I was going to write about a game called Raft Pirates for this column, but when I started to look at it, I realized that it didn't quite seem like a "real" MMO, and so I asked the developer to define the game for me. The response I got back only added to my confusion about where the mobile market is going. So in today's MMObility, I want to continue the discussion I started last week, but this time I'll like to look at how the mobile market is keeping things muddy.
Here's what the developer rep had to say:
Raft Pirates has some strong MMO mechanisms as follows: There is a persistent world. If the player is offline and leaves their ship in pirate waters, then real attacks will take place and the player will return to see the results of those battles (they will see parts of their rafts destroyed if they lost parts in battle, and materials won in battles will be added to their inventory). When battling, the player will play a live battle if the person they are attacking is online as well.I asked specifically about persistence because it is the key to an MMO, along with live player interaction. Where the mobile market developers and players are seemingly confused is when we discuss that persistence. After all, if an NPC version of your character stays "online" while you are not actively logged on, isn't that persistence? I tend to use the MMORTS genre as a good representation of MMOness because of its ability to force player towns to stay "online" while the player is away. That's an extra layer of persistence, something that is not possible when a literal avatar in a game like World of Warcraft logs out of the world (although it's something that Age of Wushu is experimenting with).
There are a few possible reasons that the mobile market is not erupting with "true" MMOs, despite the fact that it's such a quickly growing market. First, it's much harder to run live, three-dimensional characters (with all of the server stresses that come with them) on a mobile device. (Still, these devices are catching up to real gaming PCs rather quickly.) Second, "real" persistent and massive MMOs and even AAA games in general have recently been witness to layoffs, studio closures, and poor performance. Making a real, live, massive virtual world is expensive to create and to maintain. It's easy to see why a studio would rather make several smaller games with social mechanics that can turn a profit thanks to microtransactions.
Why worry about the defitinion? Well, my job depends on these definitions. Also, I love virtual worlds and always will. I wrote about them before I worked here and will continue to cover them after. While I obviously have few problems with the mobile market and social gaming, I still want to identify and preserve the definition of a "real" MMO.
The fact is that maintaining that definition will become tougher as the mobile market continues to redefine it. We'll see what players prefer in the long run -- and how developers adapt.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.