(Warning, late night rant)
I have so many pet peeves about the game industry I should probably start selling a few. Buy a “Peeve™” now for only $19.95. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m going to stick a “Peeve™” in the next RPG I work on and make it one of the most irritating mobs ever. Just watch me.
In our happy little game industry, evil and radical elements have been striving for years for our downfall. Of course this sort of thing is a constant element in politics, education, and the youthful culture of today. The weapons of choice of these dastardly agents of destruction include obfuscation, misdirection, redefinition, outright lying (the word “leading” in front of “developer” or “game” is used so much my eyes bleed when I see it), and of course “baffling with bullshit” and “dazzling with drama”. The one I want to address today is redefinition.
Redefinition, in this context, is either applying a term to something (incorrectly) so many times that its meaning eventually changes in colloquial speech or simply eschewing what a word means and redefining it for our own devious or illiterate purposes. The same applies for acronyms that are used as words.
For example, MMORPG is an acronym for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. I emphasize “Role-Playing Game”. Yet it the term has experienced a subtle shift in usage to apply to just about any online game that isn’t exclusively single player. Even worse, half of the games that are branded as MMORPGs don’t even have role-playing as a key gameplay feature or element. Why does this occur?
There are many reasons, but one of the big ones is rather ironic. We mislabel things when we try to describe them to someone else, and we simply don’t have the words to do so, or we fear that if we accurately describe it, the person we are talking to will completely misinterpret and misunderstand and “not get it”. For example, how many times have you heard someone call Second Life a game, or even worse, “a MMORPG like World of Warcraft”? It is clearly a virtual world, and most certainly *not* a game, but to the general non-gaming public (more irony), they don’t understand the difference and they probably know someone that plays World of Warcraft. So, some people (notoriously news anchors, columnists, and analysts who have a hard time with facts to start with) simply take the easy route and muddy the waters in an attempt to be clear and succinct.
So, what the hell is an MMORPG? What should it be? What other terms should we add to our vocabulary to help us describe things?
A MMORPG should be defined as an online game where thousands of people can simultaneously interact in the same shared environment where role-playing is a key element of the experience, and interaction with other players and the virtual world itself is based on gameplay rules and mechanics.
As I’ve said before, ALL MMORPGs are virtual worlds, but not all virtual worlds are MMORPGs. The word “persistence” used to be used when describing a MMORPG or virtual world, but that isn’t so much of a solid indicator anymore. Persistence or “persistent world” meant that:
1) when you log out, the game/world sticks around and doesn’t reset and
2) if you moved something, it was still moved when you returned…unless someone else logged in moved it.
All MMORPGs and Virtual Worlds meet the first case, but very few these days meet the second. The reason for this is mostly due to technical limitations…can you imagine if every item you ever dropped when your character’s inventory was full actually stayed around in the game unless someone else picked it up? Crikey, there would be trash everywhere.
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself here. Back to my definitions.
MOG: Multiplayer Online Game. Any online game with two or more players at the same time, but not Massively. This includes stuff like Chess, Neopets, Quake, Unreal Tournament, and a billion other titles.
MMOG: Same thing as MOG but with an extra M for Massively. This should mean that thousands of players are interacting in the same world/environment simultaneously. People that are on different *web pages* at the same site, or a game that has thousands of multiplayer games going at the same time do NOT count as massively multiplayer.
MMO: Massively Multiplayer Online. Commonly used as an abbreviation for MMORPG and doesn’t necessarily mean there are role-playing elements.
MMORPG: I already gave you a good definition for this one above. Use it.
Adding letters to the beginning of MMORPG, like “U” for Ultimate or something is pretty stupid in my opinion and nothing more than a cheap attempt by marketing to differentiate a title. If it is really ultimate, it will speak for itself.
It would be nice if everyone started adhering to my definitions and started using them regularly.
Another area where things have gotten a little muddled in our industry is in the title designations of who does what at a publisher. Let’s have a little survey shall we? What exactly does a producer do? How about a designer? A writer? Haha, that last one was a joke, when was the last time you saw a game developer or publisher hiring a writer. Weird huh?
The “producer” has responsibilities that change from one developer to another. As far as I can tell, it isn’t too uncommon for them to act as a project lead or even what we would all call a “game designer”. From my point of view, I’d define a producer as the guy that keeps everything and everyone on track and acts as a high level facilitator. I’m curious to see what the readers of this post are going to say about this one…
What about “designer” or “game designer”? Wow, this is the proverbial holy grail job in the industry. Most of you will be as shocked to learn (as I was) that these days, the “designer” is probably the guy doing level design (art job!) or maybe doing NPC scripting, writing flavor text for items and quests, and probably a reasonable amount of testing. Either that, or the designer is likely a programmer or producer that was given a concept and told to design a game around it. Of course, this changes from company to company, but my point is that the designer isn’t always the creative guy in the background that is actually designing the game. It is more than writing stories and coming up with cool gameplay ideas. If you want a job as a game designer, you better know your way around ALL aspects of game development, and get as much experience as you can.
But I digress…my ultimate point here is that our industry lacks a common glossary that we can all refer to. In some areas it is a cause for confusion, misunderstanding, and false perceptions, while in other areas it simply muddies the waters…publishers mean one thing, developers are thinking something entirely different, the marketing guys are on mars drinking too much vodka, and the users ultimately buy something that is nothing like what they were expecting for so many months while they were waiting for the game to launch.
Maybe it is time for our industry to stop “making” games and start “crafting” them. We keep saying that games are a form of art and should be treated the same as literature, cinema, theater, sculpture, and so forth…yet we lack some of the same basic standards and common language that other areas of art confidently boast.
One last point…our standards suck. Thousands of games are made every year (yes, thousands), and the grand majority of them simply suck. All together, we have a giant black hole trying to suck us all in. It is time to stop playing around (pardon the pun) and try to start making great games that, well…have worth. An impact on the player or on our culture. No, I don’t mean like pac man or pokemon, but a true impact. We must raise our standards (hiring better writers is a start), define our common language, and aim to provide memorable experiences for players.
What do you think?
~ Robert / Nicodemus
PS: If you know anyone that has the ability to manufacture mass quantities of plush “Peeve™” toys, have them email me.