Vague Patch Notes: Yes, Virginia, that counts as an MMO

Folks, MMORPGs won the war

I see.

There is a particular comment we get on a semi-regular basis, and it is always wrong. It shows up on a wide variety of different games, and not consistently, but you have definitely seen it at least once or twice. It sits there, and it comes up, and every time it’s still wrong and unhelpful. And what comment is that?

“This doesn’t count as an MMO.”

I like to imagine that at least most of the people who comment with this particular bon mot are at least vaguely trying to be helpful, even if the actual result is anything but. So today, I want to explain why this is wrong, but in a larger sense why it’s wrong simply because we’re having the debate in the first place. And to do that, we’re going to start by taking a detour through Transformers fandom in the early ’90s because that’s when the fandom suddenly had to face an entirely new paradigm with the release of the now fondly remembered Beast Wars. (I promise, I’m going somewhere with this.)

Prior to the release of Beast Wars, Transformers continuity was… fairly simple. There were the comics, and there was the cartoon, but that was about it. Sure, there were the odd bits of ancillary material like storybooks and the like, but there was an accepted and fairly narrow window for what counted as “Transformers” and pretty much everyone accepted it as a prerequisite for being in the fandom at all.

Beast Wars, however, was a big break from the existing setup. It involved a totally new cast of characters, a new setting, a new conflict and new names and new everything. About the only thing it retained were the basic principles of having robots turn into something else, and considering that they all transformed into fleshy beasts? Suddenly there was something like a real-time schism in the fandom over people who considered this new Transformers material and those who saw it as wholly contrary to the older material.

As an aggregate, though? The former group won out handily, because there wasn’t really any basis for rejecting all of this aside from creating some arbitrary rules about what was or wasn’t Transformers. The fact was that it was meant to be a part of the same ongoing franchise and even if you didn’t like it (which was hard to do – the show was well-written), the fact remained that it was still a Transformers show.


“MMO” literally just means “massively multiplayer online.” It’s shortened from MMORPG, which is a more specific term. There are lots of games out there that are accepted as MMOs but also unambiguously not MMORPGs (League of Legends), games that are definitely MMOs but may or may not match your definition for MMORPG (Destiny 2), and games that are definitely MMORPGs (Final Fantasy XIV). All MMORPGs are MMOs. Not all MMOs are MMORPGs. And our particular site covers MMOs in a lot of different permutations.

It’s been argued before that for various reasons the terminology here is a little bit fuzzy or carries unwelcome baggage, a sentiment I don’t personally agree with but one where I can at least see the argument. But the fact remains that there are two distinct buckets here, with other buckets to sort some additional subgenres (battle royale, MOBA, survival sandboxes, and so forth).

That’s the thing: It’s just never useful commentary when it comes to any piece. It’s inviting a debate about something that’s already been decided on a definitional level, and perhaps more importantly, it’s requesting a justification for something being included on a site covering MMOs when the reason for coverage is obvious. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily of interest to you personally, but there are a lot of things I write up on a regular basis that aren’t of interest to me personally but still constitute legitimate news taking place.

In a way, this is sort of an extension of the point I made a while back about how it can sometimes just not be your personal story. Things that are not relevant to you may be relevant to other people.

But if you’re used to me and my writing, you probably know that I’m interested in the why. Why shouldn’t we worry about it? Why wouldn’t genre definition matter? And the answer is remarkably simple and one that I don’t think we collectively internalize often enough.

Because when it comes to game design and genres being accepted? MMORPGs won.


Realistically speaking, we are all aware that video game genres are not actually in direct competition with one another. But just as realistically speaking, we have to recognize that there is a certain degree of internal competition for which overall advancements become so ubiquitous as to earn their own descriptors and consistent ideas. There’s a reason Dark Souls has become a unifying ethos for an entire subset of assumptions about game mechanics while Armored Core didn’t. We refer to certain things as “bullet hell” even outside of the scrolling shooter genre. There is selection pressure within the overall video game sphere.

And in the wake of that pressure, MMORPG systems have been widely, even wildly adopted.

Look at Genshin Impact. There’s a lot of that game that is single-player, and if you want to play it solo, you can absolutely do that consistently. But even if you’re playing it completely solo, there are a lot of basic assumptions about presenting its quests, challenges, and structures in MMO-like ways. You have your daily login events, your regular spawning daily objectives, your quest presentation, quest markers, and so forth.

Too online to count? Then let’s look at Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, a game that is most decidedly a single-player romp that also incorporates a lot of online functionality right down to giving you a central base location to adopt and improve. Ask yourself this: Would the game need much more than seeing other actual people run around to make it feel like an MMO? Even with the game otherwise remaining identical?

A lot of the genres that have risen up recently are inherently attempts to bring in aspects of MMORPGs without carrying all of the baggage they entail, survival sandboxes being a particularly notable example of this effort. There are lots of ways in which Red Dead Online doesn’t make its way to full MMORPG status, but it’s clear that the developers were aiming in that direction from the top of design on down.

And this isn’t even counting the many games that don’t make it to online play but still are clearly aping the style, structure, and design philosophy of MMORPGs in general. The point is that this is a genre that has expanded… a lot.

There are games that are not MMORPGs, of course. And if you all know me, you know that’s my preferred genre as a whole. I might enjoy my jaunts into No Man’s Sky, but it could never be my main game like FFXIV is. But that doesn’t make the former not an MMO, and it doesn’t mean bad things for the genre to see that. Quite the opposite.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

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You are, i think, conflating the concept of ‘MMORPG’ with gameplay elements designed purely to inflate time spent on the game.

This is something singleplayer games (especially Ubisoft ones) suffer from quite a lot.

The article also glosses over the fact that many online functions are not meant to form an online community, but as a very blunt form of DRM.

The sense of community, of other people playing the game with you, is also an important aspect – imho – of MMORPG’s which seems to be (almost) entirely missing from most modern games. Communication is limited, and very few reasons are given for people to even communicate at all with each other.

These are just some things i can think of after reading the article, i feel like some of the nuance is missing. I get the point you’re making, but it feels like it’s not offering the full picture. Maybe it’s a case of the industry learning lessons from early MMORPG’s, but they’re learning just as much of the wrong ones as they are of the right ones.


How about we just stop arguing and creating sub-classifications/groups for everything under the sun?




I know. It’s human nature. But I can dream…


Its not just human nature, in some respects, it is essential.

The development of a technical lexicon is a very important part in the advancement of any technical industry, and the games industry doesn’t have it yet. When the boss tells you to do something, its pretty damn important that everyone knows what that something is. If we all have different meanings for the same words, confusion arises and things go wrong.

Its also worth pointing out that dev studios themselves very rarely get it wrong. Blizzard never calls Diablo 3 an MMO. Ubisoft have never called the Division an MMO. Bungie never called Destiny an MMO. (as far as im aware anyway, obviously haven’t read every single thing put out by those companies)

It is mainly the games journalists who get it wrong, and the community naturally then follows what they read. And they only started getting it wrong when the MMO genre started to stagnate, which makes it feel like a conscious choice in order to justify covering other games. In my opinion, they didn’t need to make that justification, they could have just covered those other games anyway (due to the crossover in features) without the need to mis-label.

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For me it’s simple – I like reading about games, and I like the writing on MOP. I’ve learned a lot about various games from this site, and I’m grateful that a wide variety of games are covered.
I get that some may be interested in only a certain subset of MMOs, but as long as Massively OP keeps covering those, why begrudge articles about other games?


I’m mainly a single player gamer. I play MMOs like single player games, just with more lively NPCs. :P Or, NMPC, Non-me-player-characters. I do occasionally do random dungeons, but I mostly stick with exploring on my own, doing the story, and getting into random trouble.

So, for me, it really does come down to the “massively” part of an MMO. A single player game can have hundreds of NPCs and feel empty and lonely. But, an MMO, well, with a lot of other players in the world, it doesn’t feel so empty, even if I choose not to interact with them most of the time. They’re not NPCs following rote programing, they are actually people controlling characters, and when there’s a lot of them, it’s like I’m in a “real” place.

A mere multiplayer game doesn’t have that population. You wouldn’t call L4D an MMO, would you? It’s just 4 player multiplayer.

Well, in NMS, for example, the only time I ever saw other players was in the lobby they call the Anomaly, and they apparently have missions small teams of players can do together. I haven’t done any, so I don’t know the player cap for them. But, still, they’re small teams of players, just multiplayer, not massively. I never saw another player outside the Anomaly. NMS is a single player game with a multiplayer component, not an MMO.

But, conversely, in ESO, there’s a lot of players just randomly doing whatever, they’re almost everywhere in the cities, and I never know when I’m going to see one as I’m wandering around and exploring. Players make the game feel alive, populate the world. It’s multiplayer with a massive amount of people, and online, while also being a game where one can play a role. So, obviously, it’s an MMORPG.

I don’t usually play multiplayer games, but I do play MMOs.

Hirku Two

Heh, NMPC. I play MMOs the same way and I’ll be using that term now. I always get the same feeling of loneliness/emptiness when I go back to single-player games, or at least RPGs.


I don’t think we need other players in the world at all, actually, for it to be an MMO. As long as their *impact* on the world contributes to other players’ view of it.

For example, a player shop that’s set up in your single player game that’s accessible to all players, once they physically reach and interact with that same shop.

See Death Stranding for a current example of what I call passively massively multiplayers gaming :)


Nintendo calls that “Massively Single-player Online”, and actually has a patent on it.

T h e n o n y m o u s
T h e n o n y m o u s

I actually had to look that up because it sounded so stupid there’s no way it could have been true…and yet it is lol.

How the USPTO allowed a patent so vague and ill-defined is absurd and I honestly can’t understand how it was permitted. Even more absurd is they were rewarded a patent that is functionally defined in terms that already applied to games like No Mans Sky AFTER they came out makes it even more mystifying.

That patent shouldn’t exist for a number of reasons, and the fact that it does is pretty fucking insane lol.

Andrew Hartman

I appreciate your perspective, and you make good points about how MMO game design has bled heavily into other genres of video games.

However, if we generously apply the MMO label to games, then it muddles what actually makes a game an MMO in the first place.

My 2 cents: an MMO is a game that is MASSIVELY multi-player, meaning that you are playing with a lot of people simultaneously. Not simply playing the same game at the same time (is Cyberpunk 2077 an MMO when they had 1mil simultaneous players?), but you are playing the same game with them, and see them in-game, like Guild Wars 2 or WoW.

Without this singular goal post for MMO identification, any game becomes “massively multi-player.” The way you describe it, any game with an online presence becomes an MMO. Is Quake an MMO? How about Marvel Vs Capcom 3?

Your system for labeling allows me to call almost anything I want an MMO and that makes your system weak.


The Beast Wars analogy really misses the mark on this topic. The more accurate depiction of what typically goes on is people present the Robot Mecha in Robotech and vaguely wave their hand and go “Here are planes that transform into robots, clearly this is Transformers.” There is crossover there for sure on some levels but they simply aren’t the same thing. Sticking feathers up your butt doesn’t make you a chicken.

This happens quite regularly with many kinds of games that don’t fit the basic name description of “Massively Multiplayer.” Like Destiny 2 is 100% not a MMO as you can only have so many players (often times 6ish) in a single area before the game will phase you into a different instance outside of social hubs. Similarly while Genshin Impact may have heavily cribbed notes from MMO game design that in itself does not meet the fundamental requirement of “massive” amount of players all able to “multiplay” together.

The edge case of course is Guild Wars 1. That only allowed for 4-8 players but is often times remembered as a MMO. Gun to my head I’d rather say Guild Wars 1 was not a MMO than include a bunch of games that are clearly not as well. Really, on the topic of Guild Wars, you can see the huge difference it and it’s successor Guild Wars 2 which is clearly and objectively a MMO.


Interesting article and I can see where you are coming from.

However, I wholeheartedly disagree.

You make the point that you cover a wide variety of games because they share common features: the common features of an online roleplaying game. Thats totally fine, there is clearly a crossover in audience and if you like the roleplaying features found in a typical mmorpg, chances are you’ll enjoy those same features in other roleplaying games.

However, you are ignoring the fact that “massively multiplayer” is, in itself, a feature. It is a feature that has absolutely nothing to do with roleplaying, and everything to do with the scale of the multiplayer component of the game.

Now, it may be a feature you do not care about, it may be that it is a feature that very few people care about in general. But for some of us, me included, it is an essential feature. If that feature is missing, I will not play the game. I only play single player, couch-coop, or massively multiplayer. (happy to go into the reasons if ur interested).

So, when sites like this post articles about “MMOs” that are not actually massively multiplayer, it leads to a lot of disappointment. My hopes get raised for a new game, only to be crushed when they turn out to not be mmos. It also feels very dismissive, as if the feature “massively multiplayer” is not worthy of your consideration, that all you really care about is the roleplaying side of things.

As to how you define “massively multiplayer online”, that part is easy.

“Massively” is an adjective, referring to the scale / size of the next word, multiplayer. So, the size of the multiplayer component must be massively bigger than other multiplayer online games.

How do you quantify multiplayer? Player caps. How many players can actually play together at any given moment? To be counted as multiplayer, the players must be a part of the same virtual environment so that they can affect, or play, with one another. If they are not in the same virtual environment (by being in a different map, or instance, or race), then they are not counted towards the multiplayer cap.

So, to be called a massively multiplayer online game, you simply need to support a massive amount of players within the same virtual environment. There is no set number, because “massively” is a comparative term, so as the things you are comparing against change, so will the number. But, you definitely have to be larger than average, and the typical range of players for online multiplayer games is 2-128. So, the floor is 128, if you support less than that number of players, you are definitely NOT an mmo.

Also, if it helps, Richard Garriott and Raph Koster defined the number as 250. If you cannot support 250 players within the same virtual environment, you are not an MMO.

Further, definitions are only of any use if you can test them against the games. So, lets try applying this definition of 250 players per virtual environment.

SWG? Yes, seen way more than 250 on a single planet.
LotRO? Yes (early days anyway, not sure about now), seens up to 1500 in the same virtual environment
WAR? Yes, reguarly saw 500+ in the same RvR lake
SWTOR? No (early days anyway, im led to believe its been increased), there was player cap of 75 per instance.
ESO? Yes, Cyrodiil support 600 players per instance
Diablo 3? No, only supports 4 players
The Division 2? No, only supports 12 (16? been a while!)

Again, I repeat that this is probably not a feature many of you care about. If you don’t care about being massively multiplayer, then player caps mean nothing to you, all that matters are the other game features. Thats totally fine! I can fully understand that position.

But there are those of us who do care, and care deeply, and it would be great to see some consistency. Even if you choose a different number, I’d love to see this site staying true to both the English language and the history of the genre. I’ve no problem at all with you covering other games and genres, no problem at all, my only problem is with the mis-labeling.


everything to do with the scale of the multiplayer component of the game

Let’s talk about that a sec…

What scale does that have to be? 50? 100?

But beyond that, how many other players do you — or CAN you — effectively interact or play with at one time, at one place on one screen?

Chances are, we’ve already seen that number eclipsed in existing games. We will need better interfaces to scale to the next level of potential purpose with the numbers of players future games will be able to accommodate.


Well, playing WAR, there are regularly multiple hundreds of players in the same RvR lake, all contributing towards the same battle.

As mentioned, “massively” is comparative, so we are comparing against normal multiplayer online games. The normal range is 2-128, so any number you consider massively bigger than 128 is fine.

You do touch on an important issue though: simply being massively multiplayer, simply achieving that large scale, is no guarantee of fun or enjoyment. What you do with those numbers determines whether the game is fun or not. This is where I believe the potential of the genre lies, and is largely untapped.

So, it is understandable that studios have given up on being massively multiplayer and returned to normal multiplayer numbers. They weren’t doing anything with the feature, so why bother having it? Much easier and cheaper to ditch the feature altogether, and just focus on the roleplaying side of things.

You are right though, we will need better interfaces, more organisational tools, new ideas in order to make the most of massively multiplayer numbers. Thats one of the reasons im still interested in Camelot Unchained: they’ve thought about this exact issue, they’re designing new interfaces, new ways of forming and organising groups, in order to make better use of large numbers of players.

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So with that in mind, text based online rpgs like Gemstone III/IV, Dragonrealms etc are mmorpgs. Where as MPBT 3025 and AirWarrior were not. If we go by Richard and Rafe’s definition. Good to know.

Edit: Also by that definition The Secret World wasn’t since it tended to to become a slide show at around 100 or so if I am recalling and the instance would crash soon after.


I’m afraid im unfamiliar with those games so can’t comment directly, but assuming they support 250+ players within the same virtual environment, and they are roleplaying games, then sure.

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They do and they still exist and existed back before the term was coined. 👍🙂 They still reach those numbers and can go upwards of a thousand in the instance still, even after decades of being around.

I’m just fascinated by the definition, I’d never read that before. Gemstone IV at this very moment has 743 in the game instance, or so my wife tells me. Not bad for text based online rpg that’s been around for over thirty years.


I’m shocked!

I had heard that WoW had gone a bit over-the-top with layering but this surprises me. I don’t play personally so can’t answer you for sure. I remember many years ago when some close friends still played WoW, I saw them in zones with multiple hundreds, usually the main hubs and the pvp zone (alterac valley?). So, it definitely was an MMORPG and i hope it still is.

Shadex De'Marr

An interesting opinion. It is good that everyone can have their own.


To be clear, Genshin Impact is, functionally, an online single player game.
You can run around and kill mobs with each other but pretty much nothing else is shared content (unless it’s changed radically in the last couple of months).

In this sense, it’s very much like bdo in that it is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Where You Really Can’t Do Much With Other Players So You Nearly Might As Well Be Playing Offline (mmorpgwyrcdmwopsynmawbpo) genre.