Massive(ly) Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games or MMORPGs are virtual persistent worlds located on the Internet in which players interact with each other through cybernetic avatars, that is, graphical representations of the characters they play.

MMORPGs are computer games that trace their roots to non-graphical online MUD games, to text-based computer games such as Adventure and Zork, and to pen and paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

Most MMORPGs run several identical copies of the virtual world, called "shards" or "servers", that the player can choose from. They strive to allow the player to shape their own experience by providing multiple (or customizable) avatars that the player can use. Once a player enters the world, they can engage in a variety of activities with other players who are accessing the game the same way from all over Earth. MMORPG developers are in charge of supervising the virtual world and offering the users a constantly updated set of new activities and enhancements to guarantee the interest of players.

Most MMORPGs are commercial in that a user must pay money for the client software and/or a monthly fee, in order to continually access the virtual world. Still, some totally free-of-charge MMORPGs may be found on the Internet, although their quality is generally lower compared to commercial MMORPGs. Some of the most popular commercial MMORPGs are Ultima Online (1997), EverQuest (1999), Asheron's Call (1999), Anarchy Online (2001), Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings (2002) and Star Wars Galaxies (2003). Of all MMORPGs, Lineage has the most subscribers and is the most popular in Korea. There are also several projects in development to create high-quality free MMORPGs, such as PlaneShift, or a free game engine for MMORPGs, such as Arianne. See list of MMORPGs for more.

Table of contents
1 Academic attention
2 Browser-based MMORPGs
3 Genre challenges
4 Related topics
5 External links

Academic attention

MMORPGs have begun to attract significant academic attention, for example in economics. With the growing popularity of the genre, a growing number of psychologists and sociologists study the actions and interactions of the players in such games. One of the more famous of these researchers is Sherry Turkle.

Browser-based MMORPGs

A sub-genre of MMORPGs are largely text-based and played in a browser. Browser-based MMORPGs are usually simpler games than their graphical counterparts, typically involving turn-based play and simple strategies of "build a large army, then attack other players for gold", though there are many interesting variations on the popular theme to be found.

One of the earliest examples of a browser-based MMORPG is Archmage (now defunct), which dates back to early 1999. A currently extremely popular browser-based MMORPG, with players numbering in the hundreds of thousands, is Kings of Chaos. Kings of Chaos' popularity is primarily fueled by a reciprocal link clicking system where users give each other more soldiers by clicking on their friends' unique links, taking advantage of the Small_World_Phenomenon to spread word of the game across the world.

Genre challenges

Most MMORPGs require significant development resources to overcome the logistical hurdles associated with such a large production. These games demand large worlds, significant hardware requirements from the developer (e.g., servers and bandwidth), and dedicated support staff. Despite the efforts of developers cognizant of these issues, reviewers often cite non-optimal populations (such as overcrowding or under-populated worlds), lag, and poor support as problems of games in this genre.

In addition to the challenges faced in making an MMORPG, designers also must face problems largely unique to the genre:

  • It is impossible for one player to realistically affect the overall state of the world. In a normal RPG, the player or party is the hero and single-handedly saves the world. In an MMORPG, every player can't save the world.
  • Inflation. In many MMORPGs, the economy becomes imbalanced over time and can reduce meaningful interaction between players of varying level (i.e., newbies versus more powerful players). This is primarily due to the gradual accumulation of wealth and power within the RPG. Some RPGs have addressed this with varying degrees of success. Asheron's Call for example uses a guild system where lower level characters swear allegiance to higher level players, and generate additional experience points for them. The theory being that it is in the interest of higher level players to assist the lower players and thus increase the reward they receive. Ultima Online has items wear out gradually, so that there is a constant demand for crafting resources, which new characters can acquire and sell to the higher level characters. Diablo 2, while not a MMORPG, has similar problems in Softcore but not in Hardcore play where death is permanent. This is due to the constant recycling of players, creating an active market for all levels of equipment.
  • Bots. In many MMORPGs, you can set up scriptss (also known as bots or macros) to play the game, performing a simple task over and over again, and reap huge rewards. This lets you build up a powerful character just by letting your computer run unattended. This flaw is built into almost the very essence of a RPG "leveling", that your character becomes more powerful primarily by repeatedly performing actions. These macros are forbidden in many of these games, and developers are now fighting back by working on automation detection systems. One common tactic is to implement 'nerfs'. These are easier to implement than actual anti-automation code and are thus favored by developers. Their effectiveness is dubious, however, in that they effect legitimate players and botters alike.
  • Player Killing (PKing). In a more realistic world, players should be able to kill anything, even other players. However, this is very discouraging to new players, who are slaughtered by experienced player killers.
  • Time Commitment. A character's power usually represents how much time is invested in playing, rather than skill. Again this is due to the "leveling" aspect of the game. Being killed is discouraging for casual players, who are interested in 1-3 hours a week without dedicating their entire life to the game. This also leads to the problem that powerful characters and items being sold on eBay.
  • Pay to play, Pay even more to win. Due to the problems just mentioned, one can receive a great advantage in game by buying another persons' already powerful character. It is also possible to buy memberships or special items such as those offered by games such as Runescape and Elysaria. Project Entropia takes this incentive a step further, allowing players to convert real-world currency to in-game "Project Entropia Dollars", which can then be spent on better equipment, and even houses, for their character. (Houses have been auctioned for hundreds of US dollars).
  • Rude Players. There also is a problem of rudeness by other players. Some MMORPGs discipline nasty players (termed "griefers") by ensuring that responsible administrators or support personnel are online at all times.
  • Scamming. Scamming can also be a problem in many of these games, as players try to break the rules to further enhance their characters. Typically this occurs by manipulating bugs in the game code or by taking advantage of new players' lack of familiarity with the details of game mechanics.
  • Uberguilds. Sometimes, the most powerful characters on a server form a single, influential association popularly called an uberguild (after appearing in EverQuest). These groups can use their influence to affect gameplay, for example by "owning" areas of the world or by controlling the market for certain items. Such forces discourage non-hardcore players.

Related topics

External links