With the release of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft: Looking For Group film in November last year, I thought it was a great chance for me to do a piece about MMOs. As a huge fan of the genre I personally wanted to learn more about it and would try my best to give people some information they might not know about their much loved games.

What is an MMO? MMO stands for massively multiplayer online (game). MMOs are capable of bringing together great numbers of players at the same time from all over the globe. Obviously, this genre needs to work in conjunction with the Internet so they can bring all of these people together for these gaming experiences.

The History of MMO

Back in the seventies there were text based games known as MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons). These games were played on the earliest versions of the internet and were purely text-based —imagine playing a role playing game but instead of a controller you would just type your characters’ actions. All of a sudden you could play an interactive video game with people thousands of miles away. Services like AOL and CompuServe (forerunners for what we know as the internet) were serving as gateways for gamers to actually interact and talk to players from all over the world.

There has been a lot of debate on the internet as to which game holds the title of the first ever MMO game. Despite the fact that MUDs were responsible for bringing a lot of players together, because these games were solely text-based and didn’t have graphics to accompany them, most people don’t consider them to be MMOs.

Maze War (1974) and Colossal Cave Adventure (1975) were big games that people consider to be some of the first MMOs and Island of Kesmai (1985) was the first graphical MUD. The problem with these games however, was that they could never really be considered “massive” because they didn’t bring together thousands of players, they were simply multiplayer games.

With technological and economic restrictions at the time it was very hard to make complicated games on a large scale. Game creators also had to take into account that not many people even had the internet or could afford it.

Neverwinter Nights (1991) was allegedly the first MMO to display graphics. Developed by Stormfront Studios, the game featured simplified versions of most of the things that are present in video games today. At its peak the game hosted 115,000 players across its servers, which was huge for its time.

It is widely thought that Ultima Online and Meridian 59 were the first ever MMOs and that is most likely due to their increased popularity, with each game boasting subscriber numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Tibia (1997), RuneScape (2001) and MapleStory (2003) were some of the first free-to-play MMO games that made themselves more accessible to their player and people who didn’t have the money to pay a subscription fee. This trend is becoming more popular nowadays as companies are finding new ways to make money (such as unlockable content and in-game currencies).

History of MMOs (cpu only)

Artwork by IT student, Matty Potter

In 1999, Daybreak Game Company (formerly Sony Online Entertainment) released the incredibly popular, EverQuest. This game definitely paved the way for what we now commonly know as the MMORPG. EverQuest brought an amazing story world to life with new features that games had never offered before. They introduced an extremely open 3D world that let the players be heroes by taking down increasingly difficult foes.

It just so happened that a few of the dedicated players of EverQuest also work for Blizzard Entertainment who were, at that time, working on a project called Nomad which was failing badly. Allan Adham, co-creator of what we know as Blizzard Entertainment, decided to cancel Nomad and try to create something that had the same heart as Blizzard’s other games had.

Blizzard announced this new venture in September of 2001 and with roughly four or five years of work, the game went live on November 23, 2004. This game, World of Warcraft, changed everything. Blizzard had brought a world that we had previously known in the RTS (real-time strategy) Warcraft trilogy and made the player the hero. They created this brilliantly vibrant game where people could join guild and play with their friends. Blizzard made an environment for everyone to come together to enjoy something new and amazing, no matter what you looked like or how seriously you played. They expanded on what games like EverQuest introduced and made it accessible to everyone.

After a few generations of MMOs, we reach the modern MMO generation. MMORPGs and MMOs of other types are being released weekly and monthly, everyone is trying their best to cash in on the genre after seeing the billions that Blizzard are raking in each year.