The Evolving Definition of MMORPG
A post over at Massively Overpowered postulated the question is an MMORPG still an MMORPG without gear progression? As you can imagine a broad debate ensued and at present there are over two hundred comments on the matter. I’m not going to debate the specifics of this particular question but would rather consider the following notion. That the term MMORPG is not immutable and has indeed evolved beyond its traditional definition. Furthermore unless some gamers embrace the concept of adaptive gaming semantics then they will continue to find themselves at odds with the prevailing ideas that are currently driving game developers.
Back in the heyday of Ultima Online the term Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game had a very specific meaning that reflected the game mechanics and social requirements of the genre. For better or for worse that definition is no longer applicable. Today the MMORPG is a far broader church where players can pursue common goals collectively or on their own depending on their personal choice. Gear grinds, endgame raiding and mechanics such as the Holy Trinity are no longer essential to the genre. The formula for an MMORPG is now far more flexible, like the recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala or General Tso’s Chicken.
Yet many gamers have their personal perspective of the MMO shaped by their point of entry in to the genre. As a result a form of gaming first contact takes places that creates a rather entrenched mindset and a resistance to change. However games are first and foremost a business and market forces are there primary driving factor. Developers therefore will pursue whatever they consider to be financially viable options. Thus change is inevitable as well as desire able. Do we simply want a market saturated with identical products?
Change can be upsetting at times, especially if you feel it is to your personal detriment. Yet to resist it is ultimately futile. New players and revenue streams outweigh any loss from those who are unhappy. Gamers who want things to remain the same will eventually exile themselves from the very genre they enjoy. Is that a superior choice to trying something different, adapting and accepting change? I have an elderly relation who still obstinately refers to Zimbabwe as Rhodesia, due to some archaic world view that is now obsolete. All they really do by maintaining this stance is isolate themselves from others and look foolish. One could argue that those who stick rigidly to their own definition of the MMORPG are doing the same.