Earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet up with Linda Carlson and Dave Georgeson for a loose discussion about the current state of the MMOG industry. We talked about everything from business models building communities, but one part of the discussion in particular focused on a topic I've been somewhat obsessing over for the past few months: what defines an MMO in the modern era?
Considering that the original EverQuest largely formed the template for the majority of MMOs that came after, I couldn't think of a more fitting pair to pose that question to. What follows are the excellent replies from Linda and Dave which I felt were worth sharing, especially now that we're on the eve of the worldwide reveal for EQNext.
Linda Carlson: As a player, I define an MMO as something that has achieved a social life of its own. And by social life I don’t mean going out and partying. By social life I mean the ways in which people form not just communities, but whole societies where the interaction makes the world a vibrant, living, evolving place. And people are creating their own metagame all the time just by participating in this society, and every aspect of society is represented.
You’ve got matriarchs and patriarchs running guilds. You’ve got brilliant warrior kings who are leading raid groups. You’ve got people who stay in their guild hall all day crafting who form a social glue because they’re always there. They’re always talking to the rest of us who are out adventuring.
So they are societies. These are worlds that we no longer own that belong to the players who have formed these societies.
So I can’t call an MMO a game where you play and things are persistent. There are MMOs where you do not require interaction with other people, but I don’t necessary have a problem with that. Societies will still form IF you give them the tools to form a society with.
If you’re in a game where you can solo all the way through it, chances are you’re still going to join a guild because we are naturally drawn to family and tribal situations. We want to be a part of something bigger. We want people to work with and share our virtual lives with as we do our regular lives.
And guess what? In virtual lives you get to pick your family, and your neighbors, and your friends much more easily than we can do in real life.
Dave Georgeson: I don’t like the term MMO. It’s generic and it means nothing. I actually like the older term that never caught on which is virtual world. That’s really what we’re building. We’re building a reality that’s better than reality. One where you can customize a character that you want to be, and then perfect yourself.
You have complete control over a virtual world in a way that you do not have in real life. It’s a better experience, it’s a better life experience, and it’s fun to have connections with people internationally and all that other stuff. You meet a broad class of people, and are able to be involved in situations you’re never going to become involved in here in the real world. Very heroic, bigger than life kind of things.
A virtual world is more like that, rather than just a persistent game. The persistence is important because it’s not a world if it’s not persistent, but that’s the least of the things that makes a virtual world or an MMO what it is.
Linda: Also, if you’re going to build these worlds, you have to be really passionate about what you’re doing. You have to be willing to make what the player societies want, not what you’re seeing in your own head because you’re one person. So you have to be part of an increasing collaborative movement where players are part of the process. I think we’re doing an awfully good job of that at SOE these days. It’s kind of scary how quickly the company is evolving to meet the challenging needs of the industry. As Dave says, it’s not easy to make an MMO.
Dave: When the company started we were making D&D Online before there was a D&D Online. That’s really what we were doing. We were using the D&D game and modeling it and stuff like that. But it’s been a long road and now we understand what we’re really building. Which is communities of people with an excuse to get together. That’s really what these games are.
Once we approach it from that kind of perspective, the pieces start to fit together very differently. We start designing the games very differently because everyone has their own goals; everyone wants different things from these games. There are very distinct different buckets of players in terms of the kinds of things that they really like to do. We need to make all of that work because we want all of those people in the game, otherwise it doesn’t feel like a community.
When I made the first PlanetSide, effectively what I did was I made a game where we only had one type of player. We had a rough time with our persistence because of that. It was people that liked to twitch shoot. I had tried to solve it at the time, because I had done Tribes 2 before that. So there were lots of different roles that you could do within that action, but it’s pretty much just the action. Lesson learned.
So now when we’re making the games we know we need a bigger variety of people in that mix so that the community hangs together.
I'd like to thank both Dave and Linda for taking the time to provide their unique perspectives on one of my favorite meta-questions when it comes to MMOs these days. Stay tuned for more anecdotes, insights, and interesting tidbits from our discussion. And of course, be sure to bookmark EQHammer to follow our in-depth coverage from SOE Live on all things EQ franchise related.
Reuben got his start in MMOs with the launch of EverQuest and has been playing necromancers ever since. He currently plays EverQuest II on the Antonia Bayle server where he runs the Shadowed Circle guild. Reuben also spends his time as the arch lich (aka editor-in-chief) of the Ten Ton Hammer network, and likes to think he knows a thing or two about massively multiplayer online games.
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