Have you ever played an MMORTS? No, I'm not talking about a single-player PC strategy game or city sim; I mean an MMORTS. There are so many to choose from that it would be hard for me to even begin to list them all, but I'll try. There's Illyriad, Ministry of War, Evony, Call of Gods, Dragons of Atlantis, Thirst of Night, 8Realms, Lord of Ultima, Golden Age and many, many others. Either you recognize some of those titles or you do not. Oddly enough, I've found that many standard, three-dimensional-world explorers do not consider MMORTS titles to be MMOs. I'm not sure why, but every time I stream an MMORTS live or write about one, I have to answer, at least once, the concern from the audience that what I am playing is not really an MMO.
The reality is that the MMORTS, as a design mechanic, genre, and style, is very much an MMO. I'd like to explain why in the hopes that many of you might grow to enjoy the genre as much as I do and that some much-needed light shines on the fact that the MMORTS is actually one of the last true MMOs around.
I think the task is to define "MMO" and to show how MMORTS fits in. We've attempted it before, but for a quick refresher, let's go over what I consider an MMO to be. You can add your own definitions in the comments section. I have no problems admitting that my definition could probably use some tweaking.
"Next we need massive player interaction. I'm not talking about being able to visit your friend's city to help grow their crops or to watch an automated version of your friend tend some pumpkins. I mean interaction as in you and your friend can do things, together, at the same time, while in the same persistent world."
We should also mention communication when considering what an MMO is. It might seem like a minor thing, but the ability to communicate and coordinate with your fellow players is crucial to the game. Most MMORTS games offer not only a standard chat box with different types of chat but messaging services, many of them represented by actual messengers. Communication is needed for an MMO, and the MMORTS has it.
I will be the first to say that many entries in the current MMORTS market are, for lack of a better word, crap. They are games that seem to do nothing but encourage players to "farm" each other. These yucky titles want to offer a player the chance to grow a village into a mighty empire but rarely punish a player when she finally attacks or is a victim of attack. I want my MMORTS to be a dangerous place, or else it just feels like I am playing a game of tag. One of the reasons I do not enjoy many modern sandboxes is that they aim for a "realistic" feel in many ways, except for dying. Dying is a simple pause and is rarely more than a few seconds' delay between death and respawn. Many MMORTS games allow players to protect so much of their city during an attack that being attacked is nothing more than an annoyance. Since there is no major price to pay for attacking another player, attacks can have all of the impact of being killed in many sandboxes -- rarely costly.
There are a few titles that go further with their death penalties, make trade between players more realistic, offer real communication, and truly make players feel as though their little villages or massive cities are permanent and make a real impact on the world. Most standard, three-dimensional MMOs I play are filled with players who spend the bulk of their time in instanced dungeons or ignoring the world around them. Playing an MMORTS means playing in the world around you because you are the world around you. The MMORTS might be the last, true persistent multiplayer genre remaining. Now if we can just make sure that the quality goes up and stays that way, we can all reap the rewards.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!