Answering Gaming Questions with AI – Why So Many Fantasy MMORPGs?

Once more into AI Question Time with another gaming question challenge.

AIs thinking about video game questions… drawn by an AI

Following up on last week’s question I figured I would dig out what used to be a common chestnut in MMORPG discussions.

Why are fantasy based MMORPGs much more common than science fiction based MMORPGs?

This is one of those points that used to come up quite regularly back in the early days of the MMORPG phenomena at the start of the century.  People would look, first at EverQuest then at WoW, and ask why people kept making more fantasy titles and when the big science fiction MMORPG success story was coming?

I have written a few posts on the topic, going back to 2008, and my conclusion back then, as it is now, was pretty much:

  • There is a ton more fantasy out there than science fiction, with a much longer history of cultural influence.  Beowulf is pretty much 11th century fantasy.  And that brings a level of familiarity that science fiction doesn’t.
  • Dungeons & Dragons took the plethora of fantasy and gave us a framework that influences how we think about fantasy in games.  Science fiction lacks a similar yet distinct prototype and, in fact, tends to just be D&D with lasers.
  • The concepts are easy to understand and implement; sword hurts you, armor stops it from hurting so much, numbers in the stats tell you how much of each.  You can also get hit and hurt and believably still carry on while phasers and blasters tend to be one-shot kills.

So I turned this question loose on the AIs to see what their data would suggest.

Bing was up first and, as usual, provide sources for its answers.

That’s an interesting question. There is no definitive answer, but I can share some possible reasons based on the information I found.

One reason could be that fantasy themes are more popular and familiar among MMORPG players, as they are often inspired by traditional role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons⁵. Fantasy MMORPGs can also offer more variety and creativity in terms of races, classes, magic, and monsters³.

Another reason could be that science fiction themes are more challenging and costly to develop and maintain for MMORPGs, as they require more advanced graphics, sound, and physics to create immersive and realistic worlds². Science fiction MMORPGs may also have to deal with more complex issues such as balancing futuristic weapons, technology, and lore⁴.

A third reason could be that fantasy and science fiction themes are not mutually exclusive, and some MMORPGs combine or replace elements of both genres to create hybrid settings that appeal to a wider audience⁵. For example, some MMORPGs feature spaceships, aliens, and robots alongside swords, magic, and dragons¹.

These are just some possible explanations, but there may be other factors that influence the prevalence of fantasy-based MMORPGs over science fiction-based ones. Ultimately, it may depend on the preferences and tastes of the developers and the players.

(1) Massively multiplayer online role-playing game – Wikipedia
(2) Science Fiction vs. Fantasy: How Are Science Fiction and Fantasy
(3) The 7 Best Sci-fi MMORPGs to Play & Enjoy in 2023 – The Cursed Crusade
(4) Fantasy vs Science Fiction – Page 3 –
(5) The Best Sci-Fi MMORPGs, Ranked – Game Rant
(6) MMOs exploded this year, but not in the ways you’d expect – PC Gamer
(7) The Best Fantasy-Based MMOs To Play In 2023 |

That is… kind of bland. Also, most of the time when somebody says a question is “great” or “interesting” they really mean, “WTF? How am I supposed to answer this nonsense?”

On the first set of points I obviously agree about D&D, though the idea that fantasy offers more creativity in terms of races, classes, or monsters seems pretty easily dismissed.  If anything, fantasy seems very much constrained as a genre.  It is always elves or dwarves isn’t it?  It is always fighter, rogue, mage, and cleric of some sort.

The cost to develop I cannot really speak to directly, but it doesn’t seem to ring very true all the same.  It really depends on what one is attempting to convey.  You could have low budget sci-fi and expensive fantasy if you wanted.  Balancing futuristic weapons though, I guess I could buy that… but it still feels tangential.

The third set of points seems neither here nor there.  I mean, I get that there CAN be a melding of the two genres, but I am not sure that is really on point with the question.  That hunters in WoW have guns and engineers can make devices that might be science fiction adjacent does not go very far in explaining why there are more fantasy MMORPGs than science fiction unless you believe that everybody who plays a hunter, as an example, feels they are really filling their sci-fi needs.

And then it wraps up with a hand wave about the taste of the players and developers, like that means much.  Fantasy is popular because it is popular isn’t the argument you think it is.

So, while Bing seemed to get close to an answer here and there, it doesn’t feel like it really got to anything convincing.

Grade: D

Then there is the aptly named Google Bard, which goes in for some bullet points of its own.

There are a few reasons why fantasy based MMORPGs are much more common than science fiction based MMORPGs.

Fantasy is more familiar to people. Most people are familiar with the tropes of fantasy, such as knights, dragons, and magic. This makes it easier for people to get into a fantasy MMORPG, as they don’t have to learn a whole new set of rules and concepts.

  • Fantasy is more visually appealing. Fantasy settings are often more visually appealing than science fiction settings. This is because fantasy settings can be more fantastical and creative, while science fiction settings are often more grounded in reality.
  • Fantasy is more timeless. Fantasy settings don’t rely on current technology or trends, so they can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Science fiction settings, on the other hand, can quickly become dated, as new technologies and trends emerge.
  • Of course, there are also some successful science fiction MMORPGs, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and EVE Online. However, these games are the exception rather than the rule. Overall, fantasy is simply a more popular genre for MMORPGs.

In addition to the reasons above, there are a few other factors that may contribute to the popularity of fantasy MMORPGs. For example, fantasy settings often have a more clear-cut sense of good and evil, which can be appealing to players. Additionally, fantasy settings often allow for more creative freedom, as players can choose to play as a variety of different characters, such as knights, wizards, and elves.

Ultimately, the popularity of fantasy MMORPGs is due to a combination of factors. These games offer a familiar and visually appealing setting, as well as a sense of good and evil that is appealing to many players. Additionally, fantasy settings allow for more creative freedom than science fiction settings, which can be a major draw for players.

Bard jumps right in with what I feel is the strongest point, the familiarity with the tropes of fantasy and how putting them in a game eases people into the game.

Also, the timelessness aspect of it is underrated.  Science fiction can be overtaken and regularly is.  Read any of Isaak Asimov’s robot works from the 50s and 60s where his protagonists insist that getting a robot to speak, for example, is extremely hard but that understanding the spoken word is easy.

On the flip side, I am not buying that fantasy is necessarily more visually appealing nor the idea that fantasy offers more creative freedom.  Those seem provably incorrect.

Meanwhile, stating that there are, in fact, some successful science fiction MMORPGs seems like embroidery, on the topic but not necessarily a proof related to the question at hand.

It sums up by going with familiarity and the sense of good vs evil, which I think are strong points in its case, but the creative freedom and visual aspects still don’t sit with me.  Its best arguments are undermined by those two points.

Grade: C+

And, finally, ChatGPT chimes in with this entry

There are a few possible reasons why fantasy-based MMORPGs are more common than science fiction-based MMORPGs:

  • Historical precedence: Fantasy has been a popular genre in literature, film, and other forms of media for centuries, whereas science fiction as a genre is relatively new. This historical precedence has likely influenced game developers to create more fantasy-based games than science fiction-based ones.
  • Relatability: Fantasy settings often draw upon familiar cultural motifs and archetypes, such as medieval Europe or mythical creatures, which can be easier for players to relate to and immerse themselves in. Science fiction, on the other hand, may involve unfamiliar worlds and advanced technology that can be more difficult for players to understand and engage with.
  • Accessibility: Fantasy-based MMORPGs typically have lower hardware requirements than science fiction-based MMORPGs, as they can rely on traditional graphics and gameplay mechanics. Science fiction-based MMORPGs, however, may require more advanced technology to create immersive environments and simulate futuristic technology, which can limit their accessibility to a wider audience.
  • Market demand: Fantasy-based MMORPGs have been more commercially successful than science fiction-based MMORPGs in the past, leading game developers to continue creating more fantasy-based games. However, this could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the lack of sci-fi MMOs might limit the demand for them, and therefore, their profitability.

Of course, these are just a few possible factors, and there may be other reasons why fantasy-based MMORPGs are more common than science fiction-based MMORPGs. Ultimately, the popularity of these genres depends on various factors, including cultural trends, technological advancements, and player preferences.

ChatGPT starts off strong with the historical aspect, fantasy having a long standing in our culture while science fiction is the new comer.  I agree both because of the newness of Sci-Fi and the depth of the fantasy field.  There was fantasy before Tolkien.

Relatability seems on point as well and aligns with one of my own points.  The dynamics of fantasy are pretty familiar, while science fiction is often projected into the future where one can lose that sense of the familiar and have to explain basic concepts that you wouldn’t need to in a fantasy context.

Accessibility though, that point seemed off in past answers and ChatGPT does nothing further to support it.  The idea that science fiction requires better, faster, or more advanced hardware seems unproven.

And then for its last point ChatGPT declares that consumer demand is why there is more fantasy than science fiction in the MMORPG market, which is one of those things that I will admit, given the question, is technically correct but which also comes close to begging the question.  It certainly doesn’t add any depth to the WHY aspect of things.  It is essentially saying fantasy is more popular because fantasy is more popular.

So I think ChatGPT was on to a couple of solid ideas with the history and relateability aspects, but fell off with accessibility and consumer demand.  Over all, its answer felt like it took fewer risks than the other two AIs… it went into less detail, preferring to avoid specific examples… which made its good points land more softly, but also meant that its off points did not detract from the answer as much as they might have.

Grade: B-

So those are the three answers I got.  I actually order the answers Bing/Google/ChatGPT up front and then go evaluate them afterwards.  That they seem to rank in ascending order down the page is only apparent to me after I go back to grade them.

And, as always, I only take the very first response they give, which can be kind of tough.  ChatGPT got an update after I asked it this question and, on letting it run again, gave me a slightly better answer.  It still had the same faults, but threw in an extra point about fantasy bringing a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time, which is not only a valid point, but one which I had not included in my own view.

But I only got that response after I had written my evaluation of its first response.  So your answers may vary by session.  And if you ask multiple questions in a session, that will also influence the response you get, which is another reason I like to go with the first cold answer from a new session.  My updated response from ChatGPT was also likely influenced by some follow on questions I did.

Anywhere, there we go.

Next time around I am going to move from away from broad, somewhat opinion based questions to something more specific, something where the response can be objectively evaluated.  Will the AIs do better on that more solid ground?

6 thoughts on “Answering Gaming Questions with AI – Why So Many Fantasy MMORPGs?

  1. Bhagpuss

    That’s a very interesting trio of responses. I haven’t bothered with Bing’s AI much, partly because the times I’ve seen it quoted it’s seemed like the blandest but mostly because I always forget it exists, a bit like Bing itself. Of course, BingAI is powered by ChatGPT anyway, supposedly a more advanced version than the publicly available OpenAI one, so it’s strange to see it consistently and obviously underperforming.

    I like Bard because of how it expresses itself more than what it actually says. It feels friendlier than ChatGPT somehow. It doesn’t seem quite as focused, although that’s probably subjective. A lot of the things I’ve asked it and that you’ve reported in these posts don’t have clear, unequivocal “correct” answers, so a certain lack of focus is perhaps to be expected.

    ChatGPT seems more brusque than Bard and less fawning than Bing but it’s also fairly reliably more imaginative. I get quite a lot back that I wasn’t expecting. I thought the answer it gave to your question here was very impressive. I’m a lot more convinced by the “market demand” explanation for the glut of fantasy mmorpgs than you appear to be – I was thinking it as I read the post, well before I got to ChatGPT’s reply.

    If game developers are anything remotely like publishers or movie producers, their primary influence will always be what made money for someone else or what won awards for someone else or what got a lot of attention for someone else. Originality is a dirty word in these circles. I’m very convinced by the argument that the first mmorpgs to make money and become famous were fantasy-based and the most financially successful to follow them were, too. Frankly, I don’t think we have to look any further for the smoking gun. If the first successful mmorpgs had been Science Fiction and the biggest moneymaker in the genre ditto, I’m convinced we’d now have a huge preponderance of SF mmorpgs compared to fantasy.

    That, of course, answers the question of why Fantasy mmorpgs *are* more common than SciFi ones but it doesn’t answer the question of why the first successful and the most successful mmorpgs *were*Fantasy. I guess that’s where all those other reasons come into play, although it could just as easily have been that Fantasy got made first because the people making the games were fantasy fans rather than SciFi fans…


  2. Archey

    The post is interesting in its own right, but what stands out to me is your correct usage of begging the question. Thank you for that.


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I do like Bing AI because it provides links to sources. I don’t always read them all, but they do give some insight into where the answer really came from and often how few sources the AI seems to need to form an answer.

    Also, Wikipedia often figures prominently, which I find funny because a decade back we were practically in a moral panic because ANYBODY could write ANYTHING on Wikipedia, so it was completely suspect for a bit. And then we all seemingly got over that and let it slide. Now AIs are using it as a source and the response seems to be a shrug.

    In addition to the who fantasy vs SciFi thing there is a sub-argument about what even really counts as SciFi. People will bring up Star Wars, but I feel like that is more fantasy with lasers. And in the BingAI examples there is a list of SciFi MMOs that includes post-apocalyptic survival, which can be SciFi but not necessarily… and which are also not strictly MMORPGs given the definitions we got out of the AIs in the last post.

    @Archey – It gets mis-used so often that you can see I couldn’t even bring myself to commit fully to that as the fallacy when I brought it up. I was straying towards it being a tautology, but it seemed more like begging the question.


  4. Pallais

    Looking at pen and paper RPGs, you see the same situation. Fantasy is the most popular genre, with there being a smaller bit of Science Fiction rules systems/worlds. Even then, the SF systems often tend to the Space Opera/Space Fantasy side of things over more ‘pure’ Science Fiction, such as Traveller.

    The fact CRPGs tended to be fantasy games (Ultima, Wizardry, Might & Magic, SSI Gold box games) because the original programmers played pen and paper RPGs. Those CRPGs then influenced the early development of MMOs as fantasy-based games (Meridian 59, Ultima Online). After that, it was easier for developers to pitch a new fantasy MMO as there were existing, safe examples to show the money-holders. SF MMOs were a tougher sell as there wasn’t any large moneymaking SF MMOs to point to.

    All this said, I will say that if a SF MMO based on Star Wars had come out first (not an SWG one, but more a Swtor one with lots of Jedi and Sith) then we might have seen many more early SF (Science Fantasy, not Science Fiction so much) MMOs. Though I suspect Fantasy MMOs would have emerged and dominated since Fantasy seems to touch a deeper chord in the human psyche than Science Fiction.


  5. Shintar

    To me the answer to the titular question will always be “because people have weird hang-ups about sci-fi” ever since we tried to convince a guildie’s wife to come play SWTOR with us and her sole argument for not wanting to do so was: “It has space. I don’t like space.”


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Shintar- At one point I made an EVE Online screen shot my Teams video background at work and the product manager joined a call and freaked out because the idea of outer space gave him anxiety.

    Yeah, space can be an issue… though science fiction does not, by default, equal space travel. But that often comes with the concept for people.


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