Traditionally, MMOs featured thousands of players. Sean Knight wonders whether the definition needs refining now that EA is calling SimCity an MMO
Publisher EA and developer Maxis went on a period of damage control in the week after SimCity was released. Due to the rough launch the game’s always-on DRM feature came under fire, prompting the two to defend the decision to include it. Curiously, one of the reasons given was to suggest it wasn’t DRM at all but rather that the game was an MMO and, thus, always-on features were part of the game.
Traditionally, MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online) was a term used for online-only games that feature a large player base – hundreds, if not thousands of individuals – who interact with each other simultaneously on servers provided by the developer.
MMORPGs are the most popular subgenre, featuring game such as World of Warcraft. However, there are other types, too. Sony’s PlanetSide 2 is an MMOFPS, and there are also MMORTS games, such as Shattered Galaxy.
All of these games feature servers where a large number of people can interact and play together at the same time. Shattered Galaxy, for example, allows up to 100,000 people to play on the same server/world and, when it is time to fight a battle, go to a territory/instance where more than 50 people can fight in a skirmish against one another.
But is this classic definition of MMO changing?
For EA Labels president Frank Gibeau it sure seems so. When asked whether or not the always-on DRM factored into SimCity, he responded, “That’s not the reality; I was involved in all the meetings. DRM was never even brought up once. You don’t build an MMO because you’re thinking of DRM – you’re building a massively multiplayer experience, that’s what you’re building.”
Yet Gibeau isn’t the only one to think that the city sim game is an MMO. Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw compared the title to an MMO in a post also defending the developer’s decision for using the DRM, saying, “The game we launched is only the beginning for us – it’s not final and it never will be. In many ways, we built an MMO.”
So, is the claim that SimCity is an MMO a valid one?
Only 16 people can play in a region. Not exactly a massive number of people playing simultaneously. Then there was the company’s long-standing claim that many of the game’s computations had to be carried out on server side: a claim that was cast into serious doubt when a modder altered the game so he could play it offline indefinitely. The only common factor between SimCity and an MMO is that the servers are provided through the developer.
There is another game, however, that caused a lot of controversy with always-on DRM – Diablo III. Blizzard, however, never once called its game an MMO and never shied away from the fact that the feature requiring an online connection to play was DRM. In fairness there are two features, though, that Diablo III shares with traditional MMOs. First of all is the fact that mob spawns are done server-side just like an MMO. The second is the Auction House, a feature most MMOs have.
But is that enough to classify it as an MMO?
Having those features, it appears, has generated some confusion among gamers. In the comment section of my editorial, Boycotting Diablo III: a threat to gaming, there were those who argued that the game was an MMO; even though Blizzard never made such a claim. In the case of EA and Maxis, if all it takes to be classified as an MMO is a small number of players, an online-only requirement, and servers provided by the developer then a lot of multiplayer games out there would have to be called an MMO. Games that have a lot more than 16 people playing at the same time.
So should always-on DRM become more prevalent, and in the case of Diablo III share certain features with the genre, does it warrant a look at redefining the definition of MMO?
Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeanDKnight