Instanced Vs Persistent: The Guild Wars Debate

Ask someone if World of Warcraft is an MMO, and you’re bound to receive a raised eyebrow, and the kind of look you can generally only get when you ask how to download the internet on to your computer so you can go online. World of Warcraft is a persistent world, where players travel across miles of open terrain, fighting varied mobs, gaining levels, fighting other players, completing instances, etc. There is no doubt for many players that World of Warcraft is an MMO.

When Guild Wars Prophecies was released in 2005, the question of this game’s status as an MMORPG sparked some debate on the issue. The game is run solely through instances, leading opponents of the idea to claim that the game was simply an online role playing game, and that the mechanics worked similarly to Halo 2 in the sense of ranking up and PvP. Supporters of the game receiving the title claim that the “lobbies” in which players freely interact is indeed persistent and allow the player to run around as an avatar.

I called this the “Guild Wars Debate” although the discussion fundamentally has nothing to do with Guild Wars. We already know Guild Wars isn’t an MMO, ArenaNet has confirmed that it is a CORPG (Competitive Online Role Playing Game). Games that this brings into question are the new and upcoming games that call themselves MMOs, but are they really? Or are they just shooters with a monthly fee strapped on? Am I asking rhetorical questions that I’m about to answer?

Disregarding what ArenaNet thinks, it does come down to the fact that Guild Wars is not a true MMO. Neither is Crimecraft, nor Huxley, nor Global Agenda, and technically neither is The Agency. Crimecraft and Huxley’s developers were keen enough not to label their titles as an MMO, and as a result they’ve been purged from the list (I know, such an exclusive blog). I’ll be taking a further look at Global Agenda and The Agency as more details arise on both to figure out of they are really an MMO.

Through my research, I’ve discovered that the one true factor that separates MMOs from RPGs and shooters is the presence of the “lobby” and what role it plays in the game. In an MMO, as opposed to a multiplayer shooter, the persistent world is where a majority of the gameplay takes place, as opposed to just being a hub to meet people to enter instances with. Every MMO with the exception of a few, have instances. It all depends on the importance placed on those instances, and what can be done outside, and inside, of them that makes the difference.

If you accept that the lobby being avatar based makes the game an MMO, then Grand Theft Auto IV becomes an MMO. If leveling is what makes an MMO, then Halo 2/3 become an MMOFPS. Is it the bank and the unlock-able and interchangeable items? We’ve added Team Fortress 2 to the list. A ranking system? Practically ever shooter released these past few years.

I don’t do this out of some creepy fetish for making a list and purging it. Partially it is because I feel that some of these games are giving off the wrong signals and opening themselves up for bad PR when people eventually come to the game and say “What is this? I can get this same gameplay without paying 15 bucks a month!”

Planetside is a true MMOFPS. Maybe it’s giving us impossible expectations for future titles?

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One Response to “Instanced Vs Persistent: The Guild Wars Debate”

  1. megaras says:

    I agree that there is/was some confusion surrounding the definition of MMO, as opposed to other forms of online gaming. Now, imagine if Guild Wars was built as a standard MMO, with a persistant world where one could encounter other players in the “wild” – I don’t know if it would have been the illusive “WoW-Killer” but man it would have made an excellent game 🙂