Massively multiplayer online game

Massively multiplayer online game

A massively multiplayer online game (also called MMO and MMOG) is a multiplayer video game which is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously. By necessity, they are played on the Internet, and usually 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 DS and Wii can access the Internet and may therefore run MMO games. Additionally, mobile devices and smartphones based on such operating systems as Android, iOS and Windows Phone are seeing an increase in the number 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.

Contents

History

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 multiplayer 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 41,690[1] concurrent accounts logged on to the same server. The current record stands at 60,453[2] achieved on 2010-06-06.

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.

The popularity of MMOGs was mostly restricted to the computer game market until the sixth-generation consoles, with the launch of Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast and the emergence and growth of online service Xbox Live. There have been a number of console MMOGs, including EverQuest Online Adventures (PlayStation 2), and the multiconsole Final Fantasy XI. On PCs, the MMOG market has always been dominated by successful fantasy MMORPGs.

MMOGs have only recently begun to break into the mobile phone market. The first, Samurai Romanesque set in feudal Japan, was released in 2001 on NTT DoCoMo's iMode network in Japan.[3] More recent developments are CipSoft's TibiaME and Biting Bit's MicroMonster which features online and bluetooth multiplayer gaming. SmartCell Technology is in development of Shadow of Legend, which will allow gamers to continue their game on their mobile device when away from their PC.

Science fiction has also been a popular theme, featuring games such as Mankind, Anarchy Online, Eve Online, Star Wars Galaxies and The Matrix Online.

MMOGs emerged from the hard-core gamer community to the mainstream strongly in December 2003 with an analysis in the Financial Times measuring the value of the virtual property in the then-largest MMOG, Everquest, to result in a per-capita GDP of 2,266 dollars which would have placed the virtual world of Everquest as the 77th wealthiest nation, on par with Croatia, Ecuador, Tunisia or Vietnam.

Happy Farm is the most popular MMOG with 228 million active users, and 23 million daily users (daily active users logging onto the game with a 24-hour period).[4]

World of Warcraft is currently a dominant MMOG in the world with more than 60% of the subscribing player base,[5] and with 11–12 million monthly subscribers worldwide,[6] is the most popular Western title among MMOGs. In 2008, Western consumer spending on World of Warcraft represented a 58% share of the subscription MMOG market.[7] The title has generated over $2.2 billion in cumulative consumer spending on subscriptions since 2005.[8]

Comparison to other games

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 60,000 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.

Technical aspect

It is challenging to develop the database 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.[9] 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 several servers has up until 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.

Game types

There are several types of massively multiplayer online games.

Role-Playing

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games, known as MMORPGs, are the most common type of MMOG. 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.

Bulletin Board Role-Playing Games

A large number of games categorize under MMOBBG, massively multiplayer online bulletin board game, can also be called MMOBBRPG. These particular type of games are primarily made up of text and descriptions, although images are often used to enhance the game.

First-person shooter

MMOFPS is an online gaming genre which features a persistent world and a large number of simultaneous players in a first-person shooter fashion.[10][11] 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.[citation needed] 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.[12]

Neocron is sometimes considered the first MMOFPS,[12][13] most consider it a hybrid of MMORPG and first-person shooter,[14][15] with the later PlanetSide Is the only true MMOFPS as it allows 399 players all to fight together on the same map. Some may consider Zipper's MAG an MMOFPS as it allows up to 256 players to fight together on the same map.[16]

Real-time strategy

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 offline.

Turn-based strategy

Steve Jackson Games' UltraCorps is an example of a MMO turn-based strategy game.[17] Hundreds of players share the same playing field of conquest. In a "mega" game, each turn fleets are built and launched to expand one's personal empire. Turns are usually time-based, with a "tick" schedule usually daily. All orders are processed, and battles resolved, at the same time during the tick. Similarly, in Darkwind: War on Wheels, vehicle driving and combat orders are submitted simultaneously by all players and a "tick" occurs typically once per 30 seconds. This allows each player to accurately control multiple vehicles and pedestrians in racing or combat.

Simulations

World War II Online simulation game showing the numbers of players during a special event in June 2008. Some 400 people had spawned in for this gathering in this location in the game.

Some MMOGs have been designed to accurately simulate certain aspects of the real world. They tend to be very specific to industries or activities of very large risk and huge potential loss, such as rocket science, airplanes, trucks, battle tanks, submarines etc. Gradually as simulation technology is getting more mainstream, so too various simulators arrive into more mundane industries.

The initial goal of World War II Online was to create a map (in north western Europe) that had real world physics (gravity, air/water resistance, etc.), and ability for players to have some strategic abilities to its basic FPS/RPG role. While the current version is not quite a true simulated world (lacking details such as weather), it is very complex and contains a large persistent world.

The MMOG genre of air traffic simulation is one example, with networks such as VATSIM and IVAO striving to provide rigorously authentic flight-simulation environments to players in both pilot and air traffic controller roles. In this category of MMOGs, the objective is to create duplicates of the real world for people who cannot or do not wish to undertake those experiences in real life. For example, flight simulation via an MMOG requires far less expenditure of time and money, is completely risk-free, and is far less restrictive (fewer regulations to adhere to, no medical exams to pass, and so on).

Another specialist area is mobile telecoms operator (carrier) business where billion-dollar investments in networks are needed but marketshares are won and lost on issues from segmentation to handset subsidies. A specialist simulation was developed by Nokia called Equilibrium/Arbitrage to have over a two day period five teams of top management of one operator/carrier play a "wargame" against each other, under extremely realistic conditions, with one operator an incumbent fixed and mobile network operator, another a new entrant mobile operator, a third a fixed-line/internet operator etc. Each team is measured by outperforming their rivals by market expectations of that type of player. Thus each player has drastically different goals, but within the simulation, any one team can win. Also to ensure maximum intensity, only one team can win. Telecoms senior executives who have taken the Equilibrium/Arbitrage simulation say it is the most intense, and most useful training they have ever experienced. It is typical of business use of simulators, in very senior management training/retraining.

Other online simulation games include Motor City Online, The Sims Online, and Jumpgate.

Sports

A massively multiplayer online sports game is a title where players can compete in some of the more traditional major league sports, such as football (soccer), basketball, baseball, hockey, golf or American football. According to GameSpot.com, Baseball Mogul Online was "the world's first massively multiplayer online sports game".[18] Other titles that qualify as MMOSG have been around since the early 2000s, but only after 2010 did they start to receive the endorsements of some of the official major league associations and players.

Racing

MMOR means massively multiplayer online racing. Currently there are only a small number of racing based MMOGs, including Kart Rider, Upshift StrikeRacer, Test Drive Unlimited, Project Torque, Drift City, Race or Die (iPhone) and Need for Speed: World. The Trackmania series is the world's largest MMO racing game and holds the world record for "Most Players in a Single Online Race".[citation needed] Although Darkwind: War on Wheels is more combat based than racing, it is also considered an MMOR.

Casual

Many types of MMO games can be classified as casual, because they are designed to appeal to all computer users (as opposed to subgroup of frequent game buyers), or to fans of another game genre (such as collectible card games). Such games are easy to learn and require a smaller time commitment than other game types. One example is Racing Frogs, an MMOG that can be played with only a small amount of time every day. Other popular casual games include simple management games such as The Sims Online, Monopoly City Streets, Virtonomics, or Kung Fu Panda World.

MMOPGs, or massively multiplayer puzzle games, are games based entirely on puzzle elements. It is usually set in a world where the players can access the puzzles around the world. Most games that are MMOPGs are hybrids with other genres. Castle Infinity was the first MMOG developed for children. Its gameplay falls somewhere between puzzle and adventure.

There are also massively multiplayer collectible card games: Magic: The Gathering Online, Alteil, Astral Masters and Astral Tournament. Other MMOCCGs might exist (Neopets has some CCG elements) but are not as well known.

Alternate reality games (ARGs) can be massively multiplayer, allowing thousands of players worldwide to co-operate in puzzle trails and mystery solving. ARGs take place in a unique mixture of online and real-world play that usually does not involve a persistent world, and are not necessarily multiplayer, making them different from MMOGs.

Music/Rhythm

Massively multiplayer online music/rhythm games (MMORGs), sometimes called massively multiplayer online dance games (MMODGs), are MMOGs that are also music video games. This idea was influenced by Dance Dance Revolution. Audition Online is another casual massively multiplayer online game and it is produced by T3 Entertainment.

Social

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.[citation needed] 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.

Research

Some recent attempts to build peer-to-peer (P2P) MMOGs have been made. Outback Online may be the first commercial one,[19] however, so far most of the efforts have been academic studies.[20] A P2P MMOG may potentially be more scalable and cheaper to build, but notable issues with P2P MMOGs include security and consistency control, which can be difficult to address given that clients are easily hacked.

In April 2004, the United States Army announced that it was developing a massively multiplayer training simulation called AWE (asymmetric warfare environment). The purpose of AWE is to train soldiers for urban warfare and there are no plans for a public commercial release. Forterra Systems is developing it for the Army based on the There engine.[21]

Spending

British online gamers are outspending their European counterparts according to a recently released study commissioned by Gamesindustry.com and TNS. The UK MMO-market is now worth £195 million in 2009 compared to the £165 million and £145 million spent by German and French online gamers.[22]

The US gamers spend more, however, spending about $3.8 billion dollars overall on MMO games. $1.8 billion of that money is spent on monthly subscription fees. The money spent averages out to $15.10 between both subscription and free-to-play MMO gamers. The study also found that 46% of 46 mil players in the US pays real money to play MMO games.

Today’s Gamers MMO Focus Report, published in March 2010, was commissioned by TNS and gamesindustry.com. A similar study for the UK market-only (UK National Gamers Survey Report)[23] was released in February 2010 by the same groups.

See also

References

  1. ^ "41,690". http://www.eve-online.com/news/newsOfEve.asp?newsID=505. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 
  2. ^ "60,453". http://www.eveonline.com/news.asp?a=single&nid=3934&tid=1. 
  3. ^ IEEE.org
  4. ^ http://game.dayoo.com/200911/20/68602_100420554.htm
  5. ^ Mmogchart.com
  6. ^ Blizzard.com[dead link]
  7. ^ Harding-Rolls, Piers (PDF). Subscription MMOGs: Life Beyond World of Warcraft. London, UK: Screen Digest. http://www.screendigest.com/press/releases/pdf/PR-LifeBeyondWorldOfWarcraft-240309.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-30. 
  8. ^ Runescape.com
  9. ^ "VR-1 Conductor Technology Suite Endorsed by LeadingOnline Service Providers. | Consumer Products > Computing Products from". AllBusiness.com. 1998-04-28. http://www.allbusiness.com/technology/software-services-applications-software-makers/6835665-1.html. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  10. ^ "IGN: The Worlds First MMOFPS is nearly complete". Uk.games.ign.com. http://uk.games.ign.com/articles/400/400835p1.html. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  11. ^ By Thierry 'Scooter' Nguyen (2007-03-20). "GameSpy: Huxley Preview". GameSpy. http://uk.pc.gamespy.com/pc/huxley/774299p1.html. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  12. ^ a b Leon Ryan (2007-05). Beyond the Looking Glass of MMOG's. GameAxis Unwired. pp. 27–31. http://books.google.ca/books?id=vOoDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA29&dq=%22MMOFPS%22&client=firefox-a#PPA27,M1. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  13. ^ Sartori. "Neocron". GamersAsylum. Archived from the original on 2003-04-07. http://web.archive.org/web/20030407174646/http://www.gamersasylum.com/rev_reviews.asp?ID=63&AID=BLNU&AID=NEOCRON. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  14. ^ Aihoshi, Richard (2002-02-08). "Neocron Preview". RPG Vault. http://rpgvaultarchive.ign.com/features/previews/neocron.shtml. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  15. ^ Ryan, Michael (2002-02-01). "Neocron Preview". GameSpot. http://www.gamespot.com/pc/rpg/neocron/news.html?sid=2844808. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  16. ^ "MMOFPS: The Next Big Thing in MMOGs?". GameOgre. http://www.gameogre.com/mmofpsgames.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  17. ^ "UltraCorps is recommended to anyone interested in a simplistic, slow-paced sci-fi strategy game."
  18. ^ "Baseball Mogul Online: The World's First MMOSG". gamespot.com. http://www.gamespot.com/pc/sports/baseballmogul2002/similar.html. Retrieved 2001-07-23. 
  19. ^ "Yoicks! It's another virtual world - BizTech - Technology". theage.com.au. 2007-02-26. http://www.theage.com.au/news/biztech/yoicks-its-another-virtual-world/2007/02/26/1172338546871.html. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  20. ^ "VAST - Related Work". Vast.sourceforge.net. 2008-11-26. http://vast.sourceforge.net/relatedwork.php. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  21. ^ Gonzalez, Lauren (2008-01-17). "Spot On: The US Army's There-based simulation - News at GameSpot". Gamespot.com. http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/04/21/news_6093860.html. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  22. ^ "MMO Big in Britain But US Still No 1". Agencynews.net. 2003-10-20. http://agencynews.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/mmo-big-in-britain-but-us-still-no-1/. 
  23. ^ "Millions Spent on Casual Gaming". BBC UK. 10.02.2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8507813.stm. 

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