What is a MMORPG?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 | 10

MMORPG, or Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game is a term coined by fabled game legend and psychopath Richard "Lord British" Garriott. Originally it was used to refer to the fleeting jewel Ultima Online where every player in the world simultaneously interacted on a massive unprecedented scale. While not the most 'massive' MMORPG, Ultima Online certainly did define the genre.

It's hard to define 'Massive'.

I've recently been shouting violently at my monitor when multi-player games claim 'MMO' status. Rather than acknowledge that the definition is flexible, I've instead embraced my hubris to engage and educate everyone on what exactly makes a game qualify as a 'MMORPG' or a 'MMO' for that matter.

First of all, MMOness is on a curve. It isn't exactly binary, so while certain games, like Guild Wars 2, may claim to be massively multi-player, they're certainly less massive than games like Darkfall, EVE, or even World of Warcraft. This is because of an evil concept known as instancing.

What is an instance?

The MMORPG definition of an instance is characterized by a restriction on the number of players that exist within a zone, within a server. The fewer players you're able to theoretically interact with in an instance helps to dictate how 'massive' the multiplayer can be considered.

Often, instances are used to provide 'safe' content devoid of real social interaction. This type of feature is commonly referred to as a theme-park, as it leads you through content in a controlled restricted environment. Actual MMORPGs use the sandbox (non-shitty) alternative of enabling additional open-world player interaction.

What is the minimum?

Excellent question, self! I would define the minimum with the purely circumstantial method of examining things we know aren't massive, like first person shooters, and defining that more than the accepted server maximum (64 or 128) players must be able to interact with each-other.

Right away, you can disqualify several games, but not Ultima Online(1997) where 128 people could realistically encounter each other at one time. Now think about some games that that has never, and couldn't ever happen.

Not Massive:

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Zones in SWTOR are all instanced for a maximum capacity lower than the capacity of Battlefield 2(128), so at best, you're playing a largely multi-player game.

Guild Wars 2

Same old song and dance here. If you enter a zone where too many people are having fun, you have to be placed into a lower populated instance where you experience a mildly large multiplayer experience.

The War Z

Someone called The War Z a MMORPG/Survival hybrid. This may be true in the respect that it doesn't qualify for either label.

All Free to Play Games

There isn't (to my knowledge) a F2P game that qualifies for these very basic parameters, but I could be wrong as I avoid that bait/switch type of Ponzi game like the plague. The reason why they're always small-scale instanced is because of the nature of bandwidth scaling. The more players that experience each other exponentially multiply the bandwidth used. Bandwidth and servers cost money, so a monthly fee is usually required.

What games ARE massive?

Eve Online

Eve Online, if you can actually call it a game (I haven't defined that yet), is far more massive that any other MMORPG. Every player is on the same giant server, and they can all spoon together, or whatever EVE players do...

Darkfall Online (Sort of)

The stipulation with Darkfall Online is that the game should by design be massive, but the dwindling post DF2.0 announcement group doesn't exactly constitute a massive amount of players. A for effort, Tasos.

Ultima Online, and popular Ultima Online free shards

Yes, even the free, privately hosted Ultima Online shards are more massive than a premium Star Wars title with a gigantic budget. Why is this happening!?


At best, the label of MMORPG is shameless pandering to jump on board the MMO money printing machine, but at worst it is usually a pure fabrication by publishers in order to exploit consumers' willingness to pay a monthly fee for a primarily single-player, and occasionally multi-player experience.

They all suck anyway.


  1. Fallen Earth. Ftp. Single shard. Very very very few instances

  2. Good catch Mac, although It's my understanding that the population isn't exactly staggering. The Freemium model seems to support more people, and bandwidth is really only getting cheaper. That's why I'm so concerned about all the steps backwards.

  3. The MMORPG is dead been dead for about 13 years now. We remember and mourn the passing of the potential of something more then just a game.

  4. Salem is a real mmorpg.

  5. True about Salem. I don't think it's "fun" enough to really be as massive as it could/should be. It's nice to see people try something different.

  6. Ultima Online beta was where it was at.

  7. UO beta was more of a MMORPG than 99.9% of games on mmorpg.com

  8. You forgot Lineage 2 in the MASSIVE list.


  9. When you say instanced, you mean differents channel ?
    What do you call a sandbox ? >not Eng.


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