Is Diablo an MMO?

I’d like to take a look at the past for a moment here. There are a lot of rumors of a Diablo 3 being announced soon, benefitting from the new and improved features coming to Battle.net with StarCraft 2. Details on those features have yet to surface, so all we have is conjecture. But what about the classic title, Diablo 2? Is it an MMO?

One of the primary features attributed to MMOs is persistance. The world in Diablo is not persistant, being recreated every time someone starts up a new instance of the game. But what of the characters? Looking at the Realm system in Diablo 2, which stores the characters on their servers, there’s an argument to be made for some persistance. Characters keep their equipment, experience, and place in the storyline across games. The way I see it, it’s as much of an MMO as Guild Wars. Guild Wars just moved everything into its graphical space, rather than having players meet up and form groups in an outside lobby.

And what of the lack of a persistent world? In Guild Wars, the world outside of the towns is reset everytime you leave, and in World of WarCraft, the world itself is only barely affected by player actions. So then the only thing separating Diablo 2 from these games is a persistent economy. Most MMOs have some sort of auction house or other player-affected trade system, whereas trading items in Diablo 2 is dependent on the chatroom lobby and a good deal of trust in the player with whom you’re doing business. In this regard, I think Diablo 2 could be seen as a simply a primitive society compared to the advanced community present in current MMOs.

Let me know your thoughts, and be sure to throw any D3 info my way. Like most, I’m really hoping that the rumors are true.

18 thoughts on “Is Diablo an MMO?”

  1. And you can thus open up the “Is Guild Wars and MMO?” discussion!

    Personally, I think the “massive” part of “MMO” needs to apply to more than just the waiting room/home town from which you venture. All instance means no massive, so I feel the answer has to be “no” on both counts, and you can throw DDO onto that list as well.

    Not that I am down on any of those games. I just think they are a slightly different genre. Maybe just “MO” versus “MMO.”

  2. It’s on the continuum, for sure.

    I think character persistence is the important part, for DikuMUD descendents, at least. (Plus, you can buy Stones of Jordan on eBay; that’d satisfy the Terra Nova dudes.)

    There are things you can do with a persistent world that make your game stronger–but lots of games we classify as MMOs don’t do them either.

  3. I’m developing a game which explores this very issue. Persistent lobby, persistent accounts and characters, instanced 10-man-content scenarios. The gameplay isn’t massive. But it does provide more focused experiences with your friends. Don’t MMOs do this with instancing, or even grouping? For many people, they only play with friends or guilds, so does that mean they need the other 1000 people on their server? I know I try to avoid certain types of players.

    If my game sells 100,000 copies, does that make the community & lobby massive? What about a website which ranks players and displays their awards? Can MMO blogs and news sites cover such games, or are they limited to traditional persistent worlds – is there a playerbase who enjoys such middle ground?

    I guess I’m becoming disillusioned with the traditional model in a world where everything is going online or multiplayer.

    Final throughts – what about Puzzle Pirates, or Bang! Howdy?

  4. I like the Diku reference there Mike, because it goes to one of the elements that I think makes for the “massive” experience, which is the ability to run into other people in the game beyond the party with which you ventured out. That was very much part of the MUD experience.

    I think it is the whole “cast of thousands online at once,” some of whom you like, many of whom you hate, and most of whom you ignore, that make an MMO and MMO and give it the life that makes these games compelling. Even introverts like me who almost never play with anybody outside of a very small group of friends ends up in pick-up groups and situations where random strangers make all the difference in a evening’s play.

    Yes, many games make use of instancing to give a group a special, uninterrupted experience, but I think when the total adventure experience takes place solely in instance form, you lose the massive aspect and the chaos and excitement that it can bring.

    Not that I am down on instancing or even down on games like you describe Illuminarc. I just think that your game would be a different genre. A market for such a game? Undoubtedly! Will MMO blogs and what not be exclusionist? Probably not. I talk about Diablo 2 once in a while on my own blog and everybody seems to make an exception for GuildWars.

    There is plenty of room for a continuum of game flavors. I just think that when you define “MMO” you have to have a world where other people are adventuring in the same space.

  5. UT is not an MMO, and WoW is. If you know the difference (and we all do), then it’s easy to see what is and what isn’t. The problem is when we try to put a finger on what’s in the middle of all that. I’d be happy to call them hybrids and leave it at that.

    So, put me in the majority for this one. I hesitate to say Guild Wars is an MMO – as much as I’m enjoying it lately – because of how it fractions the world. Lobbies or pockets of shared space do not an MMO proper make. That’s a big one for me. I like to know that my shared space with other players is the whole game world, not just a fraction of it. I believe the more you zone a world with instances, the more you break its continuity and the more you dilute that shared space.

    Now, what I do with that shared space is irrelevant. It doesn’t mater if I solo it all the way to level cap, or if I avoid 95% of the other players because they’re idiots(tm). I like to know that shared space is there, and is unbroken. That and character persistence are probably the biggest two elements that make an MMO proper in my view. Not that I have anything against lobbies as a design element, but I do feel the fractioning of the world there.

    Or if you wanna think it in another way, I think instances are fine as long as they make up a minority of the explorable/sharable space in the game world. When it’s the other way around, when instances make up the majority of that space, that’s when the world starts feeling more artificial to me.

  6. Not a MMO in the true sense that it gives you the oppurtunity to experience them the way they are today, but it is a massively multiplayer online game. However I don’t think it qualifies to be listed as part of a raiding guild application as an answer to the question

    “What is your past MMO experience?”

    I have seen some people list Diablo II, which always makes me laugh. Somehow I dont think that is what raid leaders in raiding guilds are talking about when they list that question. It is a arcade game that can be played with a lot of people. It is not a serious MMO that teaches the skills that raid leaders are looking for when they ask you to list previous online gaming experience :)

  7. You know, I frequently complain about the sad and sorry state of MMORPG design and I tend to liken everything to “nothing more than Diablo with a slapped on networking component letting thousands instead of tens of players interact”.

    I feel like I should also point out a comment elsewhere where someone said that CRPGs weren’t worth playing because they were just like MMORPGs but only single player”….more like MMORPGs suck because they are just like CRPGs. I begin to wonder if game designers really even understand the internet and grok the potential it offers.

    Anyway, a Diablo MMORPG is in the works? Sigh, I don’t even begin to know where to start on this one. You would think that with the huge ass bank account that Blizzard has they would attempt to try something original for a change instead of relying on old ass content a decade old. Then again, I guess it would be a cold day in Diablo’s hell if they did.

  8. I actually addressed this in passing a couple days ago. I’d say no, it’s not one.

    When most people mention MMO games, they’re thinking of MMORPGs. I wouldn’t call Diablo 2 an MMORPG, because it wasn’t designed to make the avatar much more than just a distant instrument of power. It has as much chatting and grouping as EQ or WoW, but players don’t define their avatars in the same ways and don’t connect on the same roleplay level with those avatars. Hence, the online gameworld feels less like a virtual society than an online society; more between players than characters. It’s certainly an RPG, but not in the same sense as 1st-person MMORPGs. Like Mike, I think these definitions exist in a continuum, or maybe a web.

    I’m not inclined to call it an MMO either, because no more than a handful of players ever interact with each other outside the chatrooms. Only a few player-characters actually share a world. You might as well refer to forums as MMOs.

    By the way, I’m an English graduate. I know, technically, I should write “a” MMO instead of “an” MMOG. But when you say it out loud, “an” is more natural. The rules of academia can burn, as far as I’m concerned, when they don’t make good sense. =)

  9. Colloquially, it’s usually read the way it’s spoken, and academia must allow for such things as much as it allows for back-formation and verbification (no matter how much such things bug English graduates).

  10. My definition of an MMO is any game where strangers will try to sell you gold and items for real life cash. By that definition, Diablo 2 is an MMO.

    When wondering if a game is or is not an MMO, I look to the gold farmers.

  11. QVC in an MMO! My mother is a gamer!

    I have often wondered about the apparently thriving RMT black market for Diablo 2. I suppose it is a sign of success, but still.

  12. QVC isn’t an MMO, but it could be. Let’s say you could only buy QVC stuff with QVC Bucks. And you earned QVC Bucks by waiting for a special logo to appear on the screen. If you called a certain number within 30 seconds, you would receive one QVC Buck. Get enough and you can buy something from QVC.

    You see in the newspaper someone selling QVC Bucks for cash. QVC has now, by Tipa’s First Rule of MMO Categorization, become an MMO.

    The other way you can tell if something is an MMO is if it’s isomorphic with an MMO.

    Sure, shopping may seem like a funny idea for an MMO. But the MMO world is being pretty constrained by having to be similar to old MUDs. Future MUD-derived MMOs risk just being parodies of MMOs, a line Vanguard is edging. (“Your game has ten races? We have fifty! Your game has six classes? We have ninety-two! Your game world is the size of Rhode Island? Ours is the size of Canada and Greenland put together! Your game runs on an old Pentium 2? Ours takes a Cray! Our mountains are twice as high and our oceans twice as deep! So there! Our game crushes your puny game!”)

  13. It’s weird. A lot of the value that I get out of WoW is that my character is permanent and exists somewhere outside of my computer’s hard drive. If something rare drops and I pick it up, I can give it to a friend or wear it to show off to other people; as I accumulate levels there’s a server somewhere that tracks my progress relative to other people. And those other people are around should I choose to play with them, even if I really only play with my friends.

    All this is in Diablo 2. I’ll admit that not having non-instanced areas is a big drawback. Aaron’s point about character identification is valid–Diablo had no personalization past character name–but plenty of mainstream MMOs encourage you to treat your dude as a playing piece instead of a little you.

    Is it worth noting that multiplayer play in D2 wasn’t very good? There wasn’t much synergy between characters, and no enemies that actually required cooperation to defeat. It was common to get a bunch of people in the world so enemies would be tougher and give more XP, but you’d all play in different places to not step on each other’s toes. It could be that this experience–playing solo in the same game as inarticulate strangers–causes me to think D2 is more MMOey than most people do. :)

  14. I think to really answer the question, you need to look at how Diablo would be pitched and marketed as a product. Would you pitch it as a MMO? I don’t think so. It has MMO elements, but the sum of its parts doesn’t make an MMO.

    The big thing that keeps Diablo from being a MMO in the classic sense of the term is not just its lack of persistence, but also the lack of a persistent community within a single instance (shard/realm/server) of the world. The lobby is somewhat persistent, but it isn’t tied so much to your avatar as to your account.

    Diablo also lacks a virtual geography. You aren’t so much in the world of Diablo as you are in tightly controlled enclaves of the world. Furthermore, those settings change their layout every time you play.

  15. EQ1 had the Lost Dungeons of Norrath, which changed every time you played (well, actually, they selected from a few). If someone just played by hanging out in the North Ro Wayfarer camp, grabbing a group, and doing LDoNs over and over — as many people did — were they playing an MMO?

    D2 had persistent characters, levels, loot, group and solo play, quests and all that — and it even had a community. About the only thing it doesn’t have is the ability to customize your own avatar — and if we choose that as the tipping point, than WoW and EQ1 are just barely MMOs (and CoX becomes the most MMO-ish game ever!)

    All characters look pretty much alike in their armor. You recognize someone by the name hanging over their head. Diablo 2 has that.

    D2 is an MMO.

  16. EQ1 had the Lost Dungeons of Norrath, which changed every time you played (well, actually, they selected from a few). If someone just played by hanging out in the North Ro Wayfarer camp, grabbing a group, and doing LDoNs over and over — as many people did — were they playing an MMO?

    You’re shifting the reality of the game to the player’s perspective, rather than the reality of the world as it’s been designed. The fact that (in your example) you’re not availing yourself of the rest of the world doesn’t mean it ceases to exist as a MMO. If I’m playing cards in chat with my group mates, EQ doesn’t become a card game. My personal experience is that EQ–for the moment, and for a limited scope–facilitates a card game, but it’s a localized experience. Meanwhile the rest of the world continues to exist as designed.

    I think what really squashes the idea of Diablo being an MMO is the first “M”–Massive. You can only have, what?, 8 players in any given Diablo instance? (it’s been a long time, I forget) That’s not massive by any definition. Yes you can have a ton of players in the lobby, but the lobby isn’t the game. The lobby is chat. It’s completely disconnected from the actual game. The fact that you can play Diablo as a single-player game with no online connectivity attests to the lobby’s small importance to the actual game.

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