In which it is claimed that every game is now an MMO

Ryan Seabury, the lead developer on LEGO Universe, has posted an open letter in Kotaku explaining why he’s getting out of the MMO game.

Scott Jennings posts a critique in which (as I do below) he shudders at the phrasing and eyerolls at the hype but generally agrees with the drift.

Nouning our verbs

Unfortunately, Ryan loses the internet by actually using the phrase “leveraging our synergies” in a non-ironic way (or something that’s close enough to it for government work.)

So we came together <…> with a new mission <…>  while leveraging all the expertise we’ve learned in a decade

First of all, stop lamenting. (The first four letters of lament are L A M E.)

Must be a nightmare working with this guy if he actually talks like that all the time.

Anyhow, the argument boils down to, “Why spend 5 years working on a large and complex product of uncertain appeal to a demanding audience when you could just crank a little social game out in a couple of months that will turn a profit?”

Lots of engineers go through this phase. Large commercial organisations tend to have you working on old and complex pieces of code. There will be sections that no one understands because the original developer was an unsung genius who left three years ago and didn’t comment their code. There will be bits that desperately need to be refactored but no one will authorise the time and effort required because they’re (sort of) working. It is in many ways more rewarding to join a new startup and get in on the design work from the ground level, and hopefully see people using a product you worked on in a matter of months.

So the games industry isn’t unique in this aspect. I thought it was interesting that I’m not sure if he’s writing as an engineer (why won’t people use my stuff sooner?!) or as a businessman (where’s my return on investment?!) but the general drive is similar.

Every game is now an MMO

Another comment he made is about the ubiquity of social networking in games:

I simply realized there actually hadn’t been an “MMO game” to get out of for at least two, three years. It’s no longer a meaningful label. Point at any significant entertainment experience trending today, you won’t be able to find one without some kind of social feature layers and persistent aspects. No one cares if something is “single player” or “multi player” or “massively multiplayer” anymore.

There is some truth in this. Not that every game is now an MMO, but that a lot of the social experiences that were once unique to MUDs (and their MMO descendents) really are more ubiquitous now.

Players who were drawn to MMOs because of the interaction with other people in real time (there’s a reason Everquest used to be referred to as a chat room with a game attached)  can now chat on twitter or facebook instead and play something else.

Lots of brands are trying to generate their own social networks, from gaming companies like Blizzard and Bioware to offline ventures such as Toyota and HBO. And that’s not even counting the millions of bulletin boards, blogs, mailing lists, and other ways for people to share information about what they are doing.

I’ve also written before about how I find myself more likely to play even single player games more socially, with all the benefits (yay sharing!) and minuses (boo, competitive pressure) that entails.

But I still think that MMOs have a unique appeal in their virtual worlds. It’s just that the next phase of MMOs seem to be moving further and further away from this in a quest for some kind of bizarro gaming singularity in which all games will be multi-player actioners with lobbies and competitive as well as co-operative modes. They’ll probably also feature bald space marines with BFGs and semi naked female NPCs.

It’s the future, baby. 1-click rapidly churned out social games or mega-shooters that may or may not take 5 years to produce.

Meanwhile, my project for the next week (when I have time) is to spend some more time with Terraria and try to figure out how to actually put a door in a house, and hopefully some more guild PvP shenanigans in Rift. Because that future? It’s not actually here yet …

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5 thoughts on “In which it is claimed that every game is now an MMO

  1. Too many video game companies are using the terminology of MMO’s to market their games. They are playing fast and loose with the truth in an effort to secure funding and to promote their games to potential players.

    I’m working on an upcoming article that shows how Blizzard did this as well.

    The truth is if you can convince people they are somehow playing a MMO then are more likely to be to fool them into paying a monthly fee.

    • Ignoring the jibe at Blizzard, I’m leaning more towards this as well.

      Most MMORPG PR departments are, obviously, quite bad when it boils down to it, since by and large they fail to sell a product’s real strengths; instead, they either lie outright (Rift being next-gen is the most recent example that springs to mind) or throw out some generic psuedo-buzzwords to try and generate hype. I find developers themselves are far better at PR than their own company’s marketing departments, since they actually talk about what the product is, rather than what some moron with a degree in corporate advertising thinks it should be.

      Of course, were this any other industry, the press would devour their bullshit wholesale and deliver an actual verdict based on, at the very least, a justified opinion.

      This doesn’t happen in the gaming and, specifically, MMO industries. While I think the companies themselves are obviously at fault for using the word “MMO” in reference to a lobby-based shooter (World of Tanks, for instance) what passes for journalism should also take the blame. I’m looking particularly at Massively and MMORPG.com in the web-world, and PCGamer for both print and web: they don’t refute these claims. They don’t do any intelligent analysis that I expect from paid writers of any substance. They’re like tabloids: useful for picking up the gist of the news and getting sensationalist headlines pumped into you, but if you want anything actually intelligent and responsive you’ll be looking elsewhere.

      Sure, they’re lighthearted, hold the occasional giveaway and do some fun stuff, but what’s the price for that? Gaming media is entirely enthralled by and subject to a publisher’s every whim.

      Alas, I don’t see it changing any time soon, but it is what it is: populist, paper-thin journalism for the masses.

  2. I catch myself constantly erasing ‘MMO’ for ‘MMORPG’ and vice versa these days, because indeed it feels harder and harder to explain ‘which’ type of game you actually speak of. I find it more important to highlight the ‘RPG’ part now when I speak of the classics, MMO has become such a widely used (and misused) term that basically holds the sum of all expectations towards ‘online games’… We really do need a new terminology!
    It is also rather telling on what’s currently happening, I guess the classic MMORPG is doomed to disappear forever?

    P.S.: I absolutely hate the term “leveraging”; hear it at work every day and nothing good comes of it, ever. Hate hate hate!

  3. Leverage is a financial term, referring to taking out loans to bulk up the funds available to a business – you leverage your savings with a mortgage to buy a house. Given that over-use of ‘leveraging’ got the economy into the current mess, anyone using it as a positive term is automatically suspect in my book!

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