Acronyms... they have the power shorten our sentences and get a point across much quicker than using complete phrases. The troubles is, acronyms have this nasty habit of being misinterpreted, placed out of context, or simply used at the wrong time.
Game acronyms are fairly consistent, except for those darn online game acronyms. Which ones should be used? Here are my views as to the limits of these acronyms. First, The individual letters and what they stand for:
M = Massive or Massively
M = Multiplayer
O = Online
R = Role
P = Play or Playing
G = Game
Most often we see "Roleplaying" as one word, which is appropriate enough in most situations. So the "O" and "R" are really to be considered one word. Should we be using "MMORPG" all the time though? Not always. Here are those games that qualify as "MMORPGs":
* Ultima Online
* Star Wars Galaxies
* World of Warcraft
* Lord of the Rings Online
* ... (and many others)
MMORPG is the term used for the tightest focus in online games. Take away the RP and you have games like The West or Hello Kitty Online. Take away Massive and you have games like Guild Wars or Neverwinter Nights. Take away the Multiplayer and you have a single player game. Take away 'online' and you have a LAN game at best.
Roleplaying is associated with online games that have the opportunity to act out a character beyond simply showing off an avatar. There has to be some interactive feedback with other live persons and their characters. Otherwise you're simply playing a game... not roleplaying.
What are some games that are NOT MMORPGs? How about I list a few that are sometimes thought of as MMORPGs, but are not:
* Guild Wars - (Even though a lot are playing it, they are not playing it at the same time in one location, ever... it's all instanced, no persistent world truly exists, thus NOT an MMO of any kind, but simply an online game).
* Diablo - Same exact overall concept as Guild Wars. The only thing Guild Wars expands upon is the ability to stand idle around town with more people.
* Neverwinter Nights - A multiplayer game only. This one is farthest from any MMO concept you'll ever see. Some consider it an MMO, and even an online game, which is a complete joke and are neither. Is an Internet game of Quake an online game? No.
A massive multiplayer online game isn't a game where you connect with your buddies across the Internet, but no one else can pop in or out of the game world at will.
A massive multiplayer online game is a world that always exists and has elements that are NOT instanced, more than just the town centers like you see in Guild Wars.
A massive multiplayer online game consists more than just your immediate friends. While numbers can be debated, a game which allows only 24 individuals on a a time is NOT massive.
Guild Wars is most interesting, as I would consider it a Hybrid Online Game, or a "HOG" for short. The key within all of these acronyms is the 'Massive' term more than any others. 'Massive' only counts if you can connect with a lot of players at one time, or it's not massive in any way.
I hope I helped clarify anyone's doubts about what 'MMORPG' and other terms really mean. While these are purely my opinions, as no one has the law on terminologies, I think I have a reasonable enough set of guidelines to help anyone not sure when to use them. Feel free to convince me otherwise though!