MMORPG

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Template:RPG A massive 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 massively multiplayer online game (MMOG).

Overview

MMORPGs follow a client-server model. Players, running the client software, are represented in the game world by an avatar — a graphical representation of the character they play. Providers (usually the game's publisher), host the persistent worlds these players inhabit. This interaction between a virtual world, always available for play, and an ever-changing, world-wide stream of players characterizes the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.

Once a player enters the gameworld, they can engage in a variety of activities with other players 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 their customers.

Because most MMORPGs are commercial, players must purchase the client software, pay a monthly fee to access the virtual world, or both. There are free-of-charge online games found on the Internet, although their production quality is generally lower compared to their "pay-to-play" counterparts.

MMORPGs are immensely popular, with several commercial games reporting over 200,000 subscribers. South Korea boasts the highest subscription numbers, with millions of registered users for a few popular games (see list of MMORPGs).

History

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A large group of players in World of Warcraft gathering for a raid.

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, Dungeon and Zork, and to pen and paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

In the late-1970s the Plato System featured a line-drawn pseudo-3D MMORPG called Moria, not to be confused with the later VAX VMS based game Moria.

The first text-based commercial MMORPG (although what constitutes "massive" requires some context when discussing mid-1980s mainframes) was Islands of Kesmai by Kelton Flinn and John Taylor, which went live in 1984 at the cost of $12.00 per hour, offered via the CompuServe online service.

Habitat, a graphical environment designed at LucasArts where users could interact, chat and exchange "items" debuted in a reduced form under the name Club Caribe on AOL in 1988. Although it was not a game, its combination of graphics, avatars and chat was revolutionary for the time.

During the early-1990s, commercial use of the Internet was limited by NSFNET acceptable use policies. Consequently, early online games relied upon proprietary services such as CompuServe and America Online for distribution. As these restrictions were relaxed, traditional game companies and online services began to deploy games on the Internet.

The first commercial text-based MMORPG to transition from a proprietary network provider (CompuServe, in its case) to the Internet was Legends of Future Past, designed by Jon Radoff and Angela Bull. It was a fantasy roleplaying game featuring an evolving world and professional Game Masters who conducted online events. The game was offered through the Internet for $3.60 per hour in 1992 and ran until 2000.

The first graphical MMORPG was Neverwinter Nights by designer Don Daglow and programmer Cathryn Mataga, which went live on AOL in 1991 and ran through 1997. The project was personally championed and green-lighted by AOL President Steve Case, and cost $6.00 per hour to play.

Following Neverwinter Nights was The Shadow of Yserbius, an MMORPG within The Sierra Network, which ran from 1992 through 1996. The game was produced by Joe Ybarra. TSN was an hourly service, although it also offered unlimited service for $119.99 per month, until AT&T acquired TSN and rendered it strictly an hourly service.

The Realm Online was a successful early MMORPG, launched by Sierra Online in 1996. The Realm included a basic, two-dimensional graphics engine and Dungeons & Dragons style character levels. It had a basic user inferface and turn-based combat, also taken from the Dungeons & Dragons mold.

Ultima Online (1997) is credited with popularizing the genre. The game featured a flat monthly subscription fee (first introduced by the 3DO game Meridian 59 in 1996) instead of the hitherto-traditional per-hour plan; the monthly fee has since become the standard for most if not all MMORPGs. This new pricing model has also been seen as the motivation for business to shift from the 'hardcore gamer' audience (who racked up massive fees) towards a broader, more massive market. M59 and UO also set the precedent for monthly $10 USD subscriptions, 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 for the next few years.

Launched in March 1999 by Verant and later aquired 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 ten expansions (as of September 13, 2005) and several derivative 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" of the late 1990s (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.

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Daimonin is one of the efforts to create a free MMORPG.

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.

Among challenges, the effort to keep players paying monthly fees companies such as Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) seek solutions of their own. One of such is a single flat rate allowing players to play games from previous older products such as Everquest and Planetside with a more recently released variety, Everquest II and Starwars Galaxies. Many players argue the fees, the lack of information supporting the need and the unwillingness of most major MMO companies to properly specify where the money is being spent.

The release of Guild Wars on April 28th, 2005 represents NCsoft, an MMORPG publisher, investing in the possible profitability of an online RPG with a one-time fee. Guild Wars does not share many of the distinguishing features of typical MMORPGs such as the massive persistent game world, the subscription fee, the large time investment required to play, and the largely server-dependant software architecture.

The Walt Disney company has now joined the world of MMORPG, with the launch of Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom. This free-to-join game allows players to explore Disney's Magic Kingdom park, interact with each other, and undertake tasks and games in order to earn 'credits', which can be used to purchase clothing, posters, pins etc. Gamers can also customise their own 'room' and make friends with each other. There are strict guidelines concerning speech - if a gamer attempts to type in a word that is considered unsuitable (such as 'love' for instance), it will be replaced by a series of hash signs in the sentence. There is also the opportunity to continue to play your game if you visit Walt Disney World in Florida, by going to DisneyQuest, their virtual-reality and simulator attraction.

On August 4, 2005, the Chinese government announced a ban on all "violent" gameplay for minors under 18. Chinese officials declared violent any game that involves player vs. player combat, a common feature among MMORPGs. Later in August the same year, the Chinese government imposed online gaming curbs so players can not play more than three consecutive hours. See BBC news article.

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.

Amateur development

Many small teams of amateur programmers and artists have tried to create their own MMORPG. The main reason for developing a new MMORPG seems to be commercial interest or just for fame. The average MMORPG project takes three to four years to create. Amateur development usually takes longer because of lack of time, manpower or money. Additionally, the costs required for running servers may be a reason for projects to be abandoned. Free MMORPGs usually rely on the spare-time efforts of a small team of programmers, artists, and game designers.

The most well-established amateur projects are FreeWorld, Daimonin and Endless Online. The developers of Endless Online have released technical development information with details about their coding. Daimonin is entirely open source. FreeWorld has not released any source.

Most amateur games cannot measure graphically with any commercial game. The most promising cost-free MMORPG is Planeshift, which is available for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. It is currently in beta testing, but in the final release is supposed to measure up to commercial MMORPGs like WoW or Everquest.

Browser-based MMORPGs

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Implemented in the portable Java, RuneScape is an example of a popular browser-based MMORPG.

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 an MMORPG. Browser-based MMORPGs are usually simpler games than their stand-alone counterparts, typically involving turn-based play and simple strategies (e.g. "build a large army, then attack other players for gold"), though there are many interesting variations on the popular themes to be found. Many of these games are more like turn-based strategy games or wargames than role-playing games. In Dark Galaxy players control planets and fleets of ships; in Kings of Chaos the player commands an army rather than a single player character. In Pardus, the player controls a character who owns a spaceship and gains XPs through trading or fighting, in a way similar to the classic game Elite.

One of the earliest examples of a browser-based MMORPG is Archmage, which dates back to early 1999. Currently, an extremely popular browser-based MMORPG, Kings of Chaos, boasts a player population numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Its 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. Some examples of click based MMORPG's are Legend of the Green Dragon and World of Phaos, whose code is open source, allowing anyone to create their own game server. Another browser-based MMORPG, Kingdom of Loathing, largely parodies other games. Some of the more popular of these have become profitable through user subscriptions. One example of a modern, popular text-based MMORPG is Urban Dead.

Not all browser-based MMORPGs are turn-based text games. More recently, faster computers and the Java programming language have allowed the introduction of graphical browser-based MMORPGs such as RuneScape which are more similar to standalone MMORPGs. Amateur MMORPG-makers are also beginning to make graphical games which don't require browser-extensions, such as Future Infinity(which is in ongoing development) and COW - Creative Object World (also in development but quite functional), which both use Javascript and server-side languages.

Role Playing

Unlike most video-games, MMORPG offers the possibility to not just interact with other players, but to create a whole background for yourself, be part of a online community, and have a reputation. Some games offer this posibility such as Tibia. In games such as this, there are different jobs, vocations, professions, etc. MMORPGs are usually medieval based (even though some are futurist) and vocation dynamics usually are: Different kinds of mages or druids that use all sorts of magic, knights that use melee fighting, archers that use bows, and some games even have merchants. The name may change but the dynamic usually is the same in all MMORPGs. Usually, vocations complement each other in order to enhance the community.

Genre challenges

Most MMORPGs require significant development resources to overcome the logistical hurdles associated with such large production efforts. Online games require virtual worlds, significant hardware requirements (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 tend to be worse for free MMORPGs. Peer-to-peer MMORPGs could theoretically scale better because peers share the resource load, but practical issues such as asymmetric network bandwidth and CPU-hungry rendering engines make peer to peer MMORPGs a difficult proposition. Additionally, they become vulnerable to other problems such as cheating.

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. Few games may have significant failures, leading ultimately to their demise, if they launch too early and contain frequent bug fixes, downtime, or structural game changes that may discourage players from continuing to play the game. Due to these problems, games such as Anarchy Online, World War II Online and World of Warcraft struggled to regain good press after their first month, and gained good press after stablizing their servers. Dark Age of Camelot and City of Heroes showed hardly 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 very uncommon in an MMORPG for an individual player to significantly affect the overall state of the game's virtual world. There are clear difficulties involved in storylines where hundreds or thousands of players are simultaneously "the chosen one" or "the ring-bearer".

These difficulties give rise to an important difference between RPG and MMORPG. In the classic "high fantasy" plots shared by most RPGs, the player is the hero and single-handedly saves (or conquers) the world. MMORPGs, on the other hand, typically are set in the realm of "low fantasy", where every player is a relatively minor character in a story involving a vast nation, tribe or clan of other players of approximately equal importance.

In spite of the obvious problems, "high fantasy" subplots are often featured in MMORPGs. In RuneScape, for example, these subplots are called "quests". Quests may be done only once per player, but every quest can be done by every player. This requires a certain collective suspension of disbelief on the part of the players as each player takes a turn repeating a common (and frequently well known) subplot in the story. While NPCs and other game elements may react differently to players depending on the individual status of their quests in these situations, no major change affecting all players occurs.

There are some notable exceptions. In A Tale in the Desert, the game world ends when certain criteria are met by the players. Similarly, in Nationstates, it is possible for a small group of players to effectively control the entire game world by controlling certain territories. The game Achaea (MUD) has a politics model and player-driven economy which allows players to have meaningful power over large groups.

World composition

Several games handle their world composition differently. Games like EverQuest, Anarchy Online and Final Fantasy XI are composed of regional zones. Transition from one part of the world to the next requires a process known to players as zoning, where data is effectively loaded for that one particular "zone". As a result of zoning, monsters can not follow players into the next zone. In addition, immersion of the game is broken during this waiting period.

Other games decide to make their world continuous (or "seamless"). Games like Asheron's Call, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, and The Matrix Online make it possible to travel from one point of the gaming world to the other without the transition of zones, although in many of these games certain cases (e.g. going into a dungeon, travelling to different continents) exist where you must go through a loading period.

Both have their technical limitations, mostly in regard to memory requirements for the game client, bandwidth usage by the client computer, as well as how the world is managed by the game servers.

Data compression effects

Most MMORPG data is stored in a compressed format to save space on the client computer. As the game is played, sections of the data are decompressed and made ready to use. This decompression takes time and slows down the computer.

Zone-based games optimize game speed and memory usage by doing the decompression all at once before the player enters a new zone. It may take some time to enter the zone as the data is prepared, but once decompressed and ready, the game is quicker and more responsive.

Seamless environments have no transitional moments to do the decompression, and so the work must be done continuously in small pieces as the player moves about the world. This takes time, and can occasionally cause the game world to momentarily freeze as the system tries to decompress large amounts of data needed for the new area.

Server management effects

A zone-based game world can be extremely large and accommodate a huge number of players, because each individual zone can be managed by a single server, with a farm of servers working together to form the entire game world. Transitioning from one zone to the next involves actively moving the player from one game server to the next.

Zone-based games can experience what is known as a zone-crash, where the server supporting that region of the game world stops functioning. The rest of the zones making up the game world continue to function normally around this one inactive area, while those avatars stuck in the crashed zones remain unable to log on until the server crash is fixed.

Seamless environments tend to have the entire game world managed by a single server. If that server crashes, everyone is disconnected at once and none of the game world is accessible.

Anarchy Online is zone-based and accommodates thousands of players with only three primary game worlds (or dimensions, as they call it). The World of Warcraft environment is continuous (except in the case of instances), but needs a hundred separate game worlds to accommodate all its players.

EVE Online has a single world, which permits tens of thousands of players to exist in the same world.

Social impacts of world composition

Seamless environments have a negative social effect in that there need to be a large number of copies of the same game world to accommodate all game players. However, this problem can be remedied if real life friends arrange for their group to enter the same server realm.

It is common for people on MMORPGs to form long-lasting friendships, which often continue as the players move on to new games. But because seamless environments can typically only accommodate a limited number of players, sometimes not everyone is able to play on the same server, and these social bonds become fragmented. Some MMORPGs however, allow multiple avatars within the same account, and thus counteracts this to a degree.

Inflation

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 EVE Online the game revolves around its dynamic market driven economy that underpins everything in the game. This is kept in balance because of both consumer and manufacturing activity on a huge scale. This activity is driven by the constant desire by players to accumulate more wealth and better equipment to generate that higher income. As players move up there is a strong and lucrative internal secondhand market where players sell their older equipment to less experienced players. Mining ore is a steady route into financial stability for a new player and helps feed the demands of the corporations manufacturing arms as there is a heavy need for the more basic ores found in the safe central systems. The rarer ores are only found out in the rim systems and fetch a high price, but the downside there is the rim systems are very dangerous and the regular haunts of Player Pirate corporations. This level of mining is usually only attempted by an experienced powerful corporation who can afford to run a heavily guarded operation. Most Corporations run their own mining division and also contract smaller dedicated mining corporations to supply them with ore. Players can join corporations (both NPC controlled and Player controlled) and it is here where the true power sits, as it is only corporations which can own stations and run manufacturing divisions. Over time and with research by corporations to lower production costs, improve efficiency as well as fierce competition between rival manufacturing corporations, product saturation eventually ensues and the price slowly comes down. The corporate system in EVE Online can shelter and fund the new player and give corporation members a leg up against the lone wolf player. (The earning potential of 200 players in a corporation is far, far greater than that of a single player.) In short the economic system in EVE Online is one that looks after itself and maintains a steady but growing economy.

Bots

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 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, and they negate the fun factor in playing an MMORPG. Another way to speed up the character progress is using multis.

Both of these methods of cheating often backfire or are rendered unusable by the sophistication of certain games that require a human intellect little effort to comprehend yet will render artificial intelligence hampered or completely unusable in certain cases. Such games include Eve Online, which comprises a 3D environment in space with a complex and fluid game structure that most programs cannot cope with, as well as the abolition of the standard experience-level concept used in most of today's MMORPGs.

Griefers

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), and ninja looting (improperly taking the reward once the monster is dead). To avoid 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 consent of the initiating combatant. World of Warcraft 'marks' the reward (be it experience or loot) for the player or group that initiated the fight. One other method, used by the game Clan Lord, drafts random players as jurors in a virtual court system to identify and punish griefers with a brief "time-out". RuneScape uses a system where the winnings appear to the player who induces the most damage instantly as a monster dies, and then appears to everyone else after a minute or so. Also, only certain areas, called "multi-combat zones", allow multiple players to fight the same monster. MapleStory uses a similar system, in which only the player who killed a monster can collect the reward immediately. If s/he wishes to leave the loot, other players may pick it up after about twenty seconds or so.

Player killing

Some players desire player versus player (PvP) combat, but unrestricted PvP can be very discouraging to new players, who can be easily killed by more advanced characters. Many MMORPGs handle this problem 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. Funcom's Anarchy Online features a PvP system where different playfields have so called "suppression gas levels", for example at 25% gas zone you can only attack a player from the opposite faction, 5% allows PvP with everyone outside your player organization (guild) etc. Runescape's system relies on the location of the combat. On the northern end of the map, there is an area called the wilderness in which player killing is allowed. In the lower danger levels, players with almost the same combat level can kill each other, while in higher ones, everybody can kill everybody. Advancing a danger level is managed by simply walking further to the north and is not anyhow related to the players' statistics or level. Some games allow almost entirely unrestricted PvP, but inflict penalties on those who repeatedly attack players who do not regularly engage in PvP. Lineage II uses a variation of this technique. Other games do not supervise player killing at all. However, since the days of Ultima Online, where player killing was originally entirely unrestricted, most developers have come to a consensus that some limitations are required to avoid driving away new players.

In EVE Online there is a security ranking for all locations (1.0 being safe and 0.0 being lawless) and in the more secure systems there is a solid NPC police force that actively hunts down any criminal that enters (personal security rating of -0.5 or lower). Even if you are not a ‘criminal’ you can also expect to gain their attention if you start an act of aggression against another player or are caught carrying contraband. This sets up a safe, protected, civilised centre for new players, and those who would prefer to avoid confrontations but at the cost of reduced income as the real money is to be made out in the bad-lands, where the griefers lurk.

It is worth noting that the contingent of players who desire PvP is relatively small, at least on American MMORPGs. Very few servers are devoted to PvP in EverQuest, and some games like City of Heroes and Earth and Beyond have launched without any PvP whatsoever. It has been noted by many players that, even with PvP implemented in City of Heroes as of Issue 4, very few players participate. Many who enjoy PvP combat claim that this is because there are no tangible rewards for PvP; however, those who do not claim that such rewards would be unfair, as griefers would more readily get them, and further that no reward is sufficient to overcome their distaste for abusive players in PvP zones. Despite the arguments on both sides, a recent merge of the three PvP servers on EverQuest suggests that the demand for open, non-consensual PvP is quite low.

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 such as the MMORPG-specific in-game equipment rather than obtaining them through playing the game. World of Warcraft made an attempt to alleviate this problem by rewarding casual players with extra experience points relative to the amount of time they do not play the game ('resting').

An interesting exception to this is Guild Wars which created an unusually low maximum level so the majority of time is spent with all players on equal footing. From the FAQ: "Success in Guild Wars is always the result of player skill, not time spent playing or the size of one's guild."

Percieved 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 currently accepted by the general medical community (pending further results), it showed that participants who play more than 20 hours per week of MMORPG's tend to suffer more commonly from increased obesity and nutritional imbalance, as well as an increased propensity for bone loss, muscle atrophy and impotence (in theory due to both the lack of proper circulation and inefficent chair designs which distribute the weight onto the main penile artery preventing proper blood flow. Similar findings have been shown in relation to cycling by researchers at Boston University); although these are symptoms theoretically present in the playing of all video games for extended periods of time, they are far more apparent in MMORPGs due to the higher average length of play during a single sitting. It has been suggested that this is due to the sedentary nature of game play, and the popularity of MMORPG's at the expense of more traditional games involving exercise. A study is currently underway at the NIH to further discover what link, if any, exists and to attempt to independantly confirm these results. It is possible that addiction to these games is the heart of the problem, to the point where is is affecting playeres' lives and habits outside the game, resulting in less time being spent on excercise. For further information on the problem of addiction see Computer addiction.

Pay to play, pay even more to win

Due to the problems previously mentioned, one can receive a great advantage in game by buying another person's already powerful character. It is also possible to buy memberships or special items such as those offered by games such as 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] This purchase has since been eclipsed by the purchase of a space resort for USD$100,000 [2]

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). [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.

Since the original banning of virtual EverQuest property sales and adoption of the policy by many major MMORPG Developers, Sony Online Entertainment continues to be active on this front. In 2005 they announced their own in-game auctioning service titled "Station Exchange". Initially this service will only allow for sales within the EverQuest II Universe, but as the name of it is rather generic it is very likely SOE will integrate other games into the system sooner or later.

The opening of "Station Exchange" is likely to mark the dawn of a new age for virtual property sales in games originally not designed to support this sort of market (e.g.: not using a Real-world Money Model like Project Entropia for example). Services like this will be more widely used and will also be far more secure for both buyer and seller. Previously if somebody purchased virtual property from a third party in exchange for real money one had no securities whatsoever (except of course the reputation of the third party service being used, that would always be questionable).

In-game scamming

Main article: Virtual crime

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. 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.

In games such as World of Warcraft, most, if not all end-game bosses have anti-zerg techniques to counter zerg guilds' efforts.

Farming

Farming (this term also known among gamers as 'Camping') is a form of playing where a player kills monsters in the game for the money and items that the monster drops. 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.

Some cyber cafés allow people to play for free as long as they give a percentage of what they earn in-game to the proprietor of the café who then sells the items for real money. There are even online sweatshops, mainly in China, where people are actually employed to collect in-game items for their employer who then sells them. It is reported that one can make up to USD$100 a day, which is actually better pay than many other jobs in China.

Games where the emphasis is on acquiring resources and items tend to have farming problems.

On some games, farming can also refer to repeatedly attacking certain players to take their resources.

Twink

Twinking is a term in the MMORPG community referring to outfitting a new character or player with items or other resources that are not normally available at that characters level. The term derives from early MUSH slang, where it was an insult directed at a player implying that they lacked skill in role-playing or in social graces. Twinking is somewhat rarer now, as most of the newer MMORPGs have level limits on equipment preventing low level players from using high level armor - the result, however, has been to drastically inflate the price of exceptionally powerful low-level gear in game.

Loot Whore

A Loot Whore or a Ninja Looter is a term in the MMORPG community that refers to someone who takes items that would greatly advantage someone else in their own party even though it has little use to their own character. Unfortunately, most MMORPGs have no policy against this activity due to the difficulty of proving what loot rules the group established, etc.. Although this activity can be lucrative, most Ninja looters find that the community as a whole stops playing with them. In fact, many will find their character names listed both on the Ninja lists and in the game forums boards.

Private servers

Single-client based graphic MMORPGs may have private servers or server emulators. Private servers are mostly run by volunteers, therefore most of them are free. However, some private servers may wish for people to donate money, sometimes in exchange for a bonus in the game. Private servers remain markedly less popular than the official servers, with player numbers in the hundreds, not thousands. EQEmu is a server emulator for EverQuest, others exist for World of Warcraft, Lineage II, Ultima Online, and many other MMORPGs.

In China as well as many other Asian countries the use of private servers is more prevalent. Most Chinese MMORPG players are aware of the existence of private servers, and according to statistics more people prefer private servers than official servers. The reasons for this are the relatively high fees for official servers and the availability of 100MB/s fiber optic Internet connections, which can be as cheap as US$30 a month. Also, the costs of running a server in China are also remarkably low. In one instance, a private server had more than 50 000 players registered. Some even have 1000 accounts in 1 day (the opening day). Such cases are Mu Online which is one of the most popular private server games in the world, with a total of over 10,000 private servers. One server even bought rights for a game, as these would cost quite a lot of money. ($2,000-$10,000)

MMORPG terms and acronyms

Main article: MMORPG terms and acronyms

See also

References

External links

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