The Daily Grind: Which MMO subgenres need better names?


There are an awful lot of games falling under the broad header of “not quite an MMORPG but still multiplayer shooter with strong influences of same.” Off the top of my head we’ve got WarframeThe Division (and its sequel), AnthemDestiny (and its sequel)… you could even argue that it includes things like PlanetSide (and, yes, its sequel) in the overall consideration. All well and good, but we don’t actually have a name for this particular subgenre, and the one bandied about like “Destiny clones” ignores the fact that some of these games either predate Bungie’s title or aren’t even close to clone status.

This subgenre is not alone. We’ve got other little fields of similar-but-not-the-same titles that deserve grouping together, like the various Kickstarted old-school throwback PvP free-for-alls, the particular style of action-based grinder like Closers and Soulworker Online, even the broad designations like “World of Warcraft clone” that often expand or contract unfairly. So what do you think, readers? Which MMO subgenres need better names than we’ve given them so far?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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You need to split the definitions into two parts.

First, the multiplayer component. This is the part that is gotten wrong most often. Is it massively multiplayer? Average multiplayer? Minimally multiplayer? Coop? Split screen? Online/offline?

I propose setting tangible limits:

250+ = Massively Multiplayer (MM)
13 – 250 = Standard Multiplayer (SM)
2-12 = Minimally Multiplayer (MinM)

The number comes from the maximum number of players you can fit into the same virtual environment. If you have to go through a loading screen, you are in a different virtual environment and therefore cannot be counted because you cannot interact with people in the other environment. If you cannot interact, you are not included in the multiplayer count.

Second, the genre component. I think it’s best to stick with the top level genre for primary categorisation. RPG, RTS, FPS etc. When selecting a game, this is the most important thing to know right from the start. For example, I don’t like FPS’s, so I’d rather know that right from the start, instead of knowing that it’s a looter-shooter and then having to do more research to find out if it’s first or thrid person.

Sub-genres are more of a way of labeling a group of common features, certainly useful at times. “Looter-shooter” is a short way of saying that the game is a shooter and is focused on a pointless gear grind. Certainly useful information to know, but doesn’t really tell you anything about the world or the combat, only what the focus of the game is.

So, some examples:

LotRO = MMORPG / themepark
I’ve personally witnessed 1500+ within the same virtual environment, so it’s definitely MMO. Its a roleplaying game, because you can select a role and that role has an impact on the game. And it’s a themepark because you a primarily experiencing developer-created content, rather than player-created.

SW:TOR = SMORPG / themepark
Not sure if it’s changed, but when I played there was a player cap of 75, so it only achieves standard multiplayer numbers, they never get massive.

Destiny = SMOFPS / Looter-shooter
Again, low player caps keeps this as a standard mutliplayer game. Its a first person shooter, and its part of the looter-shooter subgenre.

Small player caps means this is minimally multiplayer and it is derived from the RTS genre. It belongs in the MOBA sub-genre to more clearly tell people what the game features are like.

SWG = MMORPG / sandbox
Game supports massive numbers of players in the same virtual environment and is an RPG, belonging to the sandbox sub-genre.

New World = MMORPG / survival
Game is supposed to support massive numbers (goal is 250v250 battles) and you can define your own roles (melee/ranged/crafter etc). It’s feature list sits most closely with the survival sub-genre, rather than sandbox, though I guess you could call survival a sub-genre of sandbox….

Mario Kart 8 = MinMORacer / Kart Racing
Game has a player cap of 12, so is minimally multiplayer.

Splatoon = MinMOFPS / Arena Shooter
Maps have a cap of 8 (iirc) so its minimally multiplayer, and every game you are placed in a pre-defined arena (map) with set limits.

Battlefield 1 = SMOFPS / Arena Shooter
Just to compare to splatoon, this supports larger numbers but not massive numbers, so it’s just a standard multiplayer game. As with splatoon, game takes place inside pre-defined arenas (maps).

I feel like we should move away from sandbox/themepark terminology as whilst we within the MMO community know what they mean, large parts of the gaming public don’t. Thus, I think we should replace themepark with “story-focused” and sandbox with “virtual world”. I can’t think of what to replace sandpark with though (i.e. games that include a balance of sandbox and themepark features)


I am totally with you on the general idea of splitting definitions into two parts. And I also agree that we should retire themepark and sandbox terminology.

I like your 3 tangible limit idea, and I guess the numbers you list are reasonable.
However am not so ready to define it from the perspective of “how many players can an instance contain”. What I mean is that zoning in a persistent world (though technically the zones are instances), don’t change between sessions so you will hit the same persistent instance over and over, making the zoning part a mere technical construct .. long story short, the entire world could be argued as being massively because it is the same persistent instances you switch between. For example, a seamless world is technically made the same way, with instances connected by zone lines and the only difference being that the loading screen has been optimized to happen in the background – What seamless world and loading screen world do share is that they are both persistent (except when they are shard and mega server tech).
My point being that persistence plays some kind of defining role in whether something can be called a massively multiplayer world.
A quick shot at it might be:
Massively Multiplayer = 500+ players in either one instance or combined in ONE persistent world (MM)
Large Multiplayer = 13-500 players in one instance, where there can be more than ONE instance of a “zone” aka not a persistent world (LM)
Lobby (Fully instanced multiplayer) = 1-12 players per instance, instances are reach through lobby or “shared town” mechanics (IM or simply “Lobby”)

As for the move away from themepark sandbox terminology, maybe something like:
Story driven = Your typical WoW and “clones”… developer made stories drives the player. WoW, Eq2, GW2, ESO, Lotro, Barbie Doll Online and more.
Virtual World = Typically your pre-WoW mmorpgs (though they on the way back in new forms) .. the world exist on its own terms, not as a placeholder for stories to drive the player through. Aka Sandpark, pve sandbox. Content is the world open to diversity in player interaction. Eq1, Asherons Call, FFxi?, Gorgon, (EqNext rip), and more.
PvP sandbox (damn that “sandbox” sneaked in) = These are game where PvP is the carrying part of the game. It can overlap into both Virtual World and Story Driven and Survival, but as opposed to the Virtual World, players are the main content instead of the world being the main content. UO, EVE, Darkfall, DaoC/CU, and many more.
Survival = Yeah well you know what they are ? Ark, Rust .. Includes builder games and pure sandbox like Trove, Minecraft. Pvp is often a part, but not the driving content of survival games.


Does it make sense to genre/type label a shooter game differently than a diablo style rpg if they function the same on a general game systems design level?

Possibly, but what is more important is how games function. For example two fantasy games, both having persistent characters and rpg like progression with gear and levels/skill-levels, but one being a purely instanced game, and the other being open world sandbox – Wouldn’t we agree that these are completely different type of games, even though they are both fantasy styled multiplayer rpg ?

To make labels to describe game types, I think we need to take both into account. Basic game type, and the game design that defines their properties maybe ?

I don’t have the answers, but here is a feeble attempt at a multiplayer tree:

+ Persistent character (games based on progressing and building up a character over many game sessions)
– – Persistent open world (the world persist regardless of your session, gameplay happens in an open world, mostly instance free, where all players in theory can meet anyone at any time without switching instance) – These are the original MMORPGs which is why that label is correct.
– – Part persistent world with core game instanced (The open world part persist and players can meet anyone here, but the main content of the game is in instances) – Some kind of MMO label is valid because they are still “massively multiplayer” outside of instances.
– – Lobby (the world is instance based and does not persist between sessions, game content is running missions) – What is a good name ? shrug they are not “massively multiplayer” so MMO is a wrong label to use.

+ Non persistent character
– – MOBA, BR, Arena games, fps shooters, instanced survival etc (I guess these deserve to be split into further subgenres)

On top of the tree, we can then stamp game design properties that can’t be confined by tree “species”, but can still completely change a game within one.
– PvP , the great divider.
– Survival
– Builder
– Story driven
– Open ended (opposition to story driven, has indirect stories but not player herding mechanics)
– Sandbox
– Virtual world
– Shooter
– Arpg (does this belong under lobby?)
– (mmo)rts ?
– Horizontal “progression” is a bit of a wildcard I am not sure what to do with. In its pure form (which none really are), it should belong under Non Persistent character, but it there is no reason it could not be a mmo type or lobby as well..which kinda contradict my naming convention on the tree :D

A bit chaotic and I am not sure this was more than some unstructured thoughts with too little filtering :D


Uhm well if there was any point, it would be that Lobby games should not contain “mmo” in their label. “mo” or “om” for online multiplayer is good though.

Oh and a side note I just thought about.. if game states are not saved controlled and run on a server, it can be multiplayer but it is not ONLINE multiplayer. Example Grim Dawn (multiplayer) vs Diablo3 (online multiplayer).


For the sub genre mentioned by Eliot, I like the term Minimally Multiplayer Online Shooters, MinMOS for short.

Roger Melly

I think we should call looter shooters Brian :)

Random MMO fan
Random MMO fan

There are plenty of names for those games. Unofficial ones like “looter shooter” or official ones used by major gaming publications, publishers and Wikipedia, like “third-person coop shooter” or “first-person shooter”. There is no need to create even more redundant and confusing names for these groups of games.


Closers sounds a lot better than Destiny…

“I think they’re talking about subgenre types and not names of games, Uta.”

…oh! Well…NQAMMORGBSMSWSIOS (“not quite an MMORPG but still multiplayer shooter with strong influences of same”) sounds quite the mouthful though. :(


Edit/Erratum: Ooops, that’s…NQAMMORP*GBSMSWSIOS…proper. >.<


Ever since PlanetSide, my friends and I have always called that subgenre “MMOFPS.” It seems an apt description to me.


Simple and to the point.


Right, same. Although if the teams are limited to four people (or whatever), my friends and I just refer to them as “co-op” games.


“Looter shooter” is officially a thing. I’m actually okay with this term as it really encompasses the fundamental part of gameplay for what we have today. Now if the next version of Destiny (or something else) embraces deep story and other mechanics and systems found if full featured MMO’s, were going to need to find a better term.

Sandbox, Theme Park, Sandpark, Gankbox, Survival, Looter Shooter, Open World…

I think we as a culture and community really nailed it.

I would however love to see some games that push the boundaries so much that we have to come up with something new to call it!

Then again, if someone said they were making something like that we would just call it Vaporware, lol!


If I’m playing ESO most of the time with GW2 sprinkled in does that make me an Action MMOer?

Kickstarter Donor

“Loot Shooter” covers most everything that mixes 1st / 3rd person action titles with Diablo type loot drops (Hellgate, Borderlands, Destiny, Anthem, Division, Warframe) but there are also Fantasy titles that use the same mechanics (C9 / Vindictus & a few other Korean titles that get called “Action” games) & the distinction from “skill shooters” (Rainbow 6 Siege / CSGO) & “Arena Shooters” (Overwatch / Team Fortress) being that you are mostly dealing with PvE combat as opposed to PvP.

Because all of them are exclusively Online Only (Hellgate & Borderlands being the only ones with authentic off line modes) those 4 game types end up getting dumped into the same catagory of “Action MMO,” despite having basicly nothing to do with MMORPG gameplay.

Planetside is an Authentic MMORPG, due to its persistent open world and mass gameplay, it just happens to be so exclusively PVP + Sci-fi that people overlook how its application IS decidedly MMORPG … If Planetside was actually a fantasy title to used swords, spells, and arrows instead of shotguns, sniper rifles, and machine guns: no one would contest it being a MMORPG.

*edit* Global Agenda is another one that had the same exact content, but predated Destiny.

Anton Mochalin

They’re not MMO, so the proper term which is clear to everyone is “online action RPG” because they’re RPGs in the first place which means character & gear progression as the main gameplay loop.

Kickstarter Donor

“MMO” is such a amalgamous phrase that as long as a game is Online & its server isn’t run locally (like the old Doom / Quake titles), it qualifies.

“RPG” is another amalgamous phrase & the concept of what clarifies as an “RPG” is so wide that basicly the only titles that couldn’t fit in its shadow are hard line simulation titles & Poker games.

As long as a game has online multiplayer & some form of a thematic setting, it can be argued to classify as a MMORPG.


because they’re RPGs in the first place which means character & gear progression as the main gameplay loop.

The way RPG is often defined is one of my pet peeves. RPG literally stands for “Role Playing Game”, as in a game about pretending to be someone else; levels and stats are just useful tools for portraying a character whose capabilities differ from those of the player.