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Redefining MMOs

Redefining MMOs: More developers weigh in

World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, City of Villains, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Redefining MMOs, Miscellaneous

In 2009, the staffers of Massively were more than aware of the changes happening in the MMO industry. The game was changing; technology was allowing the MMO to step out of its turn-based comfort zone and take on new challenges. We began to see the MMO-shooter, the MMO-RTS, and the MMO-does-that-even-fit-in-a-genre. The staff penned a series of articles called Redefining MMOs. Have things changed in two years? On the surface, I'd say no. We still can't figure out exactly what an MMO is. If you ask six different people the same question, you'll get six different answers (if not more). In fact, while I was at PAX East, I did just that.

I spoke to six different designers: three from the most anticipated games of this year, two from studios that have been doing this MMO thing for a long time, and one from a studio that refuses to label its game as an MMO. After the break, find out what developers of Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, City of Heroes, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and Firefall have to say about the new definition of MMOs.

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Redefining MMOs: A final thought

Game Mechanics, Opinion, Massively Meta, Redefining MMOs

As the final cap at the end of this Redefining MMOs series, I figured I would take some time to gather my thoughts on why we did this, and what we hoped to achieve by exploring the need to redefine the genre we all love so much.

In early summer of this year, I had the idea to get the whole Massively team together to write their take on a particular topic. This is something I want us to do again through other topics, but I figured that something about the evolving direction of MMOs would be an ideal start. So we put our heads together and came up with some great subtopics.

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Redefining MMOs: Have your say

Contests, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Massively Meta, Academic, Virtual Worlds, Redefining MMOs

Back in July, we started our Redefining MMOs series of articles to explore how the MMO genre has been redefined during the current generation of games and where it's headed in the next. Each of us here at Massively contributed our own unique perspectives on various topics, from those first articles on the terminology we use to refer to MMOs and the importance of lore to the latest article where developers weighed in with their opinions. Developers from several major MMO development studios discussed the term "MMO", what they think it means now and whether it's time for a new word. It's been an exciting series of articles for us to write and we hope you've enjoyed reading it.

Many of you have already been inspired to comment on the articles and discuss your views on each topic. Your comments have given us a great deal of cause for thought and before we wrap up this popular series, we'd love to hear more of your thoughts. If you've ever wanted to get your opinions on the MMO genre in the spotlight, this is your chance. Simply write your own Redefining MMOs article on your own blog or website and drop the link in the comments. We'll announce our favourite reader submission next week and give them pride of place in next week's final wrap-up article.

Skip past the cut for our full submission guidelines.

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Redefining MMOs: Developers weigh in

Interviews, MMO Industry, Redefining MMOs

What does "MMO" mean anymore?

When we launched our "Redefining MMO" series over the summer, we began with a look at the terminology behind the games we play -- what the term "MMO" encompasses and what kinds of games it describes. But with the online games market expanding into new genres and incorporating new gameplay and social elements, the definition of "MMO" has changed.

So is it time for a new word?

We reached out to developers working on different MMOs. We asked what they thought about the word "MMO" and if it's time to eschew the term and come up with something new. Read on for thoughts from Cryptic's Bill Roper, Metaplace's Raph Koster, Mythic's Paul Barnett, Nexon America's Min Kim, Sony Online's Laralyn McWilliams, Turbine's Jeffrey Steefel and many more.

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Redefining MMOs: Developers weigh in, part 3

Interviews, MMO Industry, Redefining MMOs

Jeffrey Steefel, The Lord of the Rings Online Executive Producer, Turbine:

"It's been fascinating to see how the MMO game has been evolving over the past 10 years... A lot has happened. Games have become more complex, consumers mostly all have faster internet access, are comfortable buying things online and spending time online. Social connections now happen through the network as readily as in person or over the phone or through mail. Mass consumers regularly consume media content in small chunks through the network; whether its music, ppv video, eBooks, ringtones, games or even now television shows.

"Players don't want to 'play' with thousands of people, they want to play with a small group in the presence of thousands. It's like an old-school arcade. You don't want to play pinball with 10 people, but playing by yourself in a crowded room is a lot more fun. Players have more varied play-sessions. Some still play for hours on end, some want to come in for some quick fun. Subscription is alive and well, but it is not the only way to charge for this kind of experience. Microtransactions, premium services and content, free online play are all creeping into the genre.

"In other words, 'MMO' is too confining. 'MMO' was the spawning point for all kinds of new online entertainment. And it is reaching a much wider audience. Not to mention the critical importance of not only the game, but the service and media infrastructure that surrounds a good online experience.

"So I believe what we're really building is entertainment services, that combine the flexibility and accessibility of the network, the appeal of social networking, the freedom of an online persistent universe, and the structured fun provided by video games. So it's hard to say there is one term that can cover all that this can be or become. I think we need to look at the ingredients -- persistence, sense of place, sense of purpose, social connectivity, social identity, social grouping, participatory experiences and storytelling -- and then perhaps try and find a name for it."

Thom Terrazas, EverQuest Producer, Sony Online Entertainment:

"Obviously 'massive' is the main theme to the name, but what was the target number of people online when the term 'massive' was [coined for] MMOs? I'm no expert by any means, but I believe the term first referred to a couple dozen simultaneous players if not hundreds of players existing in a virtual world, interacting between each other. When it started, it was with a lot of passion from many that pushed the envelope of technology that enabled the first dozen to be achieved. That just set the bar for others to improve on and it continues today. Today, it means everything. It's a game and it's a business and everything in between. It's a place you can go and leave everything else behind, but at the same time, it's a place you can visit and be everything you've ever wanted. It means a release from the real world and an invitation to your imagination. ... I think ['MMO'] only needs a new term for those that don't know what it means right now.....or what it was meant to be."

Rich Vogel, Co-Studio Vice President, BioWare:

"MMO to me means the ability to play with thousands of players in a world. This was actually coined by 3DO back in the Meridian 59 days and later adopted by EA when marketing Ultima Online. ...

"It was coined over 10 years ago to convey a marketing message. There were no games that allowed thousands of players in one environment and it was a great selling point. Today, that feature is well understood. It has branched out beyond the RPG genre into others like MMOFPS, MMORTS, etc.

"No [I don't think we need a new term for 'MMO']. I feel it has become its own category and a mainstream term that people recognize now -- especially after [World of Warcraft]. The term 'MMO' can be applied to any single player genre that wants to have a large-scale multiplayer component. ...

"Star Wars: The Old Republic is an MMORPG in every sense of the term. BioWare has a long tradition of making great story driven RPGs and now we are entering into the MMO market for the first time. Our game has all of the traditional components of MMORPGs like combat, exploration, advancement, great loot, and crafting. However, we are going to add another element to the MMORPG genre -- storytelling the BioWare way."

Raph Koster, President and Founder, Metaplace:

"I think now, at this point, now that we've chopped the 'RPG' part off of it and just say 'MMO,' which by itself is a meaningless acronym. Massively multiplayer online... The problem is the very word massive is not particularly useful. Sorry Massively website! But the problem is that "massive" is kind of relative. New York is a massive city, until you go to Shanghai. It's completely relative. ...

"I was never that crazy about [the term 'MMO']. We've been here before. There was a huge turf battle over the term 'MUD'... There were people coming up with MUVE, multiple user virtual environment... random acronyms people were coming up with to describe the field. Several of us kept saying, 'These are just virtual worlds, damnit!' Part of the reason why that was working okay was it was fairly easy to say, and MUDs do have a very specific kind of family tree that we can point at, and they all fall under virtual worlds.

"That was great until people started calling things -- without any games in them -- 'virtual worlds,' excluding MMO-anythings. This is where you get people saying, 'Well, [World of Warcraft] is a MMORPG, it's not a virtual world.' And it's like...errrr. Because the battle has started all over again with people trying to appropriate the term 'virtual world' to mean Second Life or to mean Habbo Hotel. So now you have things like social virtual worlds and generic virtual worlds, and people think it means just Second Life, and that's... wrong. I'll say it bluntly, that's just wrong, because WoW is a virtual world and so is Second Life, and so is YoVille. A lot of people don't want to claim YoVille as being in the family, but it is. I much prefer to define these things by what they are rather than how many people they hold.

"I do still say MMO, because at this point it usually has the connotation of game. If you say 'MMO' people assume you mean a game. ... Even us design types, we still need to know what we're actually doing. The terms, right? We need to agree on a language so we can talk about it. Disclaiming something that is a massively multiplayer, comma, online, comma, first-person, comma, shooter, and saying, 'Well, it's not actually massively multiplayer online'... whatever. That's clearly marketing talking.

"There are people that call them MWOs, people that called them MOGs, and people that call them POGs. There's PSWs which is an art term for a specific sub-set of virtual world so that one gets misused all the time because it means 'persistent state world.' ... There are some others... PIG, I've seen PIG, 'persistent interactive game.'

Massively: I don't think a game maker would like to call their game a "PIG."

"Probably not."

Redefining MMOs: Developers weigh in, part 2

Interviews, MMO Industry, Redefining MMOs

Erling Ellingsen, Director of Communications, Funcom:

"A bit surprising to me is that in terms of number of players, it hasn't changed a bit. Ultima Online, EverQuest and Age of Conan has roughly the same number of players per server -- which is quite interesting actually. These worlds have remained quite the same in size, so apart from EVE Online -- which is in a slightly different category because of their game world -- these games haven't become any more massive in terms of population and size of the game world. I'm still waiting for that super-MMO with 500,000 players, one billion square miles of fantasy world and a complex, virtual society filled with political intrigues and personal and social challenges.

"The truth is, however, that the size and scope of MMOs has remained relatively the same except for development in graphical technology. It's the same number of people playing, roughly the same size of the world, and we're doing the same things -- building houses, killing critters, leveling up and looking for loot. In many ways, the MMO genre is still in its infancy, and I am looking forward to more advanced MMOs in the future that really challenge the genre standards.

"We don't need [a new term for 'MMO'] yet, I think. We're still quite early in the MMO era, and I think some of the big changes are yet to come."

Min Kim, Vice President of Marketing, Nexon America:

"By definition, MMO means that a game is massive, multiplayer and online. MMOs therefore provide an environment where one player is able to interact with many other players through a setting facilitated through an internet connection. ..

"Today, the term MMO is taking on a broader definition where character persistence combined with the ability to play with multiple people suffice (i.e. session-based MMOs like Combat Arms, and KartRider). MMOs have evolved to adopt multiple genres, and the gaming genre should now be attached like a suffix to "MMO" to fully describe the type of MMO a game is (e.g. MMORPG, MMORTS, MMOFPS). However, this starts to get confusing for many when one considers online versions of games like Texas Hold'em or Chess, where there are massive player bases that have high levels of engagement and some level of persistence. ...

"I believe the definition of MMOs has elevated to a point where it is bleeding to define games that simply have players that play with each other online. At Nexon, we have tossed the idea of calling our games 'connected games,' 'live games,' 'social games,' etc. However, at the end of the day, our goal is to grow truly massive player bases. The reality is that the majority of these massive player bases probably won't care about whatever we call our games, as long as they are fun and keep them enjoying the experience. Rather than thinking of new terms, I want us to focus our energies on creating great playing experiences with massive player bases to justify the existence of the terms that currently exist.

"When people outside the industry ask me what kind of games we work on, I simply say 'online games.' The frustrating result is that sometimes people respond with, 'I heard those poker games make a lot of money.' ... I would like people to call our games FFOs -- Fun Free Online games."

Laralyn McWilliams, Free Realms Creative Director, Sony Online Entertainment:

"It's interesting, because I think there is a shift in terminology. 'MMO' has come to mean a specific kind of massively multiplayer game, as the short version of MMORPG rather as a general term for all massively multiplayer games (where MMORPG is a subset of MMO). You see the term 'virtual world' used now to describe massively multiplayer games that don't feature strong character progression or RPG elements. We classify Free Realms as a 'virtual world,' despite the game's light stats and character progression, because Free Realms emphasizes moment-to-moment fun over the grind to level 80.

"I think we'll see new terms evolve as the genres deepen and clarify. I would bet, for example, we start to see more sports MMOs, and then we start to see more specific kinds of sports MMOs. There will probably be an 'MMO' sports game, where you level up as a baseball player by playing baseball in the game, and there will probably be a 'virtual world' sports game, where you hang out, talk about your favorite teams, and have fantasy football in a virtual setting. It's such a new area in game development (which is itself a new field) that I think we have only just started to scratch the surface."

Fernando Paiz, Dungeons & Dragons: Eberron Unlimited Executive Producer, Turbine:

"To me, 'MMO' means a game where thousands of players can simultaneously connect together in a persistent world where they can play and socialize together. When the term was first used, it was narrowly defined to be a fantasy RPG game in the mold of Asheron's Call or EverQuest. Today MMOs are quite diverse and can be in a variety of genres and for a variety of audiences.

"[We] probably [need a new term for 'MMO']. But no one has come up with a term for it that is both appropriate and catchy enough. I think 'persistent online game' is the closest phrase that captures the essence of what MMOs are. To me a 'virtual world' specifically describes a shared online environment. You can have a virtual world that is not necessarily a game."

Bill Roper, Design Director, Cryptic Studios:

"I don't think 'MMO' means anything differently now than it did when it was first used, except that now MMO almost always has an implied RPG (role-playing game) attached.

"I think the [term] we have right now is simple and explanatory. If someone is going to make something outside of the understood definition, they should come up with an acronym or terminology that makes sense. For example, an MMOFPS (first-person shooter), or MMORTS (real-time strategy) would be examples of this.

"'Virtual worlds' tend to denote a lack (or limited amount) of directed game play. These are more sandboxes that thrive or die purely on player-generated content. Second Life is obviously the best example of this concept. MMOs do best when the developer continues to create new content and give players new systems to explore with existent characters."

Redefining MMOs: The Shooter Invasion

Sci-Fi, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, Opinion, Massively Meta, Consoles, Crime, MMOFPS, Redefining MMOs

The MMO industry is always changing, and if we're going to stay ahead of the curve, we need to re-evaluate some of our views and ingrained notions from time to time. The Redefining MMOs series at Massively is our look at the state of massively multiplayer online games as it is today, and where we see it going. This week we're going to look at how shooters have invaded the MMO space, give you a run-down of some promising MMO shooters on the horizon, and finally tackle the question of whether or not they should be covered here at Massively.

Something we're seeing more and more is a blurring of the lines between formerly distinct game genres -- this is especially true of shooters and MMOs. There are a number of shooters on the horizon that fit the bill as MMOs (although not RPGs), but such games are a radical departure from the DikuMUD pedigree shared by most MMORPG titles we cover at Massively. These shooter-MMO hybrids may have quests, levels, and classes, but they cast few illusions about being true RPGs. They're shooters through and through, but have persistent settings or are massively multiplayer -- traits which catch our attention.

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Redefining MMOs: The massive money of microtransactions

Culture, Economy, MMO Industry, Opinion, Redefining MMOs

Let's face it - microtransactions are big business. Nexon has posted a 35% increase in revenue this last July. Large companies like SOE and Cryptic Studios have added cash shops to their games. It appears that the world has a growing appetite for little bites of gaming content goodness. The market now is turning those bits and bytes into the MMO equivalent of the candy bar - with profits that are starting to climb towards the candy heights as well.

The honest truth is that we've been shifting more and more towards the idea of microtransactions as a culture, not just as a genre. Sure, we've always been about getting more bang for our buck - who isn't! But the fact is that there were no structures to distribute entertainment as effortlessly and cheaply as we can get it now even just a few decades ago. The proliferation of personal computers, the Internet, and other advances in technology have turned us into a society that loves to consume only what it wants, when it wants, from almost wherever we want it. Considering the overall societal shifts, it only makes sense that our favorite type of games are now going where the money is.

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Redefining MMOs: The rise of F2P

Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Redefining MMOs

These days it seems like you can't move three feet in the MMO space without bumping into a Free-to-Play (or F2P) game. As the person who writes First Impressions from time to time, I play quite a lot of them. As such, I'm always looking at new F2P games that pop up, from tiny indie titles to mega-corporate offerings. Just about any subset you can imagine is represented out there: flash games, isometric, side-scrollers, mini-games, embeddable web-only, local client. Curious about what genres you might find? How about fantasy, steampunk, post-apocalyptic, casual, cartoon, pirate, anthropomorphic, space, and so much more. If it hasn't been made yet, wait six months - someone will probably do it, considering. Quality, too, runs the gamut. Some games are incredibly addictive, while others make you want to take a run at the dev team with a sock full of quarters.

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Redefining MMOs: Pesky Persistence

EVE Online, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Exteel, Massively Meta, Consoles, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Redefining MMOs

Here in Redefining MMOs we've been over terminology, working with lore, the place of soloing in our online games, players acting as developers, and attempting to get away from the carbon copy feel of the genre. With all of that in mind, where could we possibly head to next? Well, how about dealing with persistence?

One persistent world holding thousands of players simultaneously, a world that continues even when you log off. That was the dream, wasn't it? Having an insane number of players all occupying the same game space? Having you and 100 of your closest friends (or perhaps enemies) battling it out over loot, bosses, pvp, and anything else the game had to offer? Persistence has long been one of the central aspects of the MMO genre, where "one continuous world" rules over all. So is persistence what defines an MMO or is it not that clear cut? Perhaps persistence is nothing more than a pesky piece of unpleasant pie and maybe we shouldn't define our genre by it as we do now.

In this issue of Redefining MMOs, I'm going to tackle the thorny issue of persistence, from its definition down to what we perceive the word to mean. I'm also going to include a discussion on two very different games -- 1 vs. 100 and Chromehounds -- and put both to the MMO persistence test. Then, as the article all comes together, I'm going to tackle the biggest question of them all: "Does persistence matter?" If you have an opinion on this week's subject, feel free to leave a comment on page 3 or even write your own "Redefining MMOs" blog post and leave a comment with the URL.

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Redefining MMOs: Breaking the Mould

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Aion, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Business Models, Classes, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, Leveling, PvE, Opinion, Browser, Virtual Worlds, All Points Bulletin, Crime, Final Fantasy XIV, Cities XL, Redefining MMOs

Just think about that title for a second. Of all the games genres you've played, isn't it MMOs that feel most like carbon copies of one another? Level systems, the character creation process and class archetypes are nearly universal, with hundreds of games sharing the same characteristics. Don't you sometimes wish that MMO developers would step back and reassess the genre they have collectively created? This week, as part of Massively's "Redefining MMOs" series, it's my turn to muse on a topic and I've chosen to look as whether it's time the MMO mould (or mold, as my American editors would say) should be broken and re-examined.

Many aspects of MMOs, such as classes, levelling, raids and bosses, endure simply because they work. After all, if it ain't broke why fix it? But sometimes it feels like you need a breath of fresh air, to step back and smell the roses. This is especially the case when carbon copy MMOs start being rolled out. In the last few months I've tried MMO after MMO and can literally play each one blindfolded. Mages are mages, warriors are warriors and clerics by any other name are still priests. While the archetypes of these classes -- the healer, the tank, the caster, the melee damage-dealer and the pet-toting badass -- differ slightly between genres and titles, they are part of a formula that seems to define the MMO genre.

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Redefining MMOs: Player developers!

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Super-hero, City of Heroes, EVE Online, Business Models, Culture, MMO Industry, PvP, PvE, Second Life, Virtual Worlds, Cities XL, Redefining MMOs

A few weeks ago, we at Massively started the weekly "Redefining MMOs" series, a collection of articles examining how the MMO genre has been redefined during the current generation of games and where it's headed in the next. So far, we've looked at the terminology we use to refer to MMOs, how the art of storytelling has changed over the years, and the rise of the "massively singleplayer" online game. In this week's article, I examine what happens when players are given the reigns of an MMO or have a hand in part of its development. If you have something important to say on the topic, feel free to post a comment on page 3 or even write your own "Redefining MMOs" blog post and leave a comment with the URL.

Traditionally, all content for an MMO is designed by the game's development studio and players have no direct influence on its creation. The idea of handing the reigns of an MMO to its players is considered heresy and we shudder to think of what horrible quests and areas players would construct if given a chance. But is our aversion justified or is it something developers should strive to overcome? Certainly Second Life has successfully capitalised on letting players develop almost every aspect of its virtual world but could successful mainstream MMOs make use of it too? City of Heroes, EVE Online and even World of Warcraft are prime examples which suggest they can. All three of these games have handed at least some part of the game's development over to players, with incredibly promising results.

In this article, I look at these three successful examples of players being allowed to develop aspects of an MMO. I then go on to explain why this works and how the next generation of MMOs could learn from these pioneering feats.

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Redefining MMOs: Massively Singleplayer?

MMO Industry, Opinion, Redefining MMOs

Last month when members of the Massively team were tossing around ideas for a new series called, "Redefining MMOs," I jumped all over the more solo direction MMOs have taken lately. I wanted to point out that today's MMOs are less about we and more about me. I wanted to list off a dozen or so features I felt were responsible for killing social gaming. I wanted to rekindle the debate over whether or not this is a good or bad thing.

It seems I'm a bit late to the party because two bloggers, Ryan Shwayder and Keen, beat me to it by a few days. Wolfshead also put together a fascinating post on MMO communities, which is only slightly related to what I planned to talk about but still well worth the read.

So, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel here, I'm going to add on to the discussion already taking place. It should be said up front that I'm a heavy solo and casual player, which is a bit strange given my stance on the issue. I'm slightly bothered by the recent trend toward individual content and individual rewards. It seems the line is blurring between singeplayer RPGs and MMORPGs every day. Luckily, a few titles are keeping the dream alive.

Please share your thoughts on page three.

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Redefining MMOs: More than lore

Lore, MMO Industry, News Items, Opinion, Redefining MMOs

There's a self-created paradox in the MMO industry. This genre asks its participants to invest copious amounts of time and people do want to spend a hours and hours within a single, expansive virtual environment. The downside is that videogames tend to spin on a single mechanical axis: conflict.

In the MMO realm, conflict generally means combat. The problem is endless conflict becomes excruciatingly tedious. Crafting, socialization and sometimes even mini-games have been employed to counteract this, yet it remains a substantial issue. Whereas the story and plot development -- our topics this week -- have largely taken a back seat.

With professional MMO development soaring and a whole new generation of promising titles on the way, we stand on the cusp of what could be the next big evolutionary leap for online gaming. In the coming weeks and months, Massively will be examining how the MMO genre has been redefined during the current generation of games and where it's headed in the next. If you have something important to say on the topic, feel free to post a comment on page two or even write your own "Redefining MMOs" blog post and leave a comment with the URL -- we'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

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Redefining MMOs: Terminology

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Super-hero, Culture, MMO Industry, Academic, Virtual Worlds, MMOFPS, MMORTS, Redefining MMOs

As we look back at the past several years of the MMO scene, we see a genre that has gone through significant evolutionary leaps. With those pioneering days of text MUDs and blocky graphics behind us, today we enjoy professionally developed games with impressive development teams and massive budgets behind them. The genre's depths have been thoroughly explored and we've even categorised the features we've come to love and expect from our favourite online retreats. Every part of the genre, from the types of gameplay available to the terminology we use, has been routinely evolving and redefining itself over time.

With professional MMO development soaring and a whole new generation of promising titles on the way, we stand on the cusp of what could be the next big evolutionary leap for online gaming. In the coming weeks and months, Massively will be examining how the MMO genre has been redefined during the current generation of games and where it's headed in the next. If you have something important to say on the topic, feel free to post a comment on page 2 or even write your own "Redefining MMOs" blog post and leave a comment with the URL.

In this introductory article, I ask why we use the terminology we do when talking about MMOs and if perhaps it's starting to change.

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