Massively multiplayer online role-playing game

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A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (popularly abbreviated as MMORPG) is a genre of online game where a huge amount of players engage in role-playing. Most MMORPGs are usually played on the personal computer, but there are a growing number of exceptions on video game console. The term massively multiplayer online games (MMO games, or MMOGs) includes a broader scope, going into virtual reality or augmented reality as a training or decision support tool. [1]

Of all the genres of massively multiplayer online game, MMORPGs are the most played genre throughout the world with combined global memberships in subscription and non-subscription games exceeding 15 million as of 2006.[2]


The first MMORPGs were text based games called Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDs, that operated using the Telnet protocol or similar programs. Most games at this time were privately run and adhered to the Dungeons and Dragons style of gameplay in which a player would enter a dungeon and fight monsters in order to acquire loot and experience. The first pay to play MMORPG was released in 1984 titled Islands of Kesmai and cost $12.00 an hour for CompuServe subscribers. The first graphical MMORPG was Neverwinter Nights and was available to AOL subscribers from 1991 and 1997 and cost $6.00 per hour to play. Due to commercial restrictions placed on the Internet by NSFNET, who regulated the Internet into the 1990s, most MMORPGs came as a part of Internet subscription packages with AOL, CompuServe, AT&T and other Internet service providers After NSFNET relaxed their acceptable use policy to allow more commercial use, various private companies began developing and releasing MMORPG games for use on the Internet. Games such as Meridian 59, Legends of the Future Past and The Realm Online were released but did not garner much commercial success. Ultima Online, developed by Origin Systems, was released in 1997 and is credited by many as popularizing the genre. It was followed in 1998 by Lineage (developed by NCSoft), which was popular enough to garner over a million subscribers. Everquest was released in 1999 by Verant Interactive and is credited for bringing the genre of massively multiplayer online games into the mainstream. It was the most popular and commercially successful MMORPG in the United States until 2004. From 1999 until 2004, the genre saw an explosion of content released. Games like Dark Age of Camelot, Anarchy Online, Runescape, Final Fantasy Online, Lineage II, City of Heroes, Eve Online, Ragnarok Online, and Ultima Online 2 attempted to put their own spin on the Dungeons and Dragons model. Since 2004, the most current generation of MMORPGs has brought the genre even farther into the mainstream. Games such as Sony Online Entertainment's Everquest II and Star Wars Galaxies, ArenaNet's Guild Wars, and Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft have achieved significant commercial success. In January 2007 World of Warcraft reached a subscriber base that tops 9 million worldwide. [3]


Most MMORPGs have their gameplay based off the traditional Dungeons & Dragons, but new gameplay features are periodically introduced in a new game as its selling point. Like MUDs, a chatbox is the most basic feature. An outstanding feature in almost every MMORPG is the use of a persistent world, which is a ever-changing virtual world hosted by the game's publisher and/or developer. This world is constantly governed by a team of Game Moderators or Game Masters, and in some ways can be seen as an evolution of the Dungeon Masters from Dungeons & Dragons. The world moderated by them in a MMORPG is home to huge player communities and social networks, and most games have in-game support to create organizations of players termed as Guilds or Clans. In addition to that, items, game currency and skills in each MMORPG form its own virtual economy in which the players constantly deal with. Like in all role-playing games, a storyline or lore often gives reasons to the existence of quests or motivation of the fictional groups in the game. There are two ways players can experience the gameplay: they can choose either to solo by themselves, or group up with other players on the same server.

In order to maintain the software and hardware running the virtual world continuously on a server, players are required to adhere to one of the several types of business models used by the game company. Newer commercial titles are usually 3D, with several exceptions made in 2D only.


The development costs for each game is very different depending on when in the MMORPG history it started from (newer games are generally more expensive) and the intended quality of the MMORPG (2D or 3D or both). In South Korea, the average development cost for one game was $306,240 in year 2000 [4] whereas a game made in 2003 can exceed ten million dollars.[5]

These costs will fund the many disciplines needed in a modern 3D MMORPG project: game design, 2D and 3D art, 3D engine programming, animation, user interfaces, client/server engineering, database architecture, network infrastructure and webpage design.[6] Game designers and writers have to provide the storyline or lore for their game, and from there the 2D team works on concepts which will be realized by the 3D team. The gameplay decided by the designer will decide what work the programmers have to do, and subsequently what the hardware team have to do to support the game software. With enough information and materials to present, the website for the game is created.

Once the MMORPG is released the same team continues to create new content for players, as well as maintaining the game by making sure that the server hardware runs smoothly at all times. A technical support team is also needed now as players report bugs and cheats that destroy the gaming experience, and from here the team will use the feedback to fix whatever necessary.

Independent development

Although a big team is recommended due to all the massive efforts and investments, there have been small teams of programmers and artists who have tried to develop a MMORPG on their own without standard corporate involvement. These people are termed independent developers, and they are responsible for projects that are completely open source, such as Daimonin, and others like Planeshift that feature proprietary content made with an open-source game engine.

Operational challenges

Since the game is accessed by computers on networks, it is possible to cheat, by using tireless computers to gain power and status for characters. Cheating can be by single "bots" simulating a single user, or by entire botnets establishing groups of characters. Botnet detection is a general problem in computer science and network engineering, with specific techniques that can be applied to gaming. Unsophisticated cheating bots will generate interactions at a far more predictable rate than real humans, so a basic technique is examining the time between entries and noting nonrandom patterns.[7]

Even when humans are the players, especially with graphics-intensive games, the traffic can have an impact on network performance. This, along with music downloads, especially through peer-to-peer networking, has created problems on academic networks, as well as some community networks. When resources are limited and there are other missions, such as academics and research, it has been necessary to impose resource quotas, or perhaps limit intense play to off-hours. Gaming, however, has been a legitimate driver for consumer bandwidth in residential networks.

Non-recreational parallels

There are increasing similarities to MMORPGs in real-world command and control tasks, especially military, such as maintaining the common operational picture, and highly distributed applications such as Blue Force Tracker. Cooperative Engagement Capability may be a model for future MMORPGs where game play, as well as graphics, is highly distributed.

For the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, a committee under the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences "modeling, simulation, and games (MS&G) research and development worldwide and to identify future applications of this technology and its potential impacts on government and society for the U.S. Department of Defense and the United States intelligence community.

Because of both their persistent nature and sheer scale, massively multiplayer online games (MMO

games, or MMOGs) support a level of social complexity and social interaction that is surprisingly rich and diverse. One product of this is the presence of groups that self-organize both for the sake of socialization and for game play, collaboration, and competition. In most cases, MMOGs support these groups (which are commonly referred to as “guilds” for MMOGs or “clans” for smaller-sized competitive online shooters) with in-game features (such as guild management and guild chat) designed specifically to facilitate the organizational behavior. The most dedicated guilds often have a complex social structure with leaders (who determine policy and planning), officers (who implement policy), and

regular members. [8]

MMOG technology has been considered for actual training for attacks.

Another example of exploiting the new wave of Internet capabilities and open-source software would be in planning an assault on U.S. assets. It is not difficult to imagine a rogue group coupling Google Street View with computer-aided design software to provide a working model for an accurate simulation of a kinetic weapon or weapon of mass destruction attack. One can even imagine virtual-world war games providing

accurate geometries of U.S. assets. Players across the globe could work in teams to defend or take out

assets. Tactics and results could be recorded for future military plans.[9]

Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game explored a world in which participants thought they were playing a game, but actually were fighting a war. The novel was science fiction, but such a scenario becomes increasingly plausible.


  1. Standing Committee on Technology Insight--Gauge, Evaluate, and Review (TIGER); National Research Council (2010), The Rise of Games and High Performance Computing for Modeling and Simulation Committee on Modeling, Simulation, and Games;, National Academy of Sciences, ISBN ISBN: 0-309-14778-6
  2. Chart of Subscriber Growth,
  3. World of Warcraft® surpasses 9 Million Subscribers Worldwide,
  4. Market in Korea: Small Country, Large Market for PC Games by Byung-ho Park,
  5. Adam Carpenter (2003), Applying Risk-Based Analysis to Play Balance RPGs, Gamasutra,
  6. Jon Radoff (2007), "Anatomy of an MMORPG," GuildCafe PlayerVox,
  7. Kuan-Ta Chen et al. (2009), "Identifying MMORPG Bots: A Traffic Analysis Approach", EURASIP Journal on Advances in Signal Processing, DOI:10.1155/2009/797159
  8. TIGER 2010, p. 58
  9. TIGER 2010, pp. 31-32