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A massively multiplayer online game (also called MMOG or simply 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 Xbox 360, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS and Wii can access the Internet and run MMO games.

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.

HistoryEdit

Main article: History of MMORPGs

The most popular type of MMO, 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, Dungeon on the PDP-10; and Devious MUD, which later turned into the successful game RuneScape. 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 1987.

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 MMO 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". Retrieved on 2008-01-08. concurrent accounts logged on to the same server.

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 mostly 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[1]. More recent developments are CipSoft's TibiaME and Biting Bit's MicroMonste 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.

Science fiction also referred to sci-fi, has also been a popular theme, featuring games such as Anarchy Online, Eve Online, Star Wars Galaxies and The Matrix Online.

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[2], and with 10-11 million monthly subscribers worldwide,[3] is the most popular Western title among MMOGs.

Virtual economiesEdit

Within a majority of the MMOs created, there is virtual currency where the player can earn and accumulate money. The uses for such virtual currency are numerous and vary from game to game. The virtual economies created within MMOs often blur the lines between real and virtual worlds. The result is often seen as an unwanted interaction between the real and virtual economies by the players and the provider of the virtual world. This practice (economy interaction) is mostly seen in this genre of games. The two seem to come hand in hand with even the earliest MMOGs such as Ultima Online having this kind of trade, real money for virtual things.

The importance of having a working virtual economy within an MMOG is increasing as they develop. A sign of this is CCP Games hiring the first real-life economist for its MMOG Eve Online to assist and analyze the virtual economy and production within this game.

The results of this interaction between the virtual economy, and our real economy, which is really the interaction between the company that created the game and the third-party companies that want to share in the profits and success of the game. This battle between companies is defended on both sides. The company originating the game and the intellectual property argue that this is in violation of the terms and agreements of the game as well as copyright violation since they own the rights to how the online currency is distributed and through what channels. The case that the third-party companies and their customers defend, is that they are selling and exchanging the time and effort put into the acquisition of the currency, not the digital information itself. They also express that the nature of many MMOs is that they require time commitments not available to everyone. As a result, without external acquisition of virtual currency, some players are severely limited to being able to experience certain aspects of the game.

The practice of acquiring large volumes of virtual currency for the purpose of selling to other individuals for tangible and real currency is called gold farming. Many players who have poured in all of their personal effort resent that there is this exchange between real and virtual economies since it devalues their own efforts. As a result, the term 'gold farmer' now has a very negative connotation within the games and their communities. This slander has unfortunately also extended itself to racial profiling and to in-game and forum insulting.

The reaction from many of the game companies varies. In games that are substantially less popular and have a small player base, the enforcement of the elimination of 'gold farming' appears less often. Companies in this situation most likely are concerned with their personal sales and subscription revenue over the development of their virtual economy, as they most likely have a higher priority to the games viability via adequate funding. Games with an enormous player base, and consequently much higher sales and subscription income, can take more drastic actions more often and in much larger volumes. Blizzard Entertainment and their wildly successful World of Warcraft are not afraid to publicly announce that tens of thousands of accounts have been banned due to violations regarding currency selling. This account banning could also serve as an economic gain for these large games, since it is highly likely that, due to demand, these 'gold farming' accounts will be recreated with freshly bought copies of the game.

Comparing MMOGs to other gamesEdit

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 continues playing regardless of whether or not anyone else is. Since these games strongly or exclusively emphasize multiplayer gameplay, few of them have any significant 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.

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 less 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 MMO) 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 overworld 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 41,000 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 ingame 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.

However, the boundaries between multiplayer online games and MMOGs are not always as clear or obvious. Neverwinter Nights (2002) and Diablo II are usually called online role-playing games, (RPGs) but are also sometimes incorrectly called MMORPGs (a type of MMOG).

Technical aspectEdit

It is challenging to develop the engines that are needed to run a successful MMO with millions of players. Game engines include Graphical, Physical and Network engines. Most developers have done their own, but attempts have been made to create middleware, software that would help game developers concentrate on their games more than technical aspects. An example of such an engine is the one from BigWorld, which recently signed a contract with Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment [4] to deliver the engine for their production of Stargate Worlds [5].

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 [6]. 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 amount of players playing the games. Since a typical server can handle around 10-12000 players, 4-5000 active simultaneously, dividing the game into shards (servers) has up till now been the solution. This approach has also helped with the latency issues (delays, hacking etc.) that many players experience due to limitations of the internet. Another difficulty, especially relevant to realtime simulation games, is time synchronization across hundreds or thousands of players. Games like Fighter Ace [7], Aces High [8] and Warbirds [9] must rely on time synchronization to drive their physics simulation as well as their scoring and damage detection.

TypesEdit

There are several types of massively multiplayer online games.

MMO Role-playing gameEdit

Main article: Massively multiplayer online role-playing game

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.

MMO First-person shooterEdit

Main article: Massively multiplayer online first-person shooter

Several MMO first-person shooters have been made. 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. The first MMOFPS, 10SIX (now known as Project Visitor) released in 2000. World War II Online, released in 2001, is often quoted with the same honour, because it more closely fits the traditional FPS mold with more features, and was more widely published. Another popular MMOFPS game is Sony Online Entertainment's PlanetSide. For building one's own MMOFPS, there are also now free MMOG game engines.

File:Shattered Galaxy screenshot.jpg
Shattered Galaxy has been one of the few MMORTS games.

MMO Real-time strategyEdit

Main article: Massively multiplayer online real-time strategy

Massively multiplayer online real-time strategy games, also known as MMORTS, are games that combine real-time strategy (RTS) with a persistent world. One of the most popular ones is Travian.

MMO Sports GameEdit

Electronic Arts will release, in September 2008, the very first attempt in the industry of launching a massively multiplayer online game with the latest of their EA Sports' NHL franchise, NHL 09. The game will include the EA Sports Hockey League in which each players will be invited to create their own customized character, even their own team, in order to compete for the very first EA Sports Hockey League Cup.

MMO RacingEdit

MMOR means Massively multiplayer online racing. Currently there are only a small number racing based MMOs, including Kart Rider, Upshift StrikeRacer, Test Drive Unlimited, Project Torque and Drift City. The Trackmania series comes close to being an MMOR. Although Darkwind: War on Wheels is more combat based than racing, it is also considered an MMOR.

MMO Rhythm gameEdit

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.

MMO Manager gameEdit

MMOMGs, or massively multiplayer online manager 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. One of the most popular MMOMGs is Hattrick. Other manager games require taking control of people such as Sims, or the widely acclaimed music managing game, Project Rockstar.

MMO Tycoon gameEdit

Massively multiplayer online tycoon game MMOTG. Online versions of tycoons games. Mainly, MMOTG's are browser based though there are two client based games, Starpeace and Industry Player.

MMO Social gameEdit

Massively Multiplayer Online Social Games, MMOSG 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 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 subgenre (non-combat-based MMORPG) include There, Dotsoul, and Furcadia. The PlayStation Home, when released, would also be a MMOSG of sorts.

MMO Virtual sex gameEdit

A Massively Multiplayer Online Virtual Sex Game (MMOVSG) is a MMOG, that supports simulation of virtual sexual intercourse between Player characters. All of these games belong categorical to one of the specific MMOG subtypes like MMORPG (MMO role-playing game) or MMOSG (MMO social game), the umbrella term MMOVSG summarizes games across MMOG subtypes that support sexuality. Some of these games even give primacy to some aspect of sex or sexuality.

For example:

Player characters interact with one another in a virtual world having cybersex. Sexual interactions vary from simple chat functionalities to realistic 3D sex environments supporting sex toys and Voice over IP.

Other acronym variants are Massively Multiplayer Online Erotic Game (MMOEG) and Adult Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (AMMORPG).

Real-world simulationsEdit

File:Memorial gathering-WW2 Online.jpg
World War II Online simulation game showing the high level of realism and numbers of players during a special event last June 2008. Some 400 people had spawned in for this gathering in this location in the game.

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.

OthersEdit

A large number of games categorize under MMOBBG (BBG meaning 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.

Most other MMOGs are apparently simulation games, such as Motor City Online, The Sims Online (though this is often called an MMORPG), and Jumpgate.

In April 2004, the United States Army announced that it is developing a massively multiplayer training simulation called AWE (Asymmetric Warfare Environment) that was expected to begin operation among soldiers by June. The purpose of AWE is to train soldiers for urban warfare and there are no plans for a public commercial release. Forterra Systems Inc. is developing it for the Army based on the There engine.[10]

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, 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 MMOGs have been made. Outback Online may be the first commercial one,[11] however, so far most of the efforts have been academic studies.[12] 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.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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