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Ten Most Misused Words in MMOs

In this week’s list, Jon Wood gives us ten phrases that get thrown around to the point where they’ve almost lost their meaning.

Every group of people has its own variant on language. Whether it’s a group of friends with inside jokes, colleagues talking shop, or any other sub-group of society, people will always use “insider language” that anyone who isn’t “in the know” will have a tough time picking up. If you have ever been at a work function with a spouse or significant other, you are probably familiar with the phenomenon, it presents itself right around the time two people start talking about the regional interoffice roundtable, your eyes glaze over and you head for the bar.

The world of MMORPGs is no exception. Developers, players and journalists all share a common vocabulary that includes words and terms like: PvP, RvR, Raid, Guild, Grind, Gank, Exploit, Loot, Farm, Bot… The list is near endless. It isn’t that all of these words are foreign to the rest of the English speaking world, but when you’re talking about MMOs, the word “farming” doesn’t mean tilling fields and milking cows, it means: performing collection actions over and over again in order to increase wealth and / or resources, often for the purpose of Gold Selling.

It isn’t that there is anything inherently wrong with “inside language.” In fact, it helps to strengthen ties to community and gives people a sense of belonging. The problems begin, at least in the world of MMOs, when words begin to be used too often or even inappropriately. When this happens, the meanings of the words become diluted.. Below is a list of ten such words from the vocabulary of the world of MMORPGs:

THIS was innovation.

#10 Innovation

Innovative (or innovation) gets thrown around a lot in MMORPG circles. Generally, this comes in the form of developers expounding the virtues of their latest MMOs and forum posters complaining that nothing new is happening with their favourite genre of games.

The word innovative has been misused by both sides for some time, with the real meaning falling somewhere in the middle. Here are some examples:

“No, they’re not Wood Elves, they’re Fri’renias,” does not qualify. Simply changing the name of a classic fantasy race doesn’t make it innovative.


“There’s nothing innovative in this game, it still has systems that are similar to other MMOs,” likewise falls short. A game doesn’t have to be radically different from its peers in order to be innovative, it just has to take a recognisably different approach to some aspect of its design.

If you want a theme park, go here.

#9 Sandbox / Theme Park

The term sandbox was originally used to describe an “open world” style of MMORPG where players of all advancement levels were encouraged to wander the virtual world in search of their own stories and adventures. The metaphor is pretty self explanatory: put a child in a sandbox and they will use their imaginations to create all manner of fun for themselves. Theme Park games, on the other hand, are MMOs that guide players through the game’s experience. The developers craft the rides and players need only jump on and enjoy. Each is a different approach to MMO development, valid for its own reasons and appealing to its own audiences.

Over time though, the term sandbox has been somehow misused by some to describe a game that is questless, and levelless, devoid of any and all developer meddling. Theme Park, on the other hand, has become a word to describe a gaming experience that provides the players with no choice at all, no variation and no choice.

Sandboxes, for all of their freedom, should probably have a few toys thrown in: a shovel, maybe a few buckets and a Tonka bulldozer. A Theme park, while it does have predictable rides, should offer variation and choice in what you want to ride. Don’t like rollercoasters? Try the Merry-Go-Round or some carnival games.

In the end, neither term was meant to represent the extremes that many people use them to represent.

Only Garriott launches this way.

#8 Launch Date

I think that Mandy Patinkin said it best as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word… I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Time after time, developers announce a launch date for their game. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they announce that date as a hard and fast date, a quarter and a year, or just a year. It seems completely inevitable these days that if a studio declares that their new and much anticipated MMORPG will go with a launch date of X, that the game won’t see the light of day for at least another few weeks.

Now, to be fair, it is almost impossible to determine an exact launch date, especially before the game hits the beta or even alpha stages. At that point, the only thing that a studio can really offer is a best guess that will almost certainly change at least once before the game sees the light of day. Still, companies need to be careful, especially in the early stages, not to announce a launch date before one has been finalized.

A launch date is firm, an estimated or projected release date isn’t. Companies (and news outlets) should call a spade a spade and acknowledge that announced dates are always fluid and changing.

True vaporware?

#7 Vaporware

It isn’t so much that the term Vaporware has been misinterpreted, as it is that it has become one of the most over-used terms in the MMO lexicon.

In an ideal world, Vaporware is a term that applies to a game that has a lot of build-up and hype, but truly never existed in any form remotely similar to what was hype. Dawn was Vaporware.

The unfortunate truth is that sometimes MMOs just don’t make it. This can happen for any number of reasons: the project runs out of money, the studio gets sold, legal troubles sink the ship, or some other unforeseen circumstance rears its head.

As time has gone on, the term vaporware is thrown around more and more often. Games that get delayed, even for as little as a month or so, are suddenly saddled with the label as thread upon thread asking “is X game vaporware?” pops up on MMO forums everywhere.

There is no real answer to the problem other than to say that, as was touched on in #8, MMO launch dates are fluid things, and jumping to conclusions doesn’t help anything.

Not a screenshot of Auto Assault!

#6 Failure

World of Warcraft raised expectations for players, journalists, investors and developers in terms of the astounding numbers that an MMORPG has the potential to attract. With 11.5 million subscribers worldwide, no other subscription based MMORPG has come close.

While this is great news for Blizzard and even good news for the health of the MMO industry as a whole, it has led to a phenomenon where any game that fails to reach and maintain the million subscriber number is seen by many to be a complete failure.

The truth is, as Cryptic Entertainment’s Bill Roper pointed out in a recent interview, the high water mark for MMO success used to hover around 300,000 active subscribers. Sure, the landscape of the MMO world has changed since the Pre-WoW era, but there is no reason to believe that a game has to maintain a million or more subscribers in order to not be considered to be a failure.

Success or failure of an MMORPG based on subscribers can only really be determined by the studio and the publisher who have looked extensively at the costs involved and know very well the number under which the game can be considered to be a failure.

Take Warhammer Online for example. Many have called it a failure, and it’s failure to retain all those impressive box sales as subscribers is not encouraging, but 300,000 subscribers is not exactly going to leave anyone at Mythic penniless.

Simply put: Failure to kill WoW is not failure.


Also not guilty of WoW killing.

#5 WoW Killer

The term WoW Killer has been thrown around for nearly as long as there has been a World of Warcraft around to kill. Not a single one of the most anticipated releases over the last few years has escaped the question: “Will Game X be a WoW Killer?”

Legend has it that the WoW killer will emerge from the ether, Sword of a Thousand Truths in hand, to topple the current king of MMOs from its throne.

That is the legend. The truth is that there isn’t likely to be a single game that topples Blizzard. There will be games that claim millions of subscribers. There may even be a game that surpasses WoW’s numbers, but the idea that a game is going to come along and destroy the juggernaut is more myth than truth.

World of Warcraft won’t live forever, but it is far more likely that time and the progression of technology will bring it down.

Just as WoW didn’t kill EverQuest, which continues to go strong a decade after launch, even if one or a dozen games eclipse those numbers, WoW will still be a strong and valuable property.

Never Google Image this word.

#4 Hardcore

Hardcore has traditionally been a term to describe MMORPG players that are truly dedicated to their chosen game, be they PvPer, Role Player, Power Gamer, Guild Leader or any other kind of gamer, hardcore used to be worn as a badge of honor by players of all stripes.

Most recently, the term “hardcore” has been co-opted to represent only players that enjoy the most brutal, free-for-all style PvP games. Not that there’s anything wrong with that play style.

The truth of hardcore is that it is about the amount of hours put in, not what people enjoy doing in those hours.

Mr. Miyagi gets polish.

#3 Polish

Some time ago, so the legend goes, a Blizzard developer said that the secret to World of Warcraft’s success was their ability to polish their game and its systems. This meant that the developers were and are given the time to fully develop, test and “shine up” their game and its features before they are launched. The result is a more complete and well rounded final product.

While it may be true that a “good coat of polish” contributed to WoW’s success, it seems as though the word, over time, has been taken by dev studios everywhere and used by Marketing and PR departments to blithely explain away any delay in production without having to go into any specific detail. “The team needs more time to polish the game,” has become such an often-used phrase that the word polish has lost most of its original meaning.

And not coincidentally, no game since has launched with anywhere near that level of polish. Who else wonders what they’re really doing during “polish time?”

Total Number of Porsches We Own: 0.

#2 Fanboi / Hater / Sell-out

Everybody these days seems to fall into one category or another. Either you are called a Fanboi, or you are called a hater (and on a good day, you might be called both).

Originally, these terms were meant to designate the most extreme supporters of, and the most extreme opposition to, any given game. Wherever there exists any entertainment product, there will be people who embrace them unquestioningly and there will be people who do everything in their power to tear them down.

Over the last few years though, as arguments over released and upcoming games has heated up, the label of Fanboi and Hater has been thrown around so much as to have changed meanings almost entirely. Instead of describing an over-enthusiastic fan who is incapable of recognizing even the smallest flaw in his or her chosen game, the term Fanboi is now being used to label anyone who expresses a positive opinion about a game or company. Similarly, the term that was once reserved only for people who steadfastly refused to see any positive points at all about a given game is now being applied to any person, fan or no, that dares to point out any flaws that might exist in a game.

For journalists, fanboi is replaced by sell-out. The quickest and most predictable response to any article about SOE that doesn’t outright attack them is ten posts asking where Smedley delivered that new Porsche. Just because the writer has a different opinion doesn’t mean they sold their soul to arrive at it.

The over-use of these terms has not only rendered them useless for their original purpose, but has also created a divide within many MMORPG communities that makes rational discussion about any mildly controversial game a near impossibility.

First Dolly, now WoW?

#1 WoW Clone

By far the most over and misused word in the MMO dictionary. In theory, the term WoW Clone refers to a game that so closely resembles World of Warcraft that it could have been grown from its very DNA.

In recent years, this term has been applied to almost every single P2P MMO either in production or released. It is applied to any game, it seems, that makes use of: an RPG style user interface, quests, level progression, guilds, instances, zones, swords, the list goes on.

While World of Warcraft does indeed make use of all of the above mentioned elements and more, the fact of the matter is that they were not the first, and they will not be the last. Many of the elements that are pointed to as evidence of a WoW clone are rather fingerprints of the genre as a whole. Quests, for example, have been an integral part of not just MMOs, but of RPGs from the very beginning, the same goes for concepts like level progression, guilds and the fantasy setting. While Blizzard may have created a formula that improved the way that these elements are presented, World of Warcraft remains just a stepping stone in the overall evolution of the genre.

It is certainly easy to understand a desire, amongst players and developers alike, for change and innovation within the genre, but labeling each and every new MMO release a WoW Clone in the way that some people have been serves to do nothing but reduce the entire genre (both pre and post World of Warcraft) to a single game.

It isn’t necessarily a departure from the conventions of the genre that people are looking for so much as it is a bit of obvious innovation.

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