Series Info...You Said A Mouthful

by Jessica Mulligan
August 28, 2001

Words convey the mental treasures of one period to the generations that follow; and laden with this, their precious freight, they sail safely across gulfs of time in which empires have suffered shipwreck and the languages of common life have sunk into oblivion.Anonymous. Quoted in Richard Chevenix Trench, On the Study of Words, lecture 1 (1858).

One of the insanely great things about being part of a new frontier is that you get to make up the language that goes with it.

I wrote about this issue briefly in a prior column (Volume 10, Issue 5):

2. LANGUAGES: While we have a kinda-sorta working pidgin patois for MMOGs, we have not yet hit on a ‘language’ that is easily understood.

Heinlein was talking about human, spoken languages, and how we communicate and exchange knowledge with each other across culture and spoken-word barriers. For example, if you can speak, read and/or think in German, you can better discern the nuances and subtleties of a work written in German or better understand what a German speaker is really saying.

The industry today is much like a group of separate nations, each speaking its own tongue. This causes some confusion, even among the experienced professionals in the industry. We can’t even agree on the terms we use for the various online games. Some call them MMOGs, some split out the vertical markets in MMRPGs and MMRTS, some use the term Persistent World or Persistent State World, etc. Trust me; it is even worse when it comes to discussing game and systems design or customer service issues.

In other words, we just don’t have a common language that defines what the heck we are talking about in terms we can all understand. Until we do have one, we’re going to be floundering around a bit. Maybe it is time for the industry to come together at a conference and define the language we’ll be using five years from now.

New times and technologies require new words and terms. To continue the overuse of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era, look at the changes in the English language during the reign of Good Queen Bess. Up to then, most people in England didn’t read. This was a time when the printing press was just coming into widespread use in England, bringing with it a massive change in the way things were done. Before this era, the common man didn’t have much use for reading and writing nor, in most cases, the necessary education. They didn’t have a whole lot of leisure time to get the education, either; this was still the Agricultural Age and most people worked from before the sun came up until after sundown. Having grown up in an agricultural region, I tell you truly that farming and horticulture without the aid of machinery = back-breaking labor and creates a burning desire in the young to do anything besides follow the south end of a northbound mule.

By the time Shakespeare was getting an education at Stratford-on-Avon around 1577, the middle class was educating itself to take advantage of all the new books created by the printing press, and this brought on a huge interest in language and words. There was much that was new and needed a word that described it, so they started making them up as the need arose. Shakespeare alone added a couple thousand words, not to mention hundreds of catch-phrases we still use today ("flesh and blood," "vanish into thin air" and "in one fell swoop" are examples).

So here we are on the forefront of the Information Age, and we’re in much the same position Will and his pals of the Renaissance were in; different people have different definitions for some commonly-used terms. Just what is an ‘online game,’ for example? Is a massively-multiplayer game also a persistent world? We could really use a set of clearly defined and commonly agreed-to terms, so that at least we all know what the heck the other person means when he says "MMOG" or "online game" or "hybrid." That means defining the acronyms, too; they are getting ‘way out of hand. Who wants to use "MMORPG" in a conversation? Acronyms are supposed to be compact and save significant time, not make someone sound like they’re speaking Klingon.

There have been other attempts at game term dictionaries, including a notable effort name at, but nothing online-centric that I can find and certainly nothing that defines common terms to allow us to speak about them on common ground. And heaven knows we need some simpler terms and acronyms, or we’ll be stuck describing Star Wars: Galaxies as a MMOSFRPG.

So here’s a start. I know; most of us who actually play the games will understand the terms and definitions easily. However, there are a lot of people — reporters, some executives and management in the game industry itself, the casual surfer — who really have only a sketchy idea what we mean when we use the terms. It is not by any means intended to be complete or definitive; in fact, it’s a pretty punky little list, missing quite a few terms players of today’s online games are familiar with. It’s really more of a glossary at this stage, so that’s how we’ll title it.

The current list also concentrates on words and phrases often associated with for-pay games. But it is just a start, to see if we can all get on some common ground. If you want to add to this dictionary or comment about any of the terms or definitions, go here and have at it. From time to time, I’ll revise and repost this and, over time, maybe this will help get us all singing from the same sheet of music.

GLOSSARY OF ONLINE GAME TERMS (in no particular order yet)

Version 0.1
August 28, 2001

Online Game: Any game playable via a modem and/or remote network connection, including modem-to-modem and Internet network connections, but specifically excluding Local Area Network-only game sessions.

Multiplayer Game: A game that allows 2 or more people to play the same game in the same game session or period. May be turn-based or real-time, and can include such styles as games-by-email and trivia games in which thousands may be answering the same questions, but are not interacting on a personal level.

Massively Multiplayer Game (MMG): A game in which a minimum of 128 simultaneous players may interact within the same game world in real time.

Persistent World (PW): Also called a Persistent State World. A game in which several elements retained on remote servers, and the current state of which is the same to all observing players. Examples may include geographic terrain such as mountains, lakes, caves and rivers; player character attributes and skills; player object inventory items such as clothing, armor and weapons; terrain objects such as buildings and trees, and; non-player characters. PWs are most often also MMGs.

Persistence: See also the elements of persistence in Persistent World above. Persistent elements may be modified over time during game play, but the-then current state of the persistent element reacts consistently to all current observers. For example, if a player demolishes a house, other players in the immediate area also see a demolished house. Players who pass by the house later on also see a demolished house.

Hybrid: A game with both solo home play and online play capabilities, but with no or limited elements of persistence. Most often refers to retail games of the likes of an Unreal, Age of Empires, Half-Life or Rainbow Six. As of this writing, Hybrids are generally not MMGs and are limited to 64 or less players per game session or world. Bioware’s NeverWinter Nights, due to be released in early 2002, may cause a need for this definition to be rewritten.

Live Team: The developers (programmers, artists, server code specialists, designers, etc.) assigned to the game after it has been made available to the public. A Live Team most often concentrates on two areas: A) Fixing bugs and design exploits to keep the game balanced and fair, and B) adding new content and features over time.

GameMaster (GM): A person with special administrative game powers assigned to assist players in the game by solving problems. Normally assigned or associated with the Customer Service department.

Interest GameMaster (IGM): A person with special game administrative powers assigned to create and manage special events, scenarios, storylines, quests, adventures and the like. Normally assigned or closely associated with the Live Team and, sometimes, Customer Service.

Community Relations (CR): Also called Online Community Relations, or OCR. Refers to the support given to the players outside of the normal play of the game. Normally Web-based and can include use of Web page news postings, message boards, Chat programs for live help, and download sections for information and software applications pertaining to the game.

Subscription: A regular fee paid to the publisher or developer of an online game in exchange for continued access to play the game. Most often used for MMGs and PWs.

Server: Sometimes called "dimension," "shard" or "world." In PWs and MMGs, this actually refers to a number of server computers linked together to form the hardware infrastructure on which the game operates, generally in a contiguous fashion. Most MMGs and PWs have two or more servers, each representing a distinct but nearly identical iteration of the game.


Next column, it might be interesting to look at some more, eh, amusing terms that have cropped up. Stay tuned.

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