and video game genres, new acronyms started to develop, such as MMORTS. MMOG emerged as a generic term to cover this growing class of games. These games became so popular that a magazine, called Massive Online Gaming, released an issue in October 2002 hoping to cover MMOG topics exclusively, but it never released its second issue.
The debuts of The Realm Online, Meridian 59 (the first 3D MMOG), Ultima Online, Underlight and EverQuest in the late 1990s popularized the MMORPG genre. The growth in technology meant that where Neverwinter Nights in 1991 had been limited to 50 simultaneous players (a number that grew to 500 by 1995), by the year 2000 a multitude of MMORPGs were each serving thousands of simultaneous players and in December 2007 Eve Online achieved a new record with "41,690". http://www.eve-online.com/news/newsOfEve.asp?newsID=505. Retrieved 2008-01-08. concurrent accounts logged on to the same server. The current record stands at "54,181". http://www.eveonline.com/news.asp?a=single&nid=3620&tid=1. achieved on 2009-12-08.
Despite the genre's focus on multiplayer gaming, AI-controlled characters are still common. NPCs and mobs who give out quests or serve as opponents are typical in MMORPGs. AI-controlled characters are not as common in action-based MMOGs.
The popularity of MMOGs was mostly restricted to the computer game market until the sixth-generation consoles, with the launch of Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast and the emergence and growth of online service Xbox Live. There have been a number of console MMOGs, including EverQuest Online Adventures (PlayStation 2), and the multiconsole Final Fantasy XI. On PCs, the MMOG market has always been dominated by successful fantasy MMORPGs.
MMOGs have only recently begun to break into the mobile phone market. The first, Samurai Romanesque set in feudal Japan, was released in 2001 on NTT DoCoMo's iMode network in Japan. More recent developments are CipSoft's TibiaME and Biting Bit's MicroMonster which features online and bluetooth multiplayer gaming. SmartCell Technology is in development of Shadow of Legend, which will allow gamers to continue their game on their mobile device when away from their PC.
MMOGs emerged from the hard-core gamer community to the mainstream strongly in December 2003 with an analysis in the Financial Times measuring the value of the virtual property in the then-largest MMOG, Everquest, to result in a per-capita GDP of 2,266 dollars which would have placed the virtual world of Everquest as the 77th wealthiest nation, on par with Croatia, Ecuador, Tunisia or Vietnam.
World of Warcraft is currently the dominant MMOG in the world with more than 60% of the subscribing player base, and with 11–12 million monthly subscribers worldwide, is the most popular Western title among MMOGs. In 2008, Western consumer spending on World of Warcraft represented a 58% share of the Western subscription MMOG market. The title has generated over $2.2 billion in cumulative Western consumer spending on subscriptions since 2005.
There are a number of factors shared by most MMOGs that make them different from other types of games. MMOGs create a persistent universe where the game milieu continues regardless of interaction. Since these games emphasize multiplayer gameplay, many have only basic single-player aspects and the artificial intelligence on the server is primarily designed to support group play. As a result, players cannot "finish" MMOGs in the typical sense of single-player games.
However single player game play is quite viable, although this may result in the player being unable to experience all content. This is especially the case for content designed for a multiplayer group commonly called a "party" or "raid party" in the case of the largest player groups which are required for the most significant and potentially rewarding play experiences and "boss fights" which are often designed to require multiple players to ensure the creature or NPC is killed.
Most MMOGs also share other characteristics that make them different from other multiplayer online games. MMOGs host a large number of players in a single game world, and all of those players can interact with each other at any given time. Popular MMOGs might have thousands of players online at any given time, usually on a company owned server. Non-MMOGs, such as Battlefield 1942 or Half-Life usually have fewer than 50 players online (per server) and are usually played on private servers. Also, MMOGs usually do not have any significant mods since the game must work on company servers. There is some debate if a high head-count is the requirement to be an MMOG. Some say that it is the size of the game world and its capability to support a large number of players that should matter. For example, despite technology and content constraints, most MMOGs can fit up to a few thousand players on a single game server at a time.
To support all those players, MMOGs need large-scale game worlds, and servers to connect players to those worlds. Sometimes a game features a universe which is copied onto different servers, separating players, and this is called a "sharded" universe. Other games will feature a single universe which is divided among servers, and requires players to switch. Still others will only use one part of the universe at any time. For example, Tribes (which is not an MMOG) comes with a number of large maps, which are played in rotation (one at a time). In contrast, the similar title PlanetSide uses the second model, and allows all map-like areas of the game to be reached via flying, driving, or teleporting.
MMORPGs usually have sharded universes, as they provide the most flexible solution to the server load problem, but not always. For example, the space sim Eve Online uses only one large cluster server peaking at over 51,500 simultaneous players.
There are also a few more common differences between MMOGs and other online games. Most MMOGs charge the player a monthly or bimonthly fee to have access to the game's servers, and therefore to online play. Also, the game state in an MMOG rarely ever resets. This means that a level gained by a player today will still be there tomorrow when the player logs back on. MMOGs often feature in-game support for clans and guilds. The members of a clan or a guild may participate in activities with one another, or show some symbols of membership to the clan or guild.
It is challenging to develop the engines that are needed to run a successful MMOG with millions of players. Many developers have created their own, but attempts have been made to create middleware, software that would help game developers concentrate on their games more than technical aspects. One such piece of middleware is called BigWorld.
An early, successful entry into the field was VR-1 Entertainment whose Conductor platform was adopted and endorsed by a variety of service providers around the world including Sony Communications Network in Japan; the Bertelsmann Game Channel in Germany; British Telecom's WirePlay in England; and DACOM and Samsung SDS in South Korea. Games that were powered by the Conductor platform included Fighter Wing, Air Attack, Fighter Ace, EverNight, Hasbro Em@ail Games (Clue, NASCAR and Soccer), Towers of Fallow, The SARAC Project, VR1 Crossroads and Rumble in the Void.
One of the bigger problems with the engines has been to handle the vast number of players. Since a typical server can handle around 10,000–12,000 players, 4000–5000 active simultaneously, dividing the game into shards (servers) has up till now been the solution. This approach has also helped with technical issues, such as lag, that many players experience. Another difficulty, especially relevant to real-time simulation games, is time synchronization across hundreds or thousands of players. Many games rely on time synchronization to drive their physics simulation as well as their scoring and damage detection.
There are several types of massively multiplayer online games.
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games, known as MMORPGs, are the most famous type of MMOG. See list of MMORPGs for a list of notable MMORPGs. Some MMORPGs are designed as a multiplayer browser game in order to reduce infrastructure costs and utilise a thin client that most users will already have installed. The acronym BBMMORPGs has sometimes been used to describe these as browser-based.
MMOFPS is an online gaming genre which features a persistent world and a large number of simultaneous players in a first-person shooter fashion. These games provide large-scale, sometimes team-based combat. The addition of persistence in the game world means that these games add elements typically found in RPGs, such as experience points. However, MMOFPS games emphasize player skill more than player statistics, as no number of in-game bonuses will compensate for a player's inability to aim and think tactically.
Neocron is sometimes considered the first MMOFPS, most consider it a hybrid of MMORPG and first-person shooter, with the later PlanetSide sometimes considered the first MMOFPS. Upcoming MMOFPS titles include Global Agenda (per their marketing department, however the lack of full Player vs. Player (PvP) surpassing 64 individuals leaves this open to debate on its "MMO" status), MAG for PS3 and Huxley. Another MMOFPS known as Dust 514 is being developed by CCP Games, who also created Eve Online. The game will tie into the Eve Online universe.
Massively multiplayer online real-time strategy games, also known as "MMORTS", combine real-time strategy (RTS) with a persistent world. Players often assume the role of a general, king, or other type of figurehead leading an army into battle while maintaining the resources needed for such warfare. The titles are often based in a sci-fi or fantasy universe and are distinguished from single or small-scale multiplayer RTSes by the number of players and common use of a persistent world, generally hosted by the game's publisher, which continues to evolve even when the player is not currently playing.
A massively multiplayer online sports game is a title where players can compete in some of the more traditional major league sports, such as Football (called Soccer in the United States of America), basketball, baseball, hockey, golf or American football. Titles that qualify as MMOSG have been around since the early 2000s but only recently have they started to receive the endorsements of some of the official major league associations and players.
MMOR means massively multiplayer online racing. Currently there are only a small number racing based MMOGs, including Kart Rider, Upshift StrikeRacer, Test Drive Unlimited, Project Torque, Drift City, Race or Die (iPhone) and the upcoming Need for Speed: World Online. The Trackmania series is the worlds largest MMO racing game and holds the world record for "Most Players in a Single Online Race". Although Darkwind: War on Wheels is more combat based than racing, it is also considered an MMOR.
Massively multiplayer online rhythm games (MMORGs), sometimes called massively multiplayer online dance games (MMODGs), are MMOGs that are also music video games. This idea was influenced by Dance Dance Revolution. Audition Online is another casual massively multiplayer online game and it is produced by T3 Entertainment.
MMOMGs, or massively multiplayer online management games, are considered easy to play and don't take much time. The player logs in few times per week, sets orders for the in-game team and find how to defeat human opponents and their strategies. Other management games require taking control of people such as The Sims Online, Monopoly City Streets, or the widely acclaimed music managing game, Project Rockstar.
Massively multiplayer online social games focus on socialization instead of objective-based gameplay. There is a great deal of overlap in terminology with "online communities" and "virtual worlds". One example that has garnered widespread media attention is Linden Labs' Second Life, emphasizing socializing, world-building and an in-world virtual economy that depends on the sale and purchase of user-created content. It is technically an MMOSG or Casual Multiplayer Online (CMO) by definition, though its stated goal was to realize the concept of the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash. Instead of being based around combat, one could say that it was based around the creation of virtual objects, including models and scripts. In practice, it has more in common with Club Caribe than Everquest. It was the first game of its kind to achieve widespread success (including attention from mainstream media); however, it was not the first (as Club Caribe was released in 1988). Competitors in this relatively new sub-genre (non-combat-based MMORPG) include There, Dotsoul, Furcadia and IMVU. The PlayStation Home is also a MMOSG of sorts.
Many browser based Casual MMOs have begun to spring up. This has been made easier because of maturing of Adobe Flash and the popularity of Club Penguin. The first Flash MMO was Dubit Chat, launched in 1999.
Some MMOGs have been designed to accurately simulate certain aspects of the real world. They tend to be very specific to industries or activities of very large risk and huge potential loss, such as rocket science, airplanes, battle tanks, submarines etc. Gradually as simulation technology is getting more mainstream, so too various simulators arrive into more mundane industries.
The initial goal of World War II Online was to create a map (in north western Europe) that had real world physics (gravity, air/water resistance, etc), and ability for players to have some strategic abilities to its basic FPS/RPG role. While the current version is not quite a true simulated world (lacking details such as weather), it is very complex and contains the largest persistent world of any online game.
The MMOG genre of air traffic simulation is one example, with networks such as VATSIM and IVAO striving to provide rigorously authentic flight-simulation environments to players in both pilot and air traffic controller roles. In this category of MMOGs, the objective is to create duplicates of the real world for people who cannot or do not wish to undertake those experiences in real life. For example, flight simulation via an MMOG requires far less expenditure of time and money, is completely risk-free, and is far less restrictive (fewer regulations to adhere to, no medical exams to pass, and so on).
Another specialist area is mobile telecoms operator (carrier) business where billion-dollar investments in networks are needed but marketshares are won and lost on issues from segmentation to handset subsidies. A specialist simulation was developed by Nokia called Equilibrium/Arbitrage to have over a two day period five teams of top management of one operator/carrier play a "wargame" against each other, under extremely realistic conditions, with one operator an incumbent fixed and mobile network operator, another a new entrant mobile operator, a third a fixed-line/internet operator etc. Each team is measured by outperforming their rivals by market expectations of that type of player. Thus each player has drastically different goals, but within the simulation, any one team can win. Also to ensure maximum intensity, only one team can win. Telecoms senior executives who have taken the Equilibrium/Arbitrage simulation say it is the most intense, and most useful training they have ever experienced. It is typical of business use of simulators, in very senior management training/retraining.
Steve Jackson Games' UltraCorps is an example of a MMO turn-based strategy game. Hundreds of players share the same playing field of conquest. In a "mega" game, each turn fleets are built and launched to expand one's personal empire. Turns are usually time-based, with a "tick" schedule usually daily. All orders are processed, and battles resolved, at the same time during the tick. Similarly, in Darkwind: War on Wheels, vehicle driving and combat orders are submitted simultaneously by all players and a "tick" occurs typically once per 30 seconds. This allows each player to accurately control multiple vehicles and pedestrians in racing or combat.
A large number of games categorize under MMOBBG—massively multiplayer online bulletin board game—very similar to MMOBBRPGs), having the entire game primarily made up of text and descriptions, although images are often used to enhance the game.
In April 2004, the United States Army announced that it was developing a massively multiplayer training simulation called AWE (asymmetric warfare environment). The purpose of AWE is to train soldiers for urban warfare and there are no plans for a public commercial release. Forterra Systems is developing it for the Army based on the There engine.
Alternate reality games (ARGs) can be massively multiplayer, allowing thousands of players worldwide to co-operate in puzzle trails and mystery solving. ARGs take place in a unique mixture of online and real-world play that usually does not involve a persistent world, and are not necessarily multiplayer, making them different from MMOGs.
Considered by some to be an MMORPG, Castle Infinity was the first MMOG developed for children. Its gameplay, however, is somewhere between puzzle and adventure, making it more like a massively multiplayer platformer than an MMORPG.
"Quick fix" MMOGs, such as Racing Frogs are MMOGs that can be played with only a small amount of time every day.
MMOPGs, or massively multiplayer puzzle games, are games based entirely on puzzle elements. It is usually set in a world where the players can access the puzzles around the world. Most games that are MMOPGs are hybrids with other genres.
There are also massively multiplayer collectible card games: Magic: The Gathering Online, Alteil, Astral Masters and Astral Tournament. Other MMOCCGs might exist (Neopets has some CCG elements) but are not as well known.
Some recent attempts to build peer-to-peer (P2P) MMOGs have been made. Outback Online may be the first commercial one, however, so far most of the efforts have been academic studies. A P2P MMOG may potentially be more scalable and cheaper to build, but notable issues with P2P MMOGs include security and consistency control, which can be difficult to address given that clients are easily hacked.
British online gamers are outspending their European counterparts according to a recently released study commissioned by Gamesindustry.com and TNS. The UK MMO-market is now worth £195 million in 2009 compared to the £165 million and £145 million spent by German and French online gamers.
The US gamers are still no 1, however, spending about $3.8 billion dollars overall on MMO games. $1.8 billion of that money is spent on monthly subscription fees. The money spent averages out to $15.10 between both subscription and free-to-play MMO gamers. The study also found that 46% of 46 mil players in the US pays real money to play MMO games.
Today’s Gamers MMO Focus Report, published in March 2010, was commissioned by TNS and gamesindustry.com. A similar study for the UK market-only (UK National Gamers Survey Report) was released in February 2010 by the same groups.
Massively multiplayer online first-person shooter (MMOFPS) is a sub-category of the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) video game genre, which combines first-person shooter-style gameplay with the game design elements that typify the MMOG genre; namely, a persistent world populated by a large number of concurrent players, and in-depth player character progression mechanics. Whereas most MMOGs typically feature relatively slow-paced, "turn-based" combat, an MMOFPS requires a high degree of hand-eye coordination and twitch-based skills.
MMOFPS development is dilatory due to the many variables involved with the genre. Compromising balance between financial support, bandwidth and the demanding framerates needed by the genre cap off developmental progress, particularly with independent developers.
PlanetSide is a purely PvP MMOFPS published by Sony Online Entertainment and released on May 20, 2003. It offers a constantly-moving player-driven world which offers up to 300 v 300 v 300 on any given area. In addition to being an infantry FPS, there is vehicular and aerial combat tied into the gameplay.
World War II Online is a massively multi-player simulation or virtual battlefield with land, air, and sea units in a true combined arms environment. It was released on June 6, 2001. The game's developers manage to release one or two new units every year.
Darkfall is a fantasy-themed MMORPG/MMOFPS hybrid that was released on February 26, 2009. Whilst Darkfall does use a tightly-constrained third-person view for melee combat, the vast majority of the gameplay is performed in first-person and features fast, twitch-based combat in which all melee, archery and magic attacks are aimed.
Hellgate: London is a dark fantasy and modern-themed RPG. There are traditional singleplayer modes, along with a massively multiplayer mode. It held similar gameplay to the Diablo franchise, due to the fact many of its developers worked on Diablo. Servers for this game have been shutdown, and support ceased.
The Agency is a MMOFPS being developed and published by Sony Online Entertainment. Sony has stated that it will feature twitch-style FPS gameplay, while retaining aspects of several MMORPGs like instanced content, character classes, and loot. The Agency features a system of collectable "Operatives", NPCs who will assist the character and can perform missions. Operatives can be leveled up, traded and captured on missions.
Massive Action Game is an army simulation game developed by Zipper Interactive, announced at the 2008 E3 trade show. Little is known except that 256 players can fight on one map. The game is exclusive for the Playstation 3.
Endless Ages is a MMOFPS being developed and published by Digital Motion Entertainment (DBA DME-Games). Endless Ages features aspects of first-person shooters with those of MMORPGs, such as character classes, questing, raids, player-owned housing, an auction system-based economy and a player-versus-player system. The game also features an arena combat system and a clan war system that allows clans or guilds to take over arenas and forts.
Huxley is an MMOFPS being developed by Webzen Games Inc and is being released in 2009 for Windows and with the Xbox 360 version following approx. six months later. It uses the Unreal Engine 3 game engine and battles will be able to support up to 150 players on each side during an instanced "Battlezone".
Fallen Earth is a science fiction MMORPG/MMOFPS in development by Fallen Earth, LLC, It is set in the 22nd century in a post-apocalyptic world. It is combining elements of a First Person Shooter with Role Playing game in a massively multiplayer environment with a 7000 square kilometer area to explore. Closed Beta Testing began February 4 2009 with expected release sometime in Q2 2009
Earthrise is a forthcoming science fiction MMORPG. The game is based on a clash between two opposing factions in a post-apocalyptic setting. It will feature a skill-based advancement system, a player-driven economy and emphasis on PvP. Combat will be a mix between FPS and traditional MMORPG combat systems.
Global Agenda is a MMOFPS/MMORPG with a community controlled world. It uses the unreal engine and twitch style game play. It allows teams (or guilds) to build and take over cities, as well as research technology. Players may upgrade their character as their combat experience increases.
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