MMORPGs 101: Genres in MMORPGs becoming more varied... slowly

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In the beginning was the fantasy MMORPG. Generally regarded as the first MMORPG, Meridian 59 was a typical sword and sorcery fantasy adventure. The Realm Online came out around the same time, and Ultima Online, arriving in 1997, really popularlized the MMORPG. Each of these early MMORPGs were fantasy-based, as is Everquest, which really brought the MMORPG into the mainstream.

The vast majority of MMORPGs since then have been fantasy-based, including the current "big dogs," World of Warcraft and Lineage. Other current fantasy MMORPGs are Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Guild Wars.

Why so many MMORPGs have been firmly entrenched in the same basic genre isn't completely clear, but it could be that since the first successful MMORPGs were fantasy, publishers wanted to continue the trend of what was obviously working. The last few years have seen a shift in genres for MMORPGs, including some that have gone on to become big hits.

City of Heroes is perhaps the biggest example of this. Set in a comic-book-inspired world where heroes and villains fly and superjump through the skies night and day, City of Heroes was the first MMORPG entry in its genre. Champions Online, set to be released on September 1st, and DC Universe Online, coming next year, will follow in the footsteps of City of Heroes. Superhero fans will have much to pick from in MMORPGs within the next several months to a year.

Science fiction is another genre slowly edging into the MMORPG world. Games like Star Wars Galaxies, Ryzom, Tabula Rasa, EVE Online, and the upcoming Star Trek Online and Star Wars The Old Republic have represented science fiction and space simulation in the market. Science fiction MMORPGs sometimes have had a tough time of it, as the spectacular failure of Tabula Rasa, a game with high expectations given that Richard Garriot and other creators of Ultima Online were so integral to its creation.

Sports-based MMORPGs have also been trickling into the market, including Hattrick, Shots Online, and the upcoming Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online. Another genre virtually untouched is Steampunk, but NeoSteam and Clockwork Symphony look to be up to the challenge of knocking down those walls.

Variety is, as they say, the spice of life and of the MMORPG world. While it may be good business sense to build on what has worked in the past and try to improve upon it (which has been one of the big factors in the success of World of Warcraft), it's nice to see other genres gaining some ground in the MMORPG market.



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