Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Acronym soup

Massively recently had a long post with input from many game developers on whether to use the term "MMO". As Raph Koster remarks in that post, "MMO" isn't really a good term, because its a bunch of adjectives without a noun. "I'm playing a massively multiplayer online" simply makes no sense at all. I do sometime use "MMO game", but that ends up being longer than the old acronym MMORPG.

One possibility would be to use MMOG. I do think it is important to mention the "game" in the acronym, because in my opinion a virtual world like Second Life is not a MMOG. It is just a world without a game, so MMOW would fit better for those. But then we still don't know what sort of a massively multiplayer online game we are talking about! It could still be a big online poker tournament or something.

My preferred solution is to keep using MMORPG, and re-educate people about what the "RP" stands for in this context. Unfortunately too many players think "role-playing" is about talking in Elizabethean English, or having a background story for your character, or speaking "in character" all the time. But that sort of theatrical role-playing has always been a minority pursuit, even back in the times of Dungeons & Dragons. What the majority of players does is what the theatrical role-players dismiss as "roll playing": Playing a character with evolving stats, trying to get those stats up by leveling and gathering gear. And that, in my opinion, is the more correct interpretation of "RP". For example if you grab the latest strategy game and see printed on the box that this version now has "role-playing elements", nobody expects you to pretend you are a soldier while playing the game; it simply means that your units have stats, gain experience in fights, and you'll be able to use the same units with now improved stats in the next mission again.

This sort of stat-improving role-playing is one of the defining features of the kind of games we play here. Which is why I am not in favor of dropping it from the acronym, even if I do admit that the result is rather long and not easily pronounced. But unless somebody comes up with a much better term, I'm sticking with MMORPG. And "Tobold's MMORPG Blog" this is going to remain until then.
Speaking of bad acronyms... (okay, so, I've wanted to bring this up for years): Don't know how it works in Europe, but in the US every car has a VIN number. That's right, a vehicle identification number number.
I'd suggest MORG, meaning Multiplayer Online Role(playing) Game. I believe Massively is not necessary as it is not a true indication of how many players are participating. Many MMO are not massive by any stretch. Also "P" for Playing is redundant. MORG is economical and effective (besides sounding like the name of a boss).
Many MMO are not massive by any stretch.
Not anymore, at least. This is mostly a matter of perspective. Back in the day when the term originated, most multiplayer games supported 2, 4, 8 or even 16 players. A 80-player raid was pretty big by comparison, and a city with several hundreds of players could plausibly be called massive.

However, with the dawn of instancing, the group size of player interaction has been shrunk back to five, ten or 25. When the average multiplayer FPS can field similar figures the distinction vanishes.
I the same manner as you wouldn't use game about Second Life because it's not a game. I guess you shouldn't use the term Role-Playing for something that is not role playing.
RPG, a roleplay game.

By elimination:

Singleplayer was a temporary aberration due to technical limitations. Most non computer games from ball games to board games are multipayer. Thats the norm.

Online likewise. Its a given today. Not worth mentioning. Online is almost implied by Multiplayer anyhow. How would you get to the other players without Online?

Massively: massive is questionable anyway in sharded environments. I would call EVE Online really massively, but not the 3.000 on a WoW server. Anyhow, would you call the real world massively, a real world battle? Probably not. Its just a battle. Very many people is the norm.

That leaves RolePlay as the specialization of Game. Its an RPG. 20 years ago an RPG was pen and paper. Today and in the future RPGs are computer based with very many people. Not worth mentioning "very many people online".

Do we need the G? Yep, there will also be serious RolePlays in the future.

SL is less Game, only a bit RolePlay. Probably only a VW (virtual world).

WoW is an RPG in a VW.
Consider it not an acronym, but an expression on its own- which it has become.

An MMO is a massivle multiplayer online game. Linguistic experts can trace the word back to an acronym.
MMO seems to work fine, the acronym is meant to be a descriptor for the type of game your playing.

RTS - Real time strategy
FPS - First Person Shooter

its already assumed your talking about a game.

the P in rpg isn't a given because its not playing as in the game, but playing as in the role. Its "play" in the sense that an actor plays a part, not the way you play a game.
I'd suggest sticking with MMO. So yeah, it started out as the first part of a larger acronym, but words and their meanings change over time.
So maybe it's time for MMO to evolve from acronym to word.
I've fallen into the habit of calling them MMOs. Maybe I'll try pronouncing it: more-peg.

@Vincenzo: Massive is a relative term. Before WoW, hundreds of thousands was massive.
Let the theatricals keep RP as their term.

I'm aware of the history, that RPGs started as variants of wargames but I think it's more useful to roleplayers to be able to define what they do in terms of acting a role than it is for other gamers to use the term.

CRPGs date back to Dungeonmaster and Eye of the Beholder and it's really time to let go of an acronym that was never really a good fit for what it is that roll players actually do.
Sort of like a PIN number for a debit card? Personal Identification Number Number.

@vincenzo: You think ~30000 players (online at any given time in an average mmo, for eve this would be on ones server together) is not massive? at what point is something massive in your opinion?

Also, how does saying "RG", or "Role/Roll Game" make any sense at all? Far from redundant, the "Playing" part is crucial for the semantics and sense of the expression. The term Role Game flat out makes no sense whatsoever, to be honest.

The point of the term massive is to imply the scope of the world. When you have thousands and millions of players contributing to an online world, it is indeed massive. I fail to understand how you could possibly not consider wow, eve, aion, or any mmorpg as not "massive".
Another bad acronym is Seattles trolly system called the South Lake Union Trolley. It has inspired t-shirts reading you ride the SLUT!
MMORPG is satisfying because of how you pronounce it: more-peg. It feels like a real world, and has that satisfying two syllable, soft beginning and hard end to it.

D&D back in the day barely had any role-playing at all, compared to what's encouraged in WhiteWolf's games for example. In fact it was really just a board game with lots of specialized rules in the beginning. The DikuMUD style of MMORPGs is quite close to that, really. Better role-playing focused RPGs exist now, although the RP content of any such game depends mostly on the people involved.
I agree Tobold. People seem to ignore what the original D&D players meant when they role played. Even back then it was a VERY small minority that pretended to be their characters. Most people now days have never even played Pen and Paper D&D.

I hate that article though. Every representive tries to explain why their games is a true MMO and the other aren't. They bend the term MMORPG to fit their game's elements and try to exclude the competition.
I can't remember which blogger came up with it, but I always liked POW. Persistent Online World.

The thought being that the "game" continues even after you stop playing.
There should be an acronym for games that are not massively mutliplayer all the time, like DDO and Guild Wars.

In a way, GW and DDO aren't much different in multiplayer aspects from FPSes that have persistent player profiles like CoD4. The difference is that the "lobby" where you find games is a 3d place in the RPGs and not just a list of instance servers.
Isn't a game like starcraft called an RTS? I don't think I've seen them called RTSGs.

Functionally, acronyms often simply get used as nouns instead of phrases in common usage anyway. This usage really bugs some people who automatically read the acronym as a phrase when they encounter it. Hence the complaints about "ATM machines" and "PIN numbers".

In the end, the literal expansion of an acronym really only matters when you first encounter it. After that, it's just a noun that describes (in this case) a genre of games with certain common properties.

It's probably more interesting to discuss what those properties are. For example, most people don't seem to describe second life as an MMO. That seems to suggest that only game like virtual worlds can be MMOs. Another interesting case is that guild wars is an MMO, but diablo 2 isn't. They are both mostly small group instanced dungeon crawls. They are only different in their social spaces.
And we get our cash from ATM machines: Automatic Teller Machine machines. Sometimes the acronym just flows better and is easier to identify it's meaning with some redunancy. While saying "I need an ATM" is becoming more common because everyone uses them and it really doesn't need the redundancy, many people wouldn't know what a "VIN" was without saying "VIN number".

I really like "MMO" since it is easy to say and you can tailor it to the type of environment.

"I play MMO computer games."

"I enjoy MMO environments like Second Life."

And let's face it, the whole RP thing is archaic. We don't play a "role" like we did in Dungeons & Dragons which often involved (as much as I hate to admit it) dressing in costume and speaking our actions as well as conversing with the NPCs through the dungeon master.

Now we play a "character" through keyboard commands.
I'd argue the massively is less about how many people are on the screen at one time and how many share the same world. When you can do deals with players you never meet and never even bother to know their name, it's probably good to toss massively on there.

In fact I'm perfectly happy with MMO. It may not break down properly but everyone knows exactly what you mean when you say it and it's concise. At what point does an acronym lose acronymic status and become just another word?

I think ATM machine and VIN number are excellent examples of acronyms that became words (hence why people add what appears to be a redundancy, but in fact is not redundant since VIN and ATM are not being used as acronyms but as adjectives). MMO is another one that doesn't many any sense, yet somehow everyone knows exactly what you mean.
"Unfortunately too many players think "role-playing" is about talking in Elizabethean English, or having a background story for your character, or speaking "in character" all the time. But that sort of theatrical role-playing has always been a minority pursuit, even back in the times of Dungeons & Dragons."

I'm gonna have to disagree. Very few pen & paper players take up a fake accent, or even alter their vocabulary (much), but...

...almost all of them have _some_ background for their character. Most of them have some idea on how "their character" is different from "themselves" (i.e. my character is very generous...or headstrong, or is prone to charging in then looking).

In WoW (at least) that doesn't really seem to be true. It gets played more like a board game (I go here, then you go there...I'll pull then you grab them and the mages will unload).

That isn't a bad thing. WoW is fun without the typical levels of RP that pen&paper games get up to, but it isn't fair to say "pen&paper players don't RP ether!"

To be sure D&D players tend to RP _less_ then Dogs in the Vineyard players, or Spirit of the Century players (who don't have stats like +5 axe, but more like "I know a guy (++)" and "Good with horses (1d6)").

Case in point, I have a WoW gnome warlock. When his bags get full he mails stuff he think other folks can use to them (friends, relatives, guild members) and he ALWAYS says "if this ends up turning a great profit please send my cut to SOMEONE", as in "I know you are going to be working on gemsmashing soon, and I came across these pearls and agates, should you happen to smash them into shapes that sell for a lot of gold please send my cut to the family of Wilfred Fizzlebang, they could use all the help they can get".

Responses are positive, but pretty much always of the form "that's so cute!" or "thats so funny!". In a typical pen&paper group they would chime in and express condolences, or ask me if I knew Wilfred well, or tell me that is what warlocks get summoning powers beyond their control.

...and back to the topic:

Just go with MMO or MMOG. I wouldn't care that second life isn't exactly a game. It is more the exception that proves the rule then anything else. Plus from the few folks that I know that play it it _is_ a game to them, just one without any pre-set goals.

Almost all the current MMO games are RP (or "RP elements") games, but that doesn't have to remain the case. The current practice in MMO game design is to have your character gain in skill which makes the game a little more sticky, but maybe the next big trend will be to AVOID that because while it tends to make people want to stick to a game they _have_ advanced it, it also makes some folks less likely to pick up a game they haven't yet advanced in.

The next big MMO might _not_ have any character advancement. Just a persistent shared "world". Then it won't be a RPG for *any* reasonable sense of the term RPG.
MMORPGs seem to forget about the RP element. Most now don't even let you define the role you play and create some sort of character bio. Really annoys me.

"it also makes some folks less likely to pick up a game they haven't yet advanced in."

I find this hard to believe since Vanilla WoW is still on most top 10 sold lists.
POG: Persistent Online Game. To me, online and multiplayer are a little redundant, at least in most common applications.
I can't seem to make up my mind concerning which term/acronym to use. In my own (horribly neglected) blog I seem to switch between MMORPG, MMOG and MMO depending on my mood/time of day/weather outside/state of the Doomsday Clock.

I have used MMORPG more than twice as much as the other two put together though, so maybe that's the one I prefer. Hmm. I should probably try to stick to that one then. :P
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