A Brief History of the MMORPGs

It seems that it’s been ages since World of Warcraft became a household name, and the MMORPG finally reached critical mass with the mainstream gaming community. Hell, with the community at large! WoW wound up being such a phenomenon that it pretty much blew the MMORPG wide out into the open. And the rest is history! Very, very awesomely nerdy history that we’re going to talk about in today’s article.

The MMORPG genre is pretty well known today, with free to play options flooding the market. Basically, you have to be insane (or very brave) to believe that you can launch a MMORPG with a subscription, like World of Warcraft did back in the days, together with all the other MMOs.

But the MMORPG — the hippest guy in the room right now — is basically the natural evolution from Dungeons and Dragons. Well, sort of…

The MMORPG was born of what’s referred to as the MUD, or the multi-user dungeon. This was basically glorified Dungeons and Dragons, via computer, in the mid- to late 70s. (Sounds effing awesome, right?) The first ones just used text, and connected a bunch of people via modem. Some of them even used ASCII graphics. We’ve gone far since then, haven’t we?

In the mid-80s, Lucasfilm put out Habitat, which was more or less an online town where you could… do stuff. Players could trade, barter, etc, etc, etc. Eventually everyone figured out that players could kill one another and chaos erupted, as it is wont to do. This, as it should be noted, was properly super hilarious to watch, and is kind of a precursor to exactly the way Grand Theft Auto games are played today.

True to the very origins of this fun little mythology, Neverwinter Nights — the next major player in the MMORPG game — was a Dungeons and Dragons computer game that bears the distinction of being the first online RPG to display graphics, which basically makes it one of the very first MMORPGs around. It did super duper well from 1991 to 1997, but just before it ended its run, the environment in which these games were being developed changed in an extremely significant way.

In 1995, NSFNET was decommissioned. This basically allowed for the commercialization of the Internet, by way of gettin rid of the last rules against using it to make your money. This let game developers go nuts and target the Internet in a huge way — it was time to really start putting the massive into “massively multiplayer online role-playing games.” Which I will not fully type out again, I promise you.

Obviously, after this, the first true MMORPG games started to show up, leading off with Meridian 59. Released in 1996, it’s largely credited with being the very first official entry in the genre. It was definitely the first to feature 3D graphics, even if it was your standard fantasy fare that involves cruising around, killing monsters, and not a whole hell of a lot else. Oh, and there was a little issue of not being able to jump. Turns out the developers used a slight variant of the engine that was featured in Doom, which results in games that take place on planets with the strongest gravity in the solar system.

The game may have had its problems, but it ushered in the MMORPG genre, opening the door for EverQuest, the first MMORPG to break out in a big way. Released in 1999, EverQuest was the result of Sony Studios’ effort, and was the first of its kind to be crazy popular. In fact, it’s still in development today, and continues to be one of the only games really giving World of Warcraft a run for its money.

If you’ve never given an MMORPG a shot, now might be the time to try. Guild Wars 2 is insanely affordable, given the amount of entertainment you can reap from your purchase. Not only that, but the general consensus is overwhelmingly positive. The gam’e’s fun as all get-out, and represents impressive new highs for the MMORPG. Now’s your chance to get on the bus, while it’s still moving slow enough for you to grab a seat.

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