The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A massive(ly) multiplayer online role-playing game or MMORPG is a multiplayer computer role-playing game that enables thousands of players to play in an evolving virtual world at the same time over the Internet. MMORPGs are a specific type of massive(ly) multiplayer online game (MMOG).



Players run a client to connect to an MMORPG and someone else, usually the game's publisher, hosts the game world. The virtual worlds they create are called "persistent worlds", meaning that the world continues regardless of who is logged in or not. When a player logs in, they are represented in the game world by an avatar — a graphical representation of the character they play.

Most MMORPGs run several identical copies of the virtual world, called "shards", "sub-worlds", "continents", "servers" or "realms", that the player can choose from. They strive to allow the player to shape their own experience by providing multiple (or customizable) avatars that the player can use. Once a player enters the world, they can engage in a variety of activities with other players who are accessing the game the same way from all over the world. MMORPG developers are in charge of supervising the virtual world and offering the users a constantly updated set of new activities and enhancements to guarantee the interest of players.

One MMORPG that differs from the "shard" concept is EVE Online (2001). Eve uses only one server for all players and, unlike most popular MMORPGs, it uses a sci-fi theme.

Most MMORPGs are commercial in that a user must pay money for the client software and/or a monthly fee, in order to continually access the virtual world. Still, some totally free-of-charge MMORPGs may be found on the Internet, although the quality of their production values is generally lower compared to commercial MMORPGs.

Some of the most popular commercial MMORPGs report over 200,000 subscribers, including Ultima Online (1997), EverQuest (1999), City of Heroes (2004), Dark Age of Camelot (2001), Final Fantasy XI (2002), Star Wars Galaxies (2003), and World of Warcraft (2004). South Korean MMORPGs claim the highest subscription numbers by far: Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, Lineage, and Ragnarok Online report millions of registered users. There are also several projects in development to create high-quality free MMORPGs, such as PlaneShift and Daimonin, and a free game engine for MMORPGs, such as Arianne. See list of MMORPGs for more.

Most MMORPGs provide support for large in-game groups of players, commonly called clans but also sometimes called "guilds" or other names depending on the game. A clan can be a social group or have a specific game-related purpose, ranging from helping newbies to teaming up in player versus player combat. Most newer MMORPGs feature "raids", challenging encounters designed for one or more clans to participate in.


MMORPGs are computer games that can be traced back to the 1970s to non-graphical online MUD games, to text-based computer games such as Adventure and Zork, and to pen and paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Habitat, a graphical MUD from the mid 1980s, pre-dated the modern notion of MMORPG by a decade.

The first modern MMORPG is now mostly credited as Meridian 59 (1996), but it was Ultima Online (1997) that popularized the genre. Both of these games featured a flat monthly subscription fee instead of the traditional per-hour plan. This new pricing model can be seen as the business motivation to shift from the hardcore gamer audience (who racked up massive fees) towards a broader, massive market. M59 and UO also arbitrarily set the benchmark at $10 USD a month, a figure that would later gradually increase across the genre. These were the first games that used and spread the term "massively multiplayer".

Meanwhile, commercial online games were becoming extraordinarily popular in South Korea. Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, designed by Jake Song , began commercial service in 1996 and eventually gained over one million subscribers. Song's next game, Lineage (1998), was an even bigger success. Lineage reached millions of subscribers in Korea and Taiwan, and gave developer NCsoft the strength to gain a foothold in the global MMORPG market in the next few years.

Launched in March 1999 by Sony Online Entertainment, EverQuest drove fantasy MMORPGs into the Western mainstream. It was the most commercially successful MMORPG in the United States for five years and was the basis for a series of expansions and related games. TIME magazine and other non-gaming press featured stories on EQ, often focusing on the controversies and social questions inspired by its popularity. Asheron's Call launched later in the year and was another hit, rounding out what is sometimes called the original "big three" (UO, EQ, AC). Yet another fantasy game, it at least featured an original universe. The future continued to look bright as Origin revealed it had started developing Ultima Online 2.

By the late 1990s the concept of massively multiplayer online games expanded into new video game genres. Many of these games, such as the "massively multiplayer online first-person shooter" World War II Online (2001) brought some of the RPG heritage with them.

For fans of the genre, 2000 was a relatively quiet year, but developers and investors were buzzing to jump into the continually expanding market. Dark Age of Camelot launched in 2001 and can be seen as a successful post-big-three fantasy game: It launched smoothly, required less time to gain levels, and had an integrated player versus player system. Critics dismissed the sci-fi MMORPG Anarchy Online while it suffered through its rough first month in June. Growth of the big three nearly plateaued during 2001 as well and UO2 was cancelled while still in development, indicating that the market possibly had been saturated.

Academic attention

MMORPGs have begun to attract significant academic attention, notably in the fields of economics and psychology. Edward Castronova specializes in the study of virtual worlds (MUDs, MMOGs, and similar concepts). Most of his writings, including "Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier" (2001), have examined relationships between real world economies and synthetic economies.

With the growing popularity of the genre, a growing number of psychologists and sociologists study the actions and interactions of the players in such games. One of the more famous of these researchers is Sherry Turkle. Nicholas Yee has surveyed thousands of MMORPG players over the past few years in studying the psychological and sociological aspects of these games.

Browser-based MMORPGs

With the success of the MMORPG genre in recent years, several multiplayer games played in web browsers have also begun using the MMORPG moniker. This largely text-based sub-genre developed from old BBS games and pre-dates the modern idea of MMORPGs. Browser-based MMORPGs are usually simpler games than their graphical counterparts, typically involving turn-based play and simple strategies of "build a large army, then attack other players for gold", though there are many interesting variations on the popular theme to be found. Many of these games are more like turn-based strategy games or wargames than role-playing games. In Kings of Chaos, for example, the player commands an army rather than a single player character.

One of the earliest examples of a browser-based MMORPG is Archmage, which dates back to early 1999. A currently extremely popular browser-based MMORPG, with players numbering in the hundreds of thousands, is Kings of Chaos. Kings of Chaos' popularity is primarily fuelled by a reciprocal link clicking system where users give each other more soldiers by clicking on their friends' unique links, taking advantage of the small world phenomenon to spread word of the game across the world. A good example for a click based MMORPG is Legend of the Green Dragon, whose code is open source, allowing anyone to create their own game server. There also exists a browser-based MMORPG which is largely a parody of others, Kingdom of Loathing. Some of the more popular of these have become profitable using user subscriptions.

Not all browser-based MMORPGs are turn-based text games. More recently, faster computers and Java have allowed the introduction of graphical browser-based MMORPGs such as RuneScape which are more similar to standalone MMORPGs.

Genre challenges

Most MMORPGs require significant development resources to overcome the logistical hurdles associated with such a large production. These games demand virtual worlds, significant hardware requirements from the developer (e.g., servers and bandwidth), and dedicated support staff. Despite the efforts of developers cognizant of these issues, reviewers often cite non-optimal populations (such as overcrowding or under-populated worlds), lag, and poor support as problems of games in this genre. These problems, especially lag, are a bigger problem for free MMORPGs. Peer-to-peer MMORPGs would scale better because peers share the resource load, but they can also be more vulnerable to other problems, such as cheating. Free MMORPGs usually rely on the spare-time efforts of a small team of programmers, artists, and game designers.

Several MMORPGs have suffered through technical difficulties through the first few days or weeks after launch. Early successes such as Ultima Online and EverQuest managed to pass through this stage with little permanent damage. Later games such as Anarchy Online, World War II Online and World of Warcraft struggled to regain good press after their first month. Nevertheless, Dark Age of Camelot and City of Heroes hardly showed any signs of such difficulties.

In addition to the challenges faced in making an MMORPG, designers also must face problems largely unique to the genre:

World state

It is impossible for each player to significantly affect the overall state of the world. In a normal RPG, the player or party is the hero and single-handedly saves the world. In an MMORPG, every player can't save the world. In A Tale In The Desert, however, the game world does end when certain criteria are met by the players, as well as technology advancing. This seems to be an exception to the rule. Another possible exception is Nationstates, in which it is possible for one group of players to effectively control the world by controlling certain territories(some people have been able to do so), however it is questionable whether Nationstates is a true MMORPG.

However, in Runescape, a single quest may be done only once per player but is permissible to be done by everyone. NPCs will react differently to people depending on the status of their quests in these situations, however no major change effecting all players will occur.


In many MMORPGs, the economy becomes unbalanced over time due to inflation and can reduce meaningful interaction between players of varying level (i.e., newbies versus more powerful players). This is primarily due to the gradual accumulation of wealth and power within the game. Some MMORPGs have addressed this with varying degrees of success. Asheron's Call for example uses a guild system where lower level characters swear allegiance to higher level players, and generate additional experience points for them. The theory being that it is in the interest of higher level players to assist the lower players and thus increase the reward they receive. Ultima Online used to have items wear out gradually, so that there is a constant demand for crafting resources, but this need has lowered with additional items which supplement item durability over time. Many games will create items referred to as "money sinks" that might add to character customization, or give a small positive effect. Examples include houses, clothes, or collectibles.


In many MMORPGs, a user can set up scripts (also known as bots or macros) to play the game, performing a simple task over and over again, and reap huge rewards. This lets users build up a powerful character just by letting their computer run unattended. This flaw is built into almost the very essence of a RPG "levelling", that your character becomes more powerful primarily by repeatedly performing actions.

These macros are forbidden in many of these games, and developers are now fighting back by working on automation detection systems. One tactic is to 'nerf' the game aspects related to the botting. These are easier to implement than actual anti-automation code and are thus favoured by developers. Their effectiveness is dubious, however, in that they affect legitimate players and botters alike.

Another way to speed up the character progress is using multis.


As with all online multiplayer games, there is a problem of intentionally rude players (termed "griefers"). Problems mostly specific to MMORPGs include kill stealing (killing a monster someone else is fighting for the reward with little risk), and ninja looting (improperly taking the loot from a defeated monster). The term also applies for the situation where higher level players pick on lower level players, and thus make the questing and adventuring impossible for those players. Players can do this by killing the NPC where the lower level characters have to turn in their quest or by killing lower level players themselves (in a PvP environment) over and over again (also known as corpse-camping).

Some MMORPGs discipline griefers by ensuring that responsible administrators or support personnel are online at all times. Aware of the annoyance these actions bring forth, developers have taken further steps to prevent these things from happening. For example, EverQuest II locks encounters so that other players cannot join a fight without the original combatant's consent. World of Warcraft 'marks' the reward (be it experience or loot) for the player or group that initiated the fight.

Player killing

Many players desire fun player versus player (PvP) combat, but unrestricted PvP can be very discouraging to new players, who can be easily slaughtered by more advanced characters played by experienced players. Many MMORPGs handle this dilemma by making PvP optional or consensual. Some, such as Blizzard's World of Warcraft, offer players the choice of playing on a PvP server or on a PvE (player versus environment) server, where PvP combat is limited to special circumstances. Player Killing was once unadulterated and only limited by the confines of ones imagination, like in early Ultima Online, but there has since been a consensus that those early laissez faire rule systems were far too lax and hurt the bottom line, hence, every PvP system has rule sets and limitations.

Time commitment

A character's power usually represents how much time is invested in playing, rather than skill. Casual players are interested in playing a few hours a week, but many hardcore gamers play more than 40 hours a week. Some games require so much commitment that players have resorted to buying powerful virtual characters and items on eBay rather than obtaining them through playing the game.

Health risks

A controversial study was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2003 to assess the long term health risks associated with extended play of MMORPG's. While the study is not yet accepted by the general medical community (pending further results), it showed that participants who play more than 20 hours per week of MMORPG's suffer from increased obesity and nutritional imbalance as well as an increased propensity for bone loss, muscle atrophy and impotence. It has been suggested that this is due to the sedentary nature of game play, and the replacement by MMORPG's of more traditional games involving exercise. It has not yet been conclusively determined if people with these problems are simply more likely to play MMORPG's, or if these conditions evolve from play.

Pay to play, pay even more to win

Due to the problems just mentioned, one can receive a great advantage in game by buying another persons' already powerful character. It is also possible to buy memberships or special items such as those offered by games such as Runescape and Elysaria. Some games such as Roma Victor and Project Entropia take this incentive a step further, allowing players to convert real-world currency to in-game currency such as "Sesterces" or "Project Entropia Dollars", which can then be spent on better equipment, and even houses, for their character. Houses in Project Entropia have been auctioned for hundreds of dollars, and recently one Australian gamer bought a virtual island for USD$26,500 (20,000) in real-world currency. [1]

Other game companies frown on this practice. In April 2000, Sony Online Entertainment became the first prominent MMORPG company to change an End User License Agreement (EULA) to forbid players from buying or selling in-game "characters, items, coin" (in EverQuest). [2] This was followed up in January 2001 by the removal of EverQuest virtual item sales on the popular online auction site eBay. [3]

Through the past years, sales of virtual property such as items, currency and accounts have bloomed. Companies dedicated to farming or acquiring the virtual property of players and then selling them to other players have established themselves and have created a virtual market that is said to be worth $880 million US dollars. Whether the so called "Secondary Market" operates within legal constraints or not has yet to be determined by an original precedent, but it is more or less clear that the companies involved do shady business. One of the major players in this act has just recently bought several fan sites of popular upcoming game Vanguard, the Online Gaming Network (OGaming) and popular World of Warcraft database "Thottbot". No connections between any of these websites and the "Secondary Market" have been established as of now. The intentions behind these sales remain unclear and extreme amount of speculations has spawned throughout the World Wide Web shortly after these happenings became public.

In-game scamming

Scamming can also be a problem in many of these games, as players try to break the rules to further enhance their characters. Typically this occurs by manipulating bugs in the game code or by taking advantage of new players' lack of familiarity with the details of game mechanics. Scammers might lie about the value or use of an item to sell it at a higher price to new players.

Scammers might also simply ask for a password (or whatever they want), claiming to be a representative of the game's developer or someone who can attain massive wealth, but requires the player's password. Some companies that run MMORPGs have a policy that they will never ask a player for their password. Others also apply a special in-game appearance to staff members, such as making their character look different or changing the colour of their name in the chat box.

Uber guilds and zerg guilds

Sometimes, the most powerful characters on a server form a single, influential association popularly called an uber guild (first appearing in Ultima Online). In addition, some guilds mass recruit players to be large enough to have an advantage, nicknamed zerg guild after the Zerg race in the popular real-time strategy game Starcraft that was only effective in large numbers. These groups can use their influence to affect game play by, for example, "owning" areas of the world, controlling the economy, or using tactics like zerging. Such forces discourage casual players.


As opposed to newbies, who are simply new to the game, n00bs refers to players who continue to act ignorantly, and often annoyingly, having little or no skill at a game. They are the prey for higher level gamers and scammers alike. Some player killers will attack and kill n00bs. Some games have admins or GMs in place to punish any players who purposely kill unsuspecting n00bs and in some games this will warrant a banning if done repeatedly. N00bs may also be prone to beg or pester higher level players into giving them items, leading to further conflicts.


Farming is a form of hunting where a player kills monsters in the game for the money and items that the monster carries. Players who farm usually camp an area, kill monsters as they spawn, collect the loot, and later sell the items to others. Players often dislike this practice because many farmers sell the virtual loot for real money. Farmers can also dominate areas that were intended to be lucrative hunting grounds for lower-level players.


Twinking is a term in computer gaming that refers to outfitting a new character or player with items or other resources that are not normally available at that characters level. This is usually specific to role-playing games.

Twink in some games (mainly Social MMORPG games such as Furcadia) is an insult given to a player in saying that they are poor RPer's.

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Last updated: 10-12-2005 23:52:02
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