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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 41,960 concurrent accounts logged on to the same server. The current record stands at 54,181 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.
Within a majority of the MMOGs 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 MMOGs 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 MMOGs 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. In December 2007, Jagex Ltd., in an successful effort to reduce real world trading levels enough so they could continue using credit cards for subscriptions, introduced highly controversial changes to its MMOG RuneScape to counter the negative effects gold sellers were having on the game on all levels.
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 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.
MMO role-playing gameEdit
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
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.
MMO real-time strategy gamesEdit
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.
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.