A post over at Beau Turkey’s place as well as comments made here has crystallized my opinion that some of the terminology we MMO commentators use is out of date, misleading or flatly inaccurate. In particular, the very term “MMORPG” has become very murky over the last few years. At one time, in the glory days of UO, EQ and DAoC, we all knew what you meant if you used that term. Everything used the same money model, had roughly similar gameplay and virtual spaces, and was set in the same genre. I know that many differences existed between these games, as well as others that existed at the time, but in a broad sense they were similar games. Nothing else existed close to that particular place in the market.
Now we have an array of games with vastly different gameplay and money models all using the “MMO” moniker. All are multiplayer at least after a fashion, but a number are anything but massive. More importantly, some feature heavily truncated virtual worlds, and a few lack this feature almost entirely. The term has become diluted by games which only marginally fit into the category occupied by EQ and UO, if they even do at all. It’s almost as if the marketing people for some titles think that their game only needs to be seen as an MMO in order to make money… and I suspect that this was actually extant at least for a while. Ultimately, we need a new name for the family of games that includes EQ, WoW, EVE and others.
Another annoyance is the term Beau talks about: “free to play”. No game yet has been free to play. The publisher needs to make money somehow, even if it’s via in-game advertising or subscription fees. This isn’t a bad thing – I expect to have to spend money to engage in any hobby, but FtP as it commonly gets thrown around by developers, publishers and commentators is pretty deceptive.
What they really mean, of course, is Free to Try. They expect that many (maybe not most) players will end up spending money at some point, and the models are set up to encourage that, often (in the current wave of western examples,) with content gated in some way. You’ll eventually run out of stuff to do, and if you’ve been enjoying the game up to that point, why not drop a few bucks to keep playing? The idea is twofold: first, by lowering the barrier to entry, you keep folks coming in and populations propped up, which is good for any game of this type, and second, you potentially get some money out of people who would otherwise not have given any to you at all, because they’re not willing to buy boxes or pay subscriptions or whatever. Not all of those free players will spend money, but we’re already seeing examples of this being touted of the new(ish) model working as intended.
Don’t get me wrong; I am a supporter of the newish money model as led by Turbine, followed by SOE and now by Cryptic and Flying Labs. It’s the terminology I’m objecting to. We’re going to see more games moving in this direction, and more variations on this theme as time goes by. And slowly we’ll start to see the emergence of an Asian-style online game market, hopefully without the Asian games to go along with them. The curtain is about to fall on the old model where one buys a box at retail and then pays monthly for the privilege of playing.