As most of us know, MMO is kind of an abstract game genre, and not something that really stands on its own. There’s no such thing as a “pure MMO” - each Massively Multiplayer Online title belongs to a subgenre that dictates the core gameplay elements, gameplay loop and sometimes even the settings. That’s the reason MMOs come in so many different flavors and shapes - you can pretty much tack on any existing genre and create a completely new subgenre. Or can you?
Let us start with the subgenres we we’re familiar with. The most well-known of all the subgenres is the MMORPG. Games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest and RuneScape are responsible for the rise of the MMO “genre”, so it’s no wonder that for so many people MMORPG is synonymous with MMO. It’s an almost carbon copy of the RPG experience, only some of the NPCs you see wandering around are actually other players. Sure, you can join with those other players to go on particularly different raids and dungeon runs, but that’s about it.
MMORTS, or Massively Multiplayer Online Real-Time Strategy, is exactly what it sounds like - the MMO version of classic strategy games like StarCraft and Age of Empires. While the basic gameplay itself is pretty similar to that of the single-player variation, the online part adds another layer of challenge, as the player needs to constantly be aware of dozens, hundreds and even thousands of other players and their moves. This amount of players leads to the creation of alliances, clans and Leagues on the one hand, and bitter rivalries on the other. Unlike with the MMORPG, in an MMORTS title, the MMO part can drastically change the experience.
Surprisingly enough, you don’t see a lot of MMO First-Person Shooters. There are plenty of online shooters, and some of them are pretty big and even implement some MMO elements, but proper MMOFPS titles are hard to come by. Destiny, for example, takes place in a massive persistent world, but only allows a handful of players to play together. Some would argue that the gameplay loops of online shooters are too short and repetitive to implement on a massive scale, but some games like Firefall and Planetside 2 have managed to do so with varying degrees of success.
MMO racing games are a relatively new creation, pioneered by games like Need for Speed World and The Crew. This subgenre is admittedly less popular than the previously mentioned ones, but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Most of these games aren’t full-fledged MMOs, instead following the same pattern set my online shooters and go for the “MMO-light” experience.
Now we get to the really fun part: hypothesizing about the future of MMO subgenres. To be more specific - coming up with new MMO subgenres and mashups we might see in the future.
No, I’m not talking about eSports; I’m talking about MMOSG - Massively Multiplayer Online Sports Game. It’s a game that lets players compete against each other in various team or individual sports. These MMOSG will be somewhat similar to MMORTSs in concept, with a few MMORPG elements thrown in: Players will join together in alliances, or “Teams”, to play against other Teams for Resources. Teams can then join Leagues and fight to win tournaments or major events for even bigger prizes. Now, depending on the sport, players can choose to play specific roles, or develop their character in several different attributes like speed, strength, reflexes and more. There’s not a lot of exploration or even story to find in MMOSGs, but they can be great competitive multiplayer games on a very large scale.
A huge group of players solving logic puzzles or a series of challenges together might sound like an almost impossible task, but you forget one thing - it’s already been done at least once. Remember when Twitch played Pokemon from beginning to end a couple of years ago? Literally thousands of players came together and played as one character in Pokemon Red in real-time. It was chaotic, hilarious and a bit groundbreaking, and may even pave the way for serious game developers to introduce a new genre - Puzzle MMOs. It might not be as epic and most role-playing games, but it could possibly turn out to be the most challenging video game genre in existence.
I have to admit that multiplayer online brawlers and fighting games aren’t a completely new concept. I know of at least two upcoming games, For Honor and Absolver, that hope to deliver online melee action between three or four players. However, I think we will start seeing online fighting games with much bigger scale. MMO brawlers could be something like a bigger version of Super Smash Bros., while MMO fighting games could deliver an actual war simulator, where hundreds of players come together to defend against an invading army in real-time.
MOBAs are pretty big right now. In case you’re new to this whole Internet thing, let me first congratulate you on finding out awesome site, and then explain a bit more. In a MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, two small groups of players fight across a map in an attempt to destroy each other’s base. Each player plays a character with different skills and strengths, and they work together to overcome the other team. I think that it won’t be long before someone tries to introduce the “Massively” part of MMOs into a MOBA. Instead of two teams, why not four? Why not more? Teams will have to be bigger, but we already have MOBAs with over a hundred different characters to choose from. It would also mean each match would be much more strategic, as each team now needs to worry about more than enemy. Teams could form and break alliances in the heat of battle, play more defensively and let the other teams destroy each other before unleashing a coordinated attack on the survivors, and devise many other clever strategies.
The future of MMOs and their subgenres is interesting to say the least. I can think of plenty more possible genre mashups than those I mentioned, and in truth there are probably more than I can even conceive of. With so many different game genres already existing today, there’s no telling where we’ll go from here. But I can promise you one thing - we will only go forward.