Transparency: GTA V Will Never be Considered an MMO Even Though it is One
I find it interesting that there is really even an argument over which games are and aren’t MMOs, but I completely understand why the argument exists. When you see a label on a game, you expect certain things to be in the game. This unfortunate baggage causes some games to be excluded from a genre where the players of that genre would totally love the game. But some games take on a label they clearly shouldn’t have because they want to appeal to an audience that will drive up their player numbers.
Grand Theft Auto V runs into a weird situation where the game falls under multiple genres. We heard sandbox, shooter, RPG, and many other labels being thrown around for the game, but the most contested label appears to be MMO. To be clear, Rockstar does not label their game an MMO. The contention exists in the minds of the fans.
What is an MMO?
It might seems to be silly to ask to define an MMO, but would you believe that there really hasn’t been a consensus on what constitutes an MMO? In fact, even the creators of the genre cannot agree on what makes an MMO. Of course, some correct themselves when talk about MMOs and say that what they really mean in MMORPG, not just MMO. Of course, MMORPG has different expectations than say an MMOFPS or an MMORTS. Regardless, clarify that they mean MMORPG is a cop-out that doesn’t help to define what an MMO is. And even the term MMORPG has a wide breadth of meanings.
You’d think that first game to coin the term would define the genre, right? I mean, MOBAs have been defined by DOTA and FPSs have been defined by Wolfenstein. MMOs should be defined by the game that first coined that term. That would be World of Warcraft, right? No? EverQuest? It’s gotta be EverQuest. No? Even though it’s clear that these two games were the most popular games of their genre in their time, the game that actually coined the term was Ultima Online. An isometric game that by most standards does not resemble either one of the aforementioned games.
What’s even more interesting is that Ultima Online was hardly the first game to utilize the mechanics we find in the MMO genre. If we want to be nit-picky, we could say that MUD1, which was launched in 1980, was actually the first MMO. But I don’t think it’s fair to go back that far because the game was text, and in no tangible way resembles the MMOs we play today. However, Meridian 59 which launched in 1995 utilized the internet make a cooperative roleplaying game.
If we were to use Ultima Online as the standard by which all MMOs or even MMORPGs were judged, then the scope would be extremely narrow, and wouldn’t even include the popular MMOs like World of Warcraft or EverQuest and it most certainly wouldn’t include Grand Theft Auto V. Ultima Online was completely open with players being able to place houses, start battles, or explore anywhere in the game. This clearly isn’t the case with WoW, yet it sets the standard for most MMORPGs.
GTA V is an MMO
If we encapsulate any game that considers itself an MMO and the fans, for the most part, concur that the game is, in fact, an MMO, then GTA V is an MMO and a fairly open MMO at that. Of course, the single-player games for GTA are sandboxes, so it’s only natural that the online version comes close to fulfilling that label, too.
The online portion of GTA V starts you off in the same place that many MMOs do: the character creator. Although this character creator is a bit odd by having you pick your grandparents and parents, it’s still a character creator. You get to choose your looks, stats, and everything else.
After that, you start the tutorial. This quick quest leads you on a tour of the basic game mechanics of GTA Online -- not dissimilar to nearly every other MMO out there. It is slightly uncommon because you play the tutorial by yourself for the most part, but to be fair, that’s not unheard of for an MMO.
Next you’re dropped in Los Santos with a bunch of other players. Here you can find player running a multitude of tasks from robbing stores, killing random NPCs, running heists, racing, to playing deathmatch PvP. All things that you would find anyone in MMOs doing.
Personally, I would define this as an MMO no question. But why the contradiction from some players?
Here’s the catch
The game did not release on PC first like nearly every other MMO in existence, but that not the main issue. Main players, even developers, call the Los Santos you’re dropped in a lobby. And it kind of is because many of the group activities take place in instances separate from the open world part of the game. Secondly, you can create your own personal Los Santos lobby, only inviting your friends -- or no one -- if you wish. No MMO in existence allows that.
The other problem is persistence. Unfortunately, there is next to know persistence and that has to do with the number of instances in the game. Champions Online had a similar system and is scolded by the MMO community for not really being an MMO, but most famously, Guild Wars 1 had this problem, and even the creators of the game don’t consider GW1 an MMO.
That being said, I still like to consider the game an MMO, especially since there is no other game like it, and many MMO players would love to play this game. Many fans of single-player games have said, “I would love to play this game online with my friends.” For me, GTA V does just that. It takes the things that people love about the franchise and puts it into a game that I can play with my friends. That’s enough for me to call it an MMO.