The term MMORPG was coined byRichard Garriott, the creator of UltimaOnline, in 1997. Previous to this andrelated coinages, these games weregenerally called graphical MUDs;Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is a genre ofrole-playing video games in which avery large number of players interactwith one another within a virtualgame world.
As in all RPGs, players assume the roleof a character (often in a fantasy world)and take control over many of thatcharacters actions. MMORPGs aredistinguished from single-player orsmall multi-player RPGs by the numberof players, and by the games persistentworld (usually hosted by the gamespublisher), which continues to exist andevolve while the player is offline andaway from the game.
MMORPGs are played throughout theworld. Worldwide revenues forMMORPGs exceeded half a billion dollarsin 2005, and Western revenuesexceeded US$1 billion in 2006. In2008, Western consumer spending onsubscription MMOGs grew to $1.4billion.World of Warcraft, a popularMMORPG, had more than 11 millionsubscribers as of March, 2011.
Although modern MMORPGssometimes differ dramatically fromtheir antecedents, many of them sharesome basic characteristics. Theseinclude several common themes: someform of progression, social interactionwithin the game, in-gameculture, system architecture, andcharacter customization.
Characters can often be customizedquite extensively, both in the technicaland visual aspects, with new choicesoften added over time by thedevelopers. A few games also offersome form of modding in order toallow for even greater flexibility ofchoice.
ThemesThe majority of popular MMORPGs are based ontraditional fantasy themes, often occurring in anin-game universe comparable to that ofDungeons & Dragons. Some employ hybridthemes that either merge or substitute fantasyelements with those of science fiction, sword andsorcery, or crime fiction. Still others drawthematic material from American comic books,the occult, and other genres. Often theseelements are developed using similar tasks andscenarios involving quests, monsters, and loot.
ProgressionIn nearly all MMORPGs, thedevelopment of the players characteris a primary goal. Nearly all MMORPGsfeature a character progressionsystem in which players earnexperience points for their actions anduse those points to reach character"levels", which makes them better atwhatever they do.
Traditionally, combat with monsters andcompleting quests for NPCs, either aloneor in groups, are the primary ways toearn experience points. Theaccumulation of wealth (includingcombat-useful items) is also a way toprogress in many MMORPGs, andagain, this is traditionally bestaccomplished via combat.
In addition, most MMOs require some degree ofteamwork for parts of the game. These tasksusually require players to take on roles in thegroup, such as those protecting other playersfrom damage (called tanking), "healing" damagedone to other players or damaging enemies.
MMORPGs generally have Game Moderators orGame Masters (frequently abbreviated toGM), who may be paid employees or unpaidvolunteers who attempt to supervise the world.Some GMs may have additional access tofeatures and information related to the gamethat are not available to other players and roles.
RoleplayingMost MMORPGs provide different types ofclasses that players can choose. Among thoseclasses, players are encouraged to roleplaytheir characters, providing rules, functionalityand content to this end. Some MMORPGs offer"roleplay-only" servers that prohibitinteractions to other players amongcharacters for those who want to immersethemselves in the game in this way.Community resources such as forums andguides exist in support of this play style.
System architectureMost MMORPGs are deployed using aclient–server system architecture. Theserver software generates a persistentinstance of the virtual world that runscontinuously, and players connect to it viaclient software. The client software mayprovide access to the entire playingworld, or further expansions may berequired to be purchased to allow accessto certain areas of the game.
EverQuest and Guild Wars are two examples ofgames that use such a format. Playersgenerally must purchase the client software fora one-time fee, although an increasing trend isfor MMORPGs to work using pre-existing "thin"clients, such as a web browser.Some MMORPGs require payment of a monthlysubscription to play. By nature, "massivelymultiplayer" games are always online, and mostrequire some sort of continuous revenue (suchas monthly subscriptions and advertisements)for maintenance and development.
Some MMORPGs require payment of amonthly subscription to play. Bynature, "massively multiplayer" games arealways online, and most require some sortof continuous revenue (such as monthlysubscriptions and advertisements) formaintenance and development. Games that make use of this model oftenhave originated in Korea, such as Flyff andMapleStory. This business model isalternately called "pay for perks" or"freemium", and games using it oftendescribe themselves with the term "free-to-play".
PsychologySince the interactions between MMORPGplayers are real, even if the environmentsare virtual, psychologists and sociologistsare able to use MMORPGs as tools foracademic research. Sherry Turkle, a clinicalpsychologist, has conducted interviews withcomputer users including game-players.Turkle found that many people haveexpanded their emotional range byexploring the many different roles(including gender identities) that MMORPGsallow a person to explore.
Nick Yee has surveyed more than 35,000MMORPG players over the past severalyears, focusing on psychological andsociological aspects of these games.Recent findings included that 15% ofplayers become a guild-leader at onetime or another, but most generally findthe job tough and thankless;and thatplayers spend a considerable amount oftime (often a third of their total timeinvestment) doing things that areexternal to gameplay but part of themetagame.
ECONOMICSMany MMORPGs feature living economies. Virtualitems and currency have to be gained through playand have definite value for players.Such a virtualeconomy can be analyzed (using data logged bythe game) and has value in economic research;more significantly, these "virtual" economies canhave an impact on the economies of the realworld.
One of the early researchers of MMORPGs wasEdward Castronova, who demonstrated that asupply-and-demand market exists for virtual itemsand that it crosses over with the real world.Thiscrossover has some requirements of the game:•The ability for players to sell an item to each otherfor in-game (virtual) currency.•Bartering for items between players for items ofsimilar value.•The purchase of in-game items for real-worldcurrency.•Exchanges of real-world currencies for virtualcurrencies.
Use of licensesThe use of intellectual propertylicensing, common in other video gamegenres, has also appeared in MMORPGs. 2007saw the release of The Lord of the RingsOnline, based on J. R. R. Tolkiens Middle-earth.Other licensed MMORPGs include The MatrixOnline, based on the Matrix trilogy offilms, Warhammer Online: Age ofReckoning, based on Games Workshops tabletop game, Star Trek Online, Star WarsGalaxies, Star Wars The OldRepublic, Champions Online and Age of Conan.Additionally, several licenses from televisionhave been optioned for MMORPGs, for exampleStargate Worlds, which was canceled.
Console-based MMORPGsThe first console-based MMORPG wasPhantasy Star Online for the SegaDreamcast.The first console-based open-worldMMORPG was Final Fantasy XI for theSonyPlayStation 2. EverQuest OnlineAdventures, also on the PlayStation 2, wasthe first console MMORPG in North America.Although console-based MMORPGs areconsidered more difficult to produce,theplatform is gaining more attention.
Final Fantasy XI was originally released forPlayStation 2 and PC, but was later extended toXbox 360, and later emulated as a PlayStation 2game on the PlayStation 3.Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enixs secondMMORPG in the Final Fantasy series wasreleased in September 2010 for MicrosoftWindows and the scheduled release date forSonys PlayStation 3 version is 2011.Free Realms, Sonys MMORPG originallyreleased on PC, was added as a free downloadon the PlayStation Network on March 29, 2011.