History of massively multiplayer online games

History of massively multiplayer online games

The history of massively multiplayer online games spans over thirty years and hundreds of massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) titles.

The first gameworlds

MMOG's are the result of a combination of several concepts.

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 seen 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 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,Fact|date=July 2008 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. Fact|date=July 2008

In 1976, 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.

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. [Bartle, Richard A. (2003). "Designing Virtual Worlds". Indianapolis: New Riders. ISBN 0-13-101816-7.]

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, [cite web|last =Nelson|first =Mike|title =Interview: Brad McQuaid|publisher =The guru of 3D|url =http://www.guru3d.com/gamereviews/brad-mcquaid-interview/index1.shtml|accessdate =2007-03-03] 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.Koster, Raph (2002) "Online World Timeline," http://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/mudtimeline.shtml] .

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. [Ferrell, Keith. (November 1987), "The Future Of Computer Games: Ten Industry Leaders Speak Out," http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue90/Future_Of_Computer_Games.php". COMPUTE!] 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.

The first graphical MMORPG was "Neverwinter Nights" by designer Don Daglow and programmer Cathryn Mataga (not to be confused with "Neverwinter Nights" by BioWare). "Neverwinter Nights" went live on AOL for PC owners in 1991 and ran through 1997. This project was personally championed and green-lighted by AOL President Steve Case. Both "Club Caribe" and "Neverwinter Nights" cost $6.00 per hour to play.

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" relied heavily on proprietary services such as CompuServe, America Online, and GEnie for distribution.

Air Warrior was an early multiplayer game as players could battle each other flying virtual fighter planes. The game was first introduced in 1986 and ran on the GEnie network. In 1993 the game was revised to run over the internet.

Following "Neverwinter Nights" was "The Shadow of Yserbius", an 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

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.Chris Lombardi (1992), "Legends in their Own Minds," Computer Gaming World, http://static.filefront.com/cgw/1992_08_issue97.pdf]

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. [Kent, Steven (September 23, 2003), GameSpy, "Alternate Reality: The history of massively multiplayer online games", http://archive.gamespy.com/amdmmog/week1/]

"", whose beta was released to Korean audiences in 1996 was one of the first mmorpgs. Not only that, but it is still an active game today with over 1000 subscribers.

"Meridian 59", launched by 3DO in late 1996, was one of the first Internet MMORPGs. It was one of the first Internet game from a major publisher, the one of first to be covered in the major game magazines and the first MMPOG to introduce the flat monthly subscription fee. Perhaps most significantly, 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.

"Ultima Online", released in September 1997, is now credited with popularizing the genre. [ [http://www.ge-eu.com/games.html Game Entertainment Europe ] ] [ [http://pc.ign.com/articles/759/759391p1.html IGN: Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn Preview ] ] 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. "", 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 14 expansions (as of November 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 "". "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. 2001 also saw MMORPGs move off of PCs and onto home consoles with the release of "Phantasy Star Online" [Tony Peters (2006), "AceGamez," "Phantasy Star Universe Preview Microsoft Xbox 360," http://www.acegamez.co.uk/reviews_x360/Phantasy_Star_Universe_Preview_X360.htm] .

In 2002 the sprite-based "Ragnarok Online", produced by Korean company Gravity Corp, was released. 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). [Michael Kanellos (2004), "Gaming their Way to Growth," [http://news.com.com/Consumers+Gaming+their+way+to+growth+-+Part+3+of+South+Koreas+Digital+Dynasty/2009-1040_3-5239555.html CNET News] ] 2002 also saw 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.

2002 also saw the release of "Final Fantasy XI" by Square-Enix. This ground breaking game was the first of its kind to span across multiple continents, on multiple platforms. Placing characters of different nationalities on different gaming systems in the same worlds. Characters explored the world of Vana’diel, choosing one of 6 basic jobs; Warrior, Monk, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage or Red Mage, with the option of unlocking up to 14 additional jobs as they progress. Final Fantasy XI is now available on Xbox360 and PS3 as well. As of yet, Final Fantasy XI is still the only MMORPG to offer the same service on multiple platforms placing all players in the same world.

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

The most recent generation of MMORPGs, based on arbitrary standards of graphics, gameplay, and popularity, is said to have launched in November 2004 with Sony Online Entertainment's "EverQuest II" and Blizzard Entertainment's "World of Warcraft" (WoW). At the time, Sony expected to dominate the market, based on the success of the first "Everquest", and decided to offer a flat monthly rate to play all of their MMORPGs including "EverQuest", "EverQuest II", and "Star Wars Galaxies", to keep from competing with itself. While EverQuest II was a commercial success as predicted, "World of Warcraft" immediately overtook all of these games upon release, and indeed became so popular that it dwarfed all previous monthly-fee MMORPGs. At present, "WoW" is one of the most played games in North America, and the most played MMORPG worldwide, with a total of over 10 million customers. The closest MMORPG to World of Warcraft is RuneScape with more than one million subscribers and even more free players. With the release of these newer games, subscriptions began to decline for many older MMORPGs, even the year-old "Lineage II", and in particular "Everquest 1". The current MMORPG market has "World of Warcraft" in a position similar to the position of Dungeons & Dragons in the tabletop RPG market, with both games' market share being greater than 50% of the overall market.

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 five million games purchased as of February '08, [ [http://www.guildwars.com/events/press/releases/pressrelease-2008-02-26.php News story from GW official site] ] Guild Wars is still continuously profitable (due to several stand-alone games) but it still can't be seen as a serious competitor to "WoW" in terms of profit and number of players.

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, "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".Newer games are also in development.

References


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