MMORPG’s – why are they so massive?

Hey there guys and welcome to another one of my articles. Today I’m going to talk about MMORPGs and why they are so popular. MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Quite a mouthful isn’t it? MMOs as I will call them from now on are online video games where players compete, work together and socialize with each other. There can be thousands upon thousands of people online at the same time.

 A few recent examples of this are World Of Warcraft (The most successful MMO to date), Rift, DC Universe Online, Everquest, Guild Wars and many more. Most of these games are for the PC but some console-based MMOs have seen daylight as well. Examples of console-based MMOs are Final Fantasy XI and EverQuest Online Adventures, both titles have been released on the PlayStation 2. To give you an estimate of how massive these MMOs are, World of Warcraft currently has around 12 million subscribers. That’s more people on one game than the entire Belgian population!
The genre has some unique features that other games often do not have. First of all the majority of popular MMORPGs are based on traditional fantasy themes, often occurring in an in-game universe. Some use hybrid themes that either merge or substitute fantasy elements with those of science fiction, sword and sorcery. These elements are often developed in a similar way, mostly involving completing quests, killing monsters and getting loot.
Secondly, MMOs focus heavily on character progression. In most cases this is done using experience points or xp for short. Players usually gather experience by completing quests and killing monsters. The more xp you gather the higher your level will be. Also, traditional in the genre is the eventual demand on players to team up with others in order to progress at the optimal rate. This ‘xp grinding’ sometimes forces players to change their real-world schedules in order to “keep up” within the game-world.
Thirdly, MMOs often require players to pay a monthly or bi-monthly fee in order to be allowed to play. The so-called paid subscription. For example, WoW charges you with  € 27 every 2 months if you use the gamecard system or € 13 if you use a credit card that automatically gets billed. Next to that, other paid services are often added later on such as unique in-game items. As with all things money-related, people try to take advantage of it. In the case of MMOs you often see ‘bots’ trying to sell you in-game currency for a lot of real life money. Their trade goods are often procured by hacking accounts, and farming spawns (often referred to as chinese gold farmers, no offence). It’s fairly obvious that such practices are frowned upon, by players and developers alike.
One last thing is the social interaction and the unique MMO community. Many MMORPGs offer support for in-game guilds or clans (though these will usually form whether the game supports them or not).
In addition, most MMOs require some degree of teamwork for parts of the game. These tasks usually require players to take on roles in the group, such as those protecting other players from damage (tanking), “healing” damage done to other players or damaging enemies (DPS).
An entire culture has formed around social interactions and group-based gameplay. Since so many people experience the same content at the same time it’s only natural that a sort of language or dialect if you will has formed around the MMO community. For example, the words “buffing” or “nerfing”, which describe the strengthening or weakening, of particular game elements. “Buffing” can also refer to in-game effects that temporarily enhance performance; both usages come from a core meaning of increasing power levels. Even more, entire websites, YouTube channels and magazines have been created around MMOs.
Next to that, addiction also affects the culture. Some players might look down on those who invest huge amounts of time and or money into a game, while others might scorn those who can’t put in the time to “play properly”. These would be the so-called casuals or even noobs if they’re really bad and the hardcore players.
The question is now, why are these games so popular if you have to pay every so often, have worse graphics than conventional games and require you to put a large amount of time into them before you even accomplish anything?
First of all, MMOs are very addictive. Once you get a good grasp of the game you’ll want to see what you can do, you want to reach the level cap, kill all the end-game bosses and collect all the loot they drop. Being a WoW player for 5 years now I can say that the drive to be better, kill more powerful bosses and execute any tactic the game throws at me is very high compared to other, single player games. Having been on the cutting edge of raiding progression myself I can tell you that you really look forward to new content because it just means more excitement and fun.
Secondly, MMOs offer new content on a regular basis, be it in the form of new content patches or entire expansion packs. New monsters, quests and loot gets added which further compels people to keep on playing.
The success of an MMO is also closely related to the story. Storylines are incredibly important to keep players hooked to a game. Bad storylines will cause players to quit. MMOs attract the kind of players that often value a good storyline over the state of the game itself. The so-called role-players often gather in guilds and act like they are part of the game world.
One other thing that comes to mind, is that a person can just disappear in anonymity by playing an MMO. He or she can create a character that is totally different from their real self, they can create characters that aren’t even the same gender (remember GIRL on an MMO = Guy In Real Life). Or they can choose to be exactly what they wanted to be, or something completely different. The choice is entirely yours.
And finally, the sense of community is also very important. MMOs have a way of connecting people through a friend list system or a guild system. There are PvP guilds, RP guilds, PvE or raid guilds, Social guilds, … Think of it as a club of like-minded people who enjoy playing together. Next to guilds you can also just socialize with people outside your guild, there are often different channels in game. For example, a trade channel, a general chat, a channel to find instance groups, etc.
In today’s world, MMOs have become a large part of people’s life. MMOs bring people from different cultures, religions, countries and ethnicity together in one big world where they can play, learn and enjoy themselves. With such popular games as World of Warcraft, Rift, EVE Online it’s very clear that MMOs are here to stay and will become an even larger part of everyday life. Honestly, I wouldn’t want it any different.
What is your take on this all? Do you think MMOs are good or bad for society? Leave your answer in the comment section below!

Author: Niels Van Hellemont

Hi, my name is Niels and I'm a long time fan of movies, anime, comics, games and whatnot. Could say that I'm a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the above mentioned things. I'm currently studying for a Bachelor After Bachelor in Advanced Business Management - Human Resources Management.

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