The MMO Label — What’s In A Name?

The last couple of years in the MMO industry have been interesting, to say the least. As gaming in general has become more mainstream, online integration has greatly increased in availability and significance in modern media. With the success of games on various social networks such as Facebook, more and more companies are looking at the MMO market as the next logical step; and where attention goes, money usually follows.

While there are certainly positive aspects to this process, one of the downsides is that a number of announced titles seem to have the MMO label slapped on simply for the sake of it. Some of the newer games under this heading are arguably successful in their attempt to differ from the traditional notion of MMOs and the way we view them today. Others, however, seem to use the concept of persistence as a gimmick and never really deliver on the MMO front while still attempting to charge customers the same price of admission as other, more established games in the genre.

What essentially looks like developers pigeonholing themselves into a sub-genre their game isn’t a typical example of actually makes sense from a business point of view. Under the MMO heading, a title may become a much more profitable undertaking and attract more interest from investors. The company then has opportunities to not only charge its customers for a copy of the product but also find additional ways to monetize it. It is also a smart move from a marketing point of view — adding an MMO label to a game has the potential to attract a new market and benefit from customers who might not have been interested otherwise, as well as give the title a way to differentiate itself from primary competitors (i.e. it’s not just another action game).

It is also a worrying sign of the latest trend in the making; one that the gaming community has been feeling the undercurrents of for quite some time. The traditional view that the online component in videogames should be an optional feature is slowly eroding away and being replaced by the attitude that sees this as giving away too much value for free.  Instead of creating a solid core single player experience with an optional multiplayer element, some companies now aim to just work on the multiplayer and charge you for it. Several years ago, these features would have been expected for free but now that the package is coming under the MMO label, it’s as if there is an excuse to overcharge customers and not provide enough value for the cash.

As Realtime Worlds learned with their foray into MMOs, players aren’t stupid and will not overlook flaws in a game just because it comes under a different heading. They will avoid paying for a product that provides sufficiently less content while charging similar prices to games that do, and arguably, supply more entertainment. The truth is that gamers will play and pay for these games, provided that the MMO part is well designed and meaningful to the player experience. Perhaps, instead of attempting to challenge the view of MMOs we have today, these companies could benefit from looking deeper into what it means to create a Massive Multiplayer Online Game and the aspects accompanying it.