That’s not Really Persistence You are Talking About
In his latest post, Keen talks about persistence and the lack thereof in games like Age of Empires Online and Global Agenda. In the comments he goes on to make the distinction that games like World of Warcraft do have persistence where those mentioned above do not. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Using his definition of persistence, World of Warcraft is no more persistent than AoE Online.
Keen says that the issue with games like AoE Online is that they only have persistent (glorified) lobbies while the actual battles happen in instanced battlefields that are reset after the battle is complete. While this is true, it does not differ one bit from what WoW & Co. are doing. Players have no persistent effect on the world; any change they make to it (say, killing monsters) is reset on a (rather short) timer. The only thing that stays is the progression level of their character. From a persistence point of view, there is no difference between going out grinding, questing, or raiding for a couple of hours and joining an instanced real-time strategy or action battle. Each style of playing ultimately only has a persistent effect on your “lobby”.
Back in my bachelor thesis I compared the in-game markets of MMORPGs and included Diablo II in that comparison. I argued that ,while the game didn’t strictly fit the definition of MMORPGs because it was not actually “massively multiplayer”, the market part of it was. More importantly, all other criteria (including persistence) were met by the game in just the same way as they were in other accepted-as-such MMORPGs. Your character and her level of progression throughout the world is stored, everything else is wiped out. Sure, in WoW this happens on a timer while Diablo II does it on logout, but that is simply a technical difference. One could even argue that the World in Diablo II is even more persistent because changes tend to be around for a larger amount of time than in WoW.
I see absolutely no reason for MMORTS or MMOFPS to fail where MMORPGs succeeded with regards to persistence. Now, if Keen had argued that MMORTS don’t really deserve the “massively multiplayer” part in their title, we’d be talking.