I was listening to Epic Loot Radio's recent podcast State of the Game with @Ready Check Raideo (You Tubube version for anyone interested). They cover a gambit of topics regarding MMORPGs eventually getting into what makes an MMORPG an MMORPG. An interesting question is discussed: Is Fortnite an MMORPG? Their answer is no and I'd agree to that. Here are some more of my thoughts on what was discussed.
One item that I keyed in on was their discussion on what the cut off point for "massive online" is. The consensus number was at least 1,000 players in a single online world. That resonated with me and I'd put a clarifying point on it that the game has to have the potential for 1,000 or more players and additionally the world needs to be a persistent online world.
My point above about "potential for 1,000 or more" cuts off the "do games like Crowfall count when they are not popular enough to go over 1,000 players?". Persistent online world helps to drive out considering games that have large online player counts jumping in and out of their worlds, but are not persistent.
With these considerations we can rule out Fortnite as an MMORPG massive online front. Yes, Fortnite has millions of players online at any given time, but you are only ever in a world with 100 of them and that world ceases to exist once the match is over. Note: this doesn't make Fortnite any less of a game; it just doesn't need to be called an MMORPG.
On the tail end of MMORPG is the role playing (RP). This is briefly covered in the Epic Loot Radio discussion, but is important for a lot of players to separate MMORPG from games that hit all the other points but are just MMOGs. If anyone has ever read my first blog post (from 17 years ago!!!) you will know where I stand about role playing:
Social interaction with like minded nerds and geeks; people whom live through their in game characters as though it was version 2.0 of themselves.
I don't want to hear these gamers speak in foreign Orcish or Elvish tongues. I want them to speak English and call me newb, l33t, or dude. I want role playing that is a real person, embodying a real in-game character. I don't want to know how much you can pretend. I want to see who, what, and how you can do things in game with the class, race, or skills you have chosen in our game of choice.
So my take on role playing is that the game offers players roles to play within the construct of the persistent online world. This could be the holy trinity -- damage, tank, healer -- or it could be the desire to just bang away at an anvil as a blacksmith. The key is the game requires players to fill their role in the world. On one end are games like Final Fantasy 14 where players are asked to set their job (aka role) and while set to that job that is the only role they play. On the other end are games like New World where based on gear equipped your role is defined. On either end players are playing a role.
Role playing is another area where you would look at Fortnite and say "mmmm, nope". Yes, during a Fortnite match you may get different weapons and take different actions which change how you play but really everyone is there for essentially the same role: kill other players (hopefully before a building pops out of them).
I'd also be willing to accept arguments for some games considered in the MMORPG market to be discarded due to this RP element because they don't actually put players in roles. None come to me off the top of my head, but I am sure there are some out there.
I think there is a valid category of MMOG where there is a persistent world that supports over 1,000 players but players just come and go without any defined roles. Minecraft is the easiest example as it has many multiplayer servers that are over 1,000 players and the game doesn't define roles but yet has persistent worlds. Minecraft is a massively multiplayer online game.
MMOG also dovetails into the last comment I want to make. In the podcast there is also reference to games-as-a-service; "as-a-service" (aaS) being the buzz word across the entire software landscape. The company I work for has "aaS" hanging off most of our software products. All it really means is that customers can expect software based solutions that continue to be updated (and hopefully improved) as part of a service contract (i.e. I don't have to buy version 2.0 in a year; I will instead just keep getting updates as part of my service contract).
I'd argue that the golden era MMORPGs such as Everquest and Ultima Online were gaming's first "as-a-service". Now-a-days almost every game is dabbling in the service aspect with cosmetic purchases, paid for add-ons, battle passes, subscriptions, etc. So make the last defining characteristic of an MMORPG that it is a game-as-a-service (note: the service contract aspect can vary from free 2 play to battle pass to subscription; that is less important than the aspect that players will see continued change to the service).
Want to argue with me about what an MMORPG is? Play Fortnite and feel offended? Drop a comment or two.