History of massively multiplayer online games
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe first gameworlds
MMOG's are the result of a combination of several ingredients.
In 1972, William Crowther created the first Text Adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure, in which a single player solved various puzzles. All interaction was through text; no graphics. The player typed simple commands such as "look north" and the computer replied with descriptions of what was happening.
In 1973, Mazewar introduced the first graphic virtual world, providing a first-person perspective view of a maze in which players roamed around shooting at each other. This could be see as a key progenitor not only of MMOGs but also of First Person Shooters. It was also the first networked game, in which players at different computers could visually interact in a virtual space. The initial implementation was over a serial cable, but when one of the authors began attending MIT in 1974, the game was enhanced so that it could be played across the ARPAnet, forerunner of the modern Internet.
Meanwhile, the PLATO computer system, an educational computer system based on mainframe computers with graphical terminals, was pioneering many areas of multiuser computer systems. By the middle of 1974, there were graphical multiplayer games such as Spasim, a space battle game which could support 32 users, and the Talkomatic multi-user chat system.
The game Dungeons and Dragons was published for the first time in 1974, starting a boom in role-playing games, which appealed to many college-aged computer programmers. Software development quickly followed; the first single-player graphical "dungeon crawl" was pedit5, written for the PLATO system in 1974, followed quickly by m199h and then by dnd, which was playable by the end of 1975. In dnd, there was a quest goal, to obtain the mystical Orb.
Since PLATO had both multiplayer games and Dungeons and Dragons style role-playing/dungeon crawl games, both graphical, combining the two was inevitable, and on November 18, 1977, Oubliette was released.
MUD, key MMOG progenitor
MUD, key MMOG progenitor
Meanwhile, multiuser text-based (entirely non-graphical) MUDs were evolving, with the first being developed by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw in 1978. These games ran on private servers, usually at a university, and sometimes without the knowledge of the system's administrators. Players would typically connect to the games using a TELNET client, and gameplay was similar to role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. By typing commands into a parser, players would enter a dungeon, fight monsters, gain experience, and acquire loot.
MUDs (and later their descendants such as MUSHes and MOOs) were sometimes wildly different from one another, but shared many basic interface elements. An example of this would be a player's means of navigating his or her character around the gameworld by typing in compass directions ("n", "se", etc.).
A text-based (or, more accurately, roguelike), game called MAD, would become the first global MUD, operating through the global network BITNET.
Many MUDs are still active and a number of influential MMOG designers, such as Brad McQuaid, Mark Jacobs, and Brian "Psychochild" Green, began as MUD developers and/or players.
Early commercial development
The first commercial MMORPG (although what constitutes "massive" requires qualification when discussing mid-1980s mainframes) was Islands of Kesmai designed by Kelton Flinn and John Taylor. Still roguelike, this game became available to consumers in 1984 for $12.00 per hour via the CompuServe online service..
The first graphical character-based interactive environment, though not actually an RPG, was Club Caribe. Although first released as Habitat in 1988, Club Caribe was introduced by LucasArts for Q-Link customers on their Commodore 64 computers. Users could interact with one another, chat and exchange items. Although very basic, its use of online avatars (already well established off-line by Ultima and other games) and combining chat and graphics was revolutionary.
During the early-1990s, commercial use of the internet was limited by NSFNET acceptable use policies. Consequently, early online games like Legends of Future Past, Neverwinter Nights, GemStone III, Dragon's Gate, and Federation II relied heavily on proprietary services such as CompuServe, America Online, and GEnie for distribution.
Following Neverwinter Nights was The Shadow of Yserbius, a MMORPG on The Sierra Network (TSN), which ran from 1992 through 1996. The game was produced by Joe Ybarra. The Shadow of Yserbius was an hourly service, although it also offered unlimited service for $119.99 per month, until AT&T acquired TSN and rendered it strictly an hourly service. The name was then changed from TSN to the ImagiNation Network.
 Commercial MMORPGs on the Internet
Players interacting in Ultima Online.
Players interacting in Ultima Online.
As NSFNET restrictions were relaxed, traditional game companies and online services began deploying games on the internet. The first commercial text-based MMORPG to make this transition to the Internet from a proprietary network provider (CompuServe, in this case) was Legends of Future Past. Legends was also notable for being one of the first titles to have featured professional Game Masters who conducted online events.
The term "MMORPG" probably only originated after the introduction of internet games, as previous ones could never accumulate truly "massive" numbers. Perhaps the earliest the term was used was in 1996 when Trip Hawkins frequently used it to explain early graphical products to the media.
Meridian 59, launched by 3DO in late 1996, was one of the first Internet MMORPGs. It was the first Internet game from a major publisher, the first to be covered in the major game magazines, and the first to introduce the flat monthly subscription fee. Most significantly, however, and another first for online RPGs, was its 3D engine, allowing players to experience the game world through the eyes of their characters. A cult following quickly grew for Meridian 59 that still exists today.
The Realm Online was another successful early Internet MMORPG, launched by Sierra Online. Although released just after Meridian 59, the beta was active several months before. The Realm Online had fully animated 2D graphics, both in and out of combat situations, which made it accessible to a wider audience compared to more text-based games or the graphical MUDs on which it was based. Also, its gameplay and interface were already familiar to those accustomed to the graphical adventure games earlier popularised by Sierra. Like many of its predecessors, The Realm Online only featured simple turn-based combat, however, it did feature a huge number (for the time) of visual character customization options. It, too, is still running.
Commercial MMORPGs on the Internet
Ultima Online, released in September 1997, is now credited with popularizing the genre. It featured 3D isometric/third-person graphics, and was set in the already popular Ultima universe. It was also a more involved, complex game than many of its predecessors.
Meanwhile, commercial online gaming was becoming extraordinarily popular in South Korea. Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, designed by Jake Song, was commercially released in 1996 and eventually gained over one million subscribers. Song's next game, Lineage (1998), enjoyed even greater success gaining millions of subscribers in Korea and Taiwan. This helped to secure developer NCsoft's dominance in the global MMORPG market for several years.
EverQuest, launched in March 1999 by Verant Interactive (later acquired by Sony Online Entertainment), brought fantasy MMORPGs into the Western mainstream. It was the most commercially successful MMORPG in the United States for five years, and was the basis for 13 expansions (as of February 2007) and several derivative games.
In 1999, following Ultima Online and EverQuest, was another hit, Asheron's Call. Together, these three games are sometimes referred to as the original "big three" of the late 1990s.
Second generation MMORPGs
By the turn of the century, game companies were eager to capitalize on the new market. The concept of massively multiplayer online games expanded into new video game genres around this time, though RPGs, with their ability to "suck in" the player, were (and still are) the most financially promising.
The next generation of MMORPGs, following the "big three" of the previous decade, was to include the medieval PvP-oriented Dark Age of Camelot, the sci-fi Anarchy Online, and Ultima Online 2. Anarchy Online, released first in June 2001, was saddled with crippling technical problems upon its release, mostly due to an inability to handle the huge playerbase. Dark Age of Camelot launched smoothly four months later, introducing "Realm vs. Realm" PvP and other innovations, but still never attained the media attention or fame garnered by the previous "big three", which were still running strongly. Ultima Online 2 was cancelled by Electronic Arts in March 2001, as they had decided that the market was becoming saturated and that it would be more profitable to divert resources to the original Ultima Online. RuneScape by Jagex was also released in 2001.
n 2002, Final Fantasy XI was released, which hoped to bring in fans of the extremely popular (but mostly single-player) Final Fantasy series, which was particularly popular in Japan. Like the previous Final Fantasy games, this one was playable on a console, using a handheld controller, though it bore little resemblance to gameplay in prior Final Fantasy titles. Though not the first MMORPG played on a console (which was Phantasy Star Online), it was the first to allow console and PC users to play together. It was also notable for randomly selecting servers for new player-characters (instead of letting players pick for themselves), a practice which was highly criticized, although they have recently stopped this practice. The game persists as one of the leading MMORPGs on the market to date.
2002 saw two other developments in Asia. The first was the sprite-based Ragnarok Online, produced by Korean company Gravity Corp. Though unknown to many Western players, the game took Asia by storm as Lineage had done. The publisher has claimed in excess of 25 million subscribers of the game, although this number is based upon a quantity of registered users (rather than active subscribers). The second was the release of MapleStory, another sprite-based title, which was completely free-to-play - instead of charging a monthly fee, it generated revenue by selling in-game "enhancements". MapleStory would go on to become a major player in the new market for free-to-play MMORPGs (generating huge numbers of registered accounts across its many versions), if it did not introduce the market by itself.
In March 2003, Ubisoft launched their first MMORPG: Shadowbane. Shadowbane was notable for featuring no quests, and instead relying on player warfare to provide immersion. To support this goal it featured player-built, player-owned, and player-razed cities and capitals, and a system for player government.
May 2003 saw the release of Eve Online, produced by Crowd Control Productions, which had players taking the role of spaceship pilots and had gameplay similar to the series Star Control. Though not the first space MMORPG (DarkSpace was the first space MMO and was released in 2001), Eve was able to achieve lasting success. One of the reasons for its success may have been the game's design, in which all subscribers play in one shared universe as a result the natural partitioning of the game universe into solar systems connected by stargates. This partitioning allows the world to be divided up in such a way that one or more solar systems run on different servers,while still maintaining a single coherent world.
In October 2003, Lineage II (NCsoft's sequel to Lineage) became the latest MMORPG to achieve huge success across Asia. It received the Presidential Award at the 2003 Korean Game awards, and is now the second most popular MMORPG in the world. As of the first half of 2005 Lineage II counted over 2.25 million subscribers worldwide, with servers in Japan, China, North America, Taiwan, and Europe, once the popularity of the game had surged in the West.
In April 2004, NCSoft produced another significant title, City of Heroes. Though it introduced no major innovations in gameplay, it featured an extreme number of possible visual character appearances, and its comic-book superhero theme made it stand out.
Current Generation MMORPGs
In April 2005, ArenaNet (a subsidiary of NCSoft) successfully launched Guild Wars, introducing a new financial model which might have been partly responsible for the game's success. Though definitely an online RPG, and technically having a persistent world (despite most of the game's content being instanced), it required only a one-time purchasing fee. It was also designed to be "winnable", more or less, as developers wouldn't profit from customers' prolonged playtime. Other differences compared to traditional MMORPGs included strictly PvP-only areas, a relatively short playtime requirement to access end-game content, instant world travel, and strategic PvP. The game is designed around the max level cap, of level 20, so players will not run into the level-spreading problem when grouping. For these differences it was termed instead a "Competitive Online Role-Playing Game" (CORPG) by its developers. With three million games purchased as of December '06, Guild Wars is still continuously profitable (due to several stand-alone expansions) and can be seen as a serious competitor to WoW.
There has also been significant competition (and potential for profit) among free-to-play MMORPGs. A few of the most successful of these are Silkroad Online by the publisher Joymax, the 3D sprite based MMORPG Flyff by Aeonsoft, Rappelz by NFlavor, the anime themed Space Cowboy Online by Masang, Cronous by Lizard Interactive, the 2D scrolling MMORPG MapleStory by Wizet and finally the free-to-play converted Shadowbane by Ubisoft. Most of these games generate revenue by selling in-game "enhancements", and due to their free nature have accumulated huge numbers of registered accounts over the years, with a majority of them from East Asia. These 7 MMORPGs also show one of the largest player base in the MMORPG genre, rivaling even World of Warcraft.
In early 2007, China-developed Fantasy Westward Journey reached 1.5 million peak concurrent users (PCUs).
The release of the DirectX 10 gaming interface has drastically improved the graphics of future MMORPG's, such as Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, introducing a new generation of games.