Perfect Ten: The wide umbrella of MMOs and online gaming subgenres

So many colors in the rainbow.

Let’s be realistic here, “MMO” as a term covers a whole lot of different game styles. I know this is a particular topic that I’ve touched on before, but the reality is that the whole reason behind calling a game specifically an MMO is that it allows for a whole lot of different games to coexist under the same general banner of… well, online title. That’s kind of the fun of working here; there are a lot of games that fall under that header.

So today, I wanted to take a look at some of the major distinctions in terms of subgenre within that larger overall genre header. It’s inevitable that I’m going to miss some, but I thought it’d be at least mildly fun to take a look at the many, many different options within this overall expansive set of different games that all follow the same basic template of being primarily online games. There’s a lot of stuff in here.



Type Specimen: Guild Wars 2

Really, any of the big five could go here just as easily, as well as a lot of other titles. The point of listing one as a type specimen here isn’t as the best example, just a solid one. And we all have a pretty good idea of what is meant by an MMORPG: It’s a big, living, breathing persistent world in which your character levels up, fights stuff, crafts other stuff, talks, adventures, and so forth.

You would kind of hope that people would stop acting like this is the only type of MMO that counts, but you would also kind of hope that people would stop gatekeeping which MMORPGs count as “real” MMORPGs based on wholly conjured standards, so your hopes being dashed are perhaps to be expected.

Theoretically there's a non-jerk version of this out there, but...


Type Specimen: League of Legends

Based on a highly popular map for Warcraft III, for a while this was the mold for making a new MMO before it turned out that one breakout hit in the subgenre didn’t mean that every single example would be a breakout hit. It turns out that fighting on lanes amidst rows and rows of warriors isn’t necessarily something that’s easy to make work in more than one title! Who would have guessed?


3. Survival sandbox

Type Specimen: Conan Exiles

At the best of times, these games feel like the low-calorie version of MMOs, with a whole lot of interlocking systems and persistent characters on a given server as you try to build your character up from nothing with housing, gear, weaponry, and so forth. At the worst of times, they’re featureless boxes that are mostly notable for their PvP. Of course, when you go down that route, you can often wind up at…

Must we?

4. Battle royale

Type Specimen: Fortnite

Similar to the prior option, this is a game in which everyone is tossed into a box with no real weaponry or tools and expected to fend for themselves. Unlike the prior genre, the goal here is to ensure that you’re the last person standing while everyone tries to blow up everyone else. It’s kind of shallow, and for a while this looked like it would be the next big thing before another dose of trend-chasing made it clear that there was in fact a limited audience for this stuff.

Granted, it’s a big limited audience, but most of them already have big games to play and don’t need another one.

Well, okay.

5. Looter shooter

Type Specimen: Destiny 2

Much like survival sandboxes, these games are kind of like MMORPGs in distilled form, except instead of distilling the game down to “build yourself up” it distills it down to “kill thing, get glowing object, use that to kill a bigger thing.” If you need to understand the game, picture the Loot Cave from the type specimen’s predecessor, a hole in the ground where you just empty ammunition into the blackness and occasionally collect more loot… forever.

Our empire of bad is collapsing

6. Hero shooter

Type Specimen: Paladins

It’s like a normal shooter, but instead of picking up guns and such, you pick a character with specific capabilities (and often very specific weapons) and play out matches as a group. The line between this and the “classes” in a lot of other primarily online shooters is kind of thin, though, which means you might argue that both should be included… which is kind of an ongoing debate, yes.

See, that’s the thing about MMOs. Online games have fuzzy boundaries, and a lot of stuff comes under the header of being an online game that may not have a lot in common with other games of a similar pedigree. But that’s also part of the fun.

Sailing, sailing,


Type Specimen: Hearthstone

It’s a card game… but it’s online! With fake cards! Thereby removing the incentive to take your friend’s deck and threaten to run it through the paper shredder after you have a particularly contentious match, not that I ever did that.

No, really, I didn’t.

I may have thought about threatening to do it, though.

Please get out of my yard.

8. Augmented reality

Type Specimen: Pokemon Go

This one doesn’t seem to have super caught on, although to be fair right now wandering around in public is something no one is doing. But the core idea is overlaying the real world with various digital objects that the game on your phone can interact with, and Pokemon Go seems to have done all right for itself using this particular model.

Other games going for a similar approach have done less well, thus implying that what really got people with the type specimen was the idea of being able to catch these things specifically rather than the concept. But Niantic is still going to keep trying.


9. MUDs/MUSHes

Type Specimen: Gemstone IV

Graphics can be difficult, text is easier, and sometimes it’s a lot easier to design a whole lot of complicated interlocking systems when you don’t have to worry about how all of these things are going to be represented on a screen. It’d be wrong to claim these purely as the antecedents of more modern games, though; many MUDs and MUSHes are still running today, new ones are being brought out, and players who don’t mind doing the graphical work in their heads still have plenty to enjoy in the textual online space.


10. Other online titles

Type Specimen: Path of Exile

Yeah, here’s the fun part where we get to the vast variety of different options that have nothing to do with any of the above options. Heck, they don’t always have much to do with one another! It’s pretty clear that all of the multiplayer options in games like PoE make for what is clearly an online game, but then there are even more out there titles like Fall Guys that are doing totally their own thing.

Some of those titles will go on to inspire other titles, and then the next thing you know there’s a whole expansive subgenre of online games that fall into a similar space and have certain genre conventions as a result. And that’s the fun of MMOs. Anything can become another subgenre of game. There are always new potential surprises. It’s an endless series of remixes, changes, and new ideas. And they all call the same overarching distinction home.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at or with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”

No posts to display

newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:

On this site mmo = online game.
From a strict definition standpoint it is understandable how it triggers the semantic warriors.
From a more pragmatic view, it is great to get news and articles about all kinds of online games here. Arguably if you were to only report on the strict definition of mmo, this site would be a lot less active, or maybe not even exist.

So it is what it is.
Lets just enjoy the good content.


They got it backwards, the genre is “Online Games” of which the rest of these are sub genre’s including MMORPGs, MMOFPS, Multiplayer ARPGs, etc.

While all of their examples are indeed online games, not all are MMOs no matter how much they try to twist it around.

Words, and their commonly accepted meanings matter, even when the outliers fail to comprehend the importance of doing so.

I’ll use examples of online games, ESO, definitely a MMORPG. FO76, clearly not a MMO, rather a multi player online game.

See, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?


Idk why people act like it’s so foreign to just say “multiplayer online rpg”, something that has existed since the first NWN online game. If every online game is massive, why did devs back then bother to delineate a difference?


You are correct. But we have seen these posts from Eliot regularly over 5 years now, where Eliot/massively trolls us with their definition of mmo, followed by semantic warriors (of which I am a retired one) correcting it.
My point is, it should be clear by now that he/they are not going to change their view.
I understand both sides. One is annoyed about the obvious wrong definition, the other needs their side to be valid because it is the future of this site – And by that I mean they NEED to report on a wider genre range to have enough content (=users=revenue=running costs of this site) .. They are in a semantic dilemma because if they start using more refined terms, the site name “massively” would also be questioned .. Well that is my thoughts, I could be wrong.


Technically solitaire could be considered an MMO due to how broad the definition is as many people play it and it’s online. But basically if you can see others in the world you’re playing and there is many playing on the same server in a persistent world that is the definition of MMORPG. Any game you play could be considered a RPG because you are either taking on the role of a character or creating a role for yourself. Even solitaire. But yep discussions from both sides can / have occurred.


I would have probably included MMOFPS as one of the subgenres of online gaming, but otherwise a good article of the different multiplayer online genres out there.

It’s a shame only the very first one is massively multiplayer, and therefore the only one I care about, but that’s more of a reflection of the market than of this site.

Ray O'Brien

I really don’t get the complaints about the broad spectrum. Massively always covers the main MMORPGS from huge to small. If they didn’t expand beyond them what would there be to write about every day? Endless posts about patch notes and updates of 2 sentences on KickStarted and early access games. Would be a very boring and minimal site. I know a lot of us wish there was a bunch of new worthwhile news about tons of new and glorious MMORPGs coming out but it is just not the case anymore. Its like complaining ESPN also covers golf just because you are a Football and Baseball fan! Plenty of articles about those sports as well just don’t read the Golf posts.


Yeah, but ESPN also covers Poker, which just isn’t a sport by any definition, even if it’s very competitive.

Jon Wax

Massive Marketing Objective?

Turing fail
Patreon Donor
Turing fail

An example- perhaps the Mother of All Examples- sprang to mind, but I’ll keep it to myself and hopefully forego the fanboy autoimmune response force…

Jon Wax

I messed up. The O should be Opportunity.


When the terminology isn’t enforced by the devs, media, or players, it’s just marketing at this point.


Well, the first “M” in MMO stands for “Massively”. Not ‘many’. Not ‘multiplayer’. Not ‘mostly’.

I simply do not agree with the premise of this article. Just because MOP chooses to ignore the root of its own name does not mean this applies to the genre as a whole.

0/10 on this article. Just my 2c.


The issue, though, is whether “Massively Multiplayer” is taken to mean a lot of people in the same virtual space, or a lot of players logged to the same multiplayer game at the same time. If you use the “a lot of players logged” definition — which many people, including in the industry, use — then everything in this list is indeed an MMO.

Also, the “a lot of people in the same virtual space” definition has quite a few issues. Take Elite Dangerous, for example; AFAIK you can have, at most, a couple dozen players in the same virtual space, with the game creating new instances all the time if there would be more players than that. What’s more, you can opt to never see any other players, or to only see people from a whitelist (group). Is this still an MMO? What about other games that use dynamic instancing to spread players around, like DCUO, LotRO, ESO, and even WoW?


Those are MORPGs. Having less players than Asheron’s Call in 1999 is not massive.

Bruno Brito

Except that Massively Multiplayer Online Games have existed before massive quantity of players were there to play it. You agreeing or not is irrelevant.

By your logic, no MMO is a MMO until it launches, because there’s no massively quantity in it’s alpha state or closed beta.


League of Legends has millions of players. Tens of thousands of people are playing it at any given time. Fortnite has (I think) close to 30 million registered players, many of whom still play it. Warframe has over 30 million registered accounts, with tens of thousands of people playing it every day just on Steam. (Which does NOT include anyone playing it through the stand-alone or Epic Store launchers, even though those are definitely cross-play with the Steam version. Nor does it include console players.)

How many people does it take to be “massively?” OH, wait, you’re doing the elitist thing of “only in the same instance at a time.” I’ve played “official” MMOs that prefer to split off new instances of a zone at about 20 players for performance reasons – they can handle up to a hundred if you *specifically* switch to that instance, but when distributing players automatically it will try to create new copies at around 20. (I assume that the 100 cap is to allow for social/guild events or something.)

I’ve also played “official” MMOs where I *might* see five or ten other people in a city, and perhaps two or three will run past any given place in an hour or so. Meanwhile, in Warframe I can go to any given Relay and see dozens of other players, often just standing around talking or showing off their Warframe fashion. (Or their complete lack of it. Color palettes should not be randomized! OnO ) And if I *want* to team up in Warframe all I need to do is set myself to Public matchmaking – any mission that might be difficult to solo probably has a good chance of dropping in at least another player or two.

“Massively.” “Multiplayer,” “Online.” Nothing about that descriptor says they all have to be in the same instance, or the same team. Just that there are “very many,” that they can somehow interact with each other, while being online.


“Let’s be honest here”, I’m here to see news about MMORPGs. Not any of the others. Only 3 of those you showed do I play and enjoy, and avoid the rest of them. I wouldn’t consider a LOT of those (Looter Shooter, and Hero Shooter specifically) even related to the MMO genre. I think you’re trying to over-expand the umbrella here. Please stop.

CW Eckert

I concur with T. The issue here is genre saturation; while having a wide umbrella means there’s plenty of new information to write about each day, attempting to cast blanket coverage as “everything is MMO” over anything remotely multiplayer impacts branding focus.

Granted, MassivelyOP is one of the best MMO coverage sites out there, I am concerned when subgenres like shooters and battle royale games — both which are frequent media focuses — begin to eclipse the news feed of anything which I find personally relevant.

Thankfully, at present, there’s a tag category difference between, say, Fortnite and Guild Wars 2 on the newsfeed: “Multiplayer” and “MMORPG”. I believe this alone offers plenty of evidence for what appears to be a rebuttal against the separation of what constitutes Massively-Multiplayer over standard Multiplayer play.

Bree Royce
Bree Royce

Hey folks, we’ve been covering what we call “not-so-massively” online games since 2011 – that’s literally when we coined that term on Old Massively. We have continued that tradition for 10 years now and will continue doing so. We’re not interested in gatekeeping or litigating MMORPGs (go to Reddit to fight that long war) or arguing over what we’re entitled to cover on our website; this is literally just a listicle discussing side- and sub-genres and what people mean, descriptively, when they use these terms. We have always been clear about our purpose and our purview as a website, which includes lots of online games viewed through the MMORPG veteran’s lens:

“The staff of Massively Overpowered still strives to deliver nuanced and entertaining news, streams, and editorials focused on the vibrant massively multiplayer online roleplaying games market and orbiting genres. If it’s multiplayer and it’s online, we probably cover it, but our core focus will always be MMORPGs.”

Jaymes Buckman

“I don’t come to this site for anything but one specific thing; therefore, no one does.”

Bryan Correll

I come for the punch and pie.


I’ve tried punch and pie. Sweet punch and tart cherry pie might have been a bad idea. It turned the first few bites from “tart” to “bitter” cherry pie. :(

Bruno Brito

Thank god then that you have no power here. Because just because you don’t enjoy things, doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t.

It’s not all about you, buddy.