Quote of the Day – Is H1Z1 an MMO or Not?

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.

John Smedley, Twitter

So H1Z1 has been a thing… at least an early access thing… for almost a week now and, as I have noted, it has gotten a variety of reactions.  Whether you believe early access is a good thing or not, H1Z1 is out there, the latest MMO from SOE.

The night is dark, I think I'll go to bed

And, of course, will IT survive?

Only there is that Smed quote from Twitter.  This was in reaction to a story posted over at Massively, More Boredom than Terror, that describes Syp’s venture into H1Z1 on a PvE server.

Putting together the full series of tweets from Smed, they read out:

Watching [Massively’s] story about how H1Z1 is boring and seeing other commentary along the same lines from people playing PVE.  Makes me realize just how stratified the online gaming industry is. Not a bad thing at all. just interesting. Basically the review is from the perspective of an MMO vet coming into it. The comments are identical to stuff we heard from our own company.

My perspective is different – new kinds of experiences with comparisons to current MMO experiences mean people are looking at it through a different lens then we made it. All still valid points of view though and can’t disagree with them.

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.  session based because lots of people play until they die. It’s an easy stopping point.  anyways… just a bit of rambling about it, but I find the experience an MMO vet has coming in to H1Z1 (or Day Z for that matter)

I will say that at least Smed didn’t go for the cheap “It’s a PvP game” shot like so many comments over at Massively did.  SOE provides PvE servers and the team has, in Smed’s words, “…really have gone out of our way to make sure PVE players will be happy” so the idea of “not playing it right” can be discounted.

But how about the idea of not looking at it right?

That does bring us back to the age old question of “what’s an MMO anyway?”  I know what I mean when I use the term… when I write it, it is almost always short hand for persistent world, progression based, multiplayer, online, servers and shards, role playing game.  I also usually mean “fantasy” as well, but there is EVE Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic out there, so maybe I should stop thinking that automatically.

But what I mean when I say it clearly carries little weight, as the term gets used for games like War Thunder and World of Tanks and League of Legends, and probably quite a few more games that would not, in any way, meet my own personal definition.

On the flip side, H1Z1 does seem to press most of my MMO buttons.  You have a character, a persistent world, the whole shards concept with many parallel realms, a form of progression… it is equipment based progression, but that is hardly a new thing… and there is the whole multiplayer aspect.  Common mechanics we find in MMOs, quests and raids and auction houses, are missing, but so what?  Common isn’t the same as required, while the hardcore nature… gotta eat and drink or you’re gonna die… doesn’t disqualify it.

In the “quacks like a duck” view of the world, H1Z1 seems like an MMO to me.  Also, SOE calls it an MMO right there on the SOE main page, thus planting the seed rather firmly.

H1Z1 is a zombie survival MMO set in a post-apocalyptic world where thousands of players must strategically align with friends and against enemies in order to survive the worldwide infection.

And then there is the description on the H1Z1 site itself:

Tell me about H1Z1 please...

Tell me about H1Z1 please…

And “sandbox” is a common subset of MMOs, at least for purposes of argument most days.

Of course, you might say that marketing needed to call it something, and they call everything else at SOE an MMO… except of course, they do not.

They manage to avoid the term, at least on the SOE main page, with Landmark and with H1Z1’s antecedent, PlanetSide 2…. and also with EverQuest and EverQuest II, which are clearly examples of the MMO genre.  Maybe marketing was just lazy.  After all, they also say that EverQuest is the “online game that started it all!”  Though, to be fair, they don’t really define “all.”  However, you get the possible implication swimming in that vagueness, don’t you Ultima Online and Meridian 59 vets?

But I digress.

The usage of the shorthand term MMO could also just be the lens through which we… me, Syp, SOE marketing… are seeing things as well.  The human brain loves to categorize things.  It was a key survival instinct out on the African savannah and remains so in many modern situations, like crossing a busy street in a big city. (Hint: Cabs are predators.)  But it doesn’t always help in situations that are more nuanced… or even when recognizing which situations might be more nuanced.

I know the idea of an MMO is more nuanced than the industry treats it.  A lot of things seem to get that label more because of marketing than any deep thinking on genres and classifications.

But even with that, H1Z1 still feels more like an MMO than any other option.

Is H1Z1 an MMO?  Is it something else?

Are we too fixated on MMOs to be able to tell?  Is Smed to close to be able to see beyond the details?

11 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – Is H1Z1 an MMO or Not?

  1. Scott

    “MMO” hasn’t meant Massively Multiplayer Online in years. These days, if the game has online play and is monetized in any means whatsoever beyond the purchase (if there was even that) then players and the “media” call it an MMO. World of Tanks, League of Legends, hell probably Clash of Clans.

    H1Z1 is just a server-based online game, kinda like Quake, Unreal Tourney, etc. was back in the day, only with persistent character progression.

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  2. Codeblue (@CodeblueThrall)

    I don’t know …they call it an MMO so it is a MMO …they also call it sandbox. PVP and PVE (sort of)
    I call it closed beta with paid access …who knows maybe sony is keeping the story aspect out until the bugs are nailed down but right now the map has edges. If the game has a story it could be interesting enough to draw me in – like a walking dead (us vs them ) If it has no story you wake up human naked and gathering supplies til you die and start over then its exactly what i heard a twitch stream call it – stick gathering simulator. If its a help build this town with use and we will defend it until we die – to me it looks like the pieces of landmark that were on the cutting room floor.
    So far the beta is ugly, dark, glitchy, and a timewaster.

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  3. bhagpuss

    I think Smed needs a holiday. Or at least a holiday from Twitter.

    Is H1Z1 even anything yet? It’s an alpha with placeholder assets and most of what will eventually be the gameplay still in the developers’ heads, isn’t it? Who knows what it will end up being?

    That said, I’m pretty sure it’s an MMO of some kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Whorhay – Where did you get the “50 players” number? I was looking around at one point to see how many players per server they were going to have… since 200 servers seemed like a lot for early access… but did not see anything definitive. I did find something from Smed on Reddit talking about the tech they were using for creating maps, which is supposed to be able to expand with the population to accommodate as many people as they need. But that might be a “future” thing, as I have also read that the map clearly has a boundary right now.

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  5. Rohan

    The “session” idea is interesting. Since it’s perma-death (I think), you’re essentially restarting your identity every time you die. In contrast, in most modern MMOs, you maintain your identity forever.

    For example, I’ve had my main character Coriel for 8 years or so. There is a “permanence” to that which I associate with MMOs. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’d class a online game which lacked that to be the same as a modern MMO.

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  6. SynCaine

    Aside from this just being more “SOE being SOE” with Smed saying the game his company labels an MMO is not an MMO (quick, more offers of a refund Smed!), it’s an easy way out of having to defend your game being a shallow pool of content. Smed truly intended you to get bored after a few hours because the game offers so little, that’s why its not an MMO!

    The inclusion of PvE servers is also just repeating the mistake WAR made. A DayZ clone doesn’t work as a PvE game, because it wasn’t designed at its core to be that, just like WAR wasn’t originally designed to be a 50/50 mix of PvP and PvE, yet Mark caved at some point and oops, the game is a mess. Same thing here; DayZ is a PvP game with a (fairly insignificant) zombie theme. The ‘core content’ is to kill and grief other players.

    Remove that (PvE server), and you are left with a boring nothing shell of a game, as Syp accurately wrote up.

    So uh, basically your average SOE product. Mission accomplished?

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  7. David Andrews (@proceduraldave)

    Lots of interesting perspectives in the comments here! For what it is worth, I think MMO has gone from a useful label to a less well-defined genre with many subcategories. In that context, this is definitely an MMO, as their own marketing material states.

    However, it is most decidedly not Everquest, World of Warcraft, or SW:TOR. If any MMO is a close comparison it would be Eve Online (just, H1Z1 severely lacks depth at this point). However, there is permanent loss upon death; base building; crafting; PVP and PVE activities (for PVE, look into the secret loot crates H1Z1 has, they sound pretty cool). There is persistence in that your character is your character on the server it is rolled on, now and forever (forever as defined by whenever the servers go down one day) and on some servers you don’t lose the recipes you’ve learned upon death.

    It’s something that I think qualifies as an MMO in a lot of ways, but is bridging the gap in some very interesting, very intriguing ways between what we commonly refer to as an MMO and what we commonly refer to as Shooters (i.e. DayZ).

    Also, on a side note, the cap is currently 200 players per server I believe, and there are now 400 servers (200 US, 200 EU I think).

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