by Kilivin, Contributor — Category: Editorials
MMORPGs have been around for a while now, a whole 17 years! While many have heard of the big titles coming from the MMORPG genre, this article is meant to give you the grand scope. In conclusion, Feel free to use the links in the Table Of Contents below to easily get from each topic prior or subsequent to this one!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1) An Introduction To MMORPGs
2) MMORPG History
3) MMORPG Gaming Community
4) MMORPG Mechanics & Game Design
5) MMORPG Lore & Quests
6) MMORPG End Games
As you might recall back to the introduction to this article, MMORPGs have been around for a long time. While the term was first coined by the creator of Ultima Online, Richard Garriott, the MMO name goes back a long way before that. I am not one to think that an MMORPG is your regular MMO, however. MMORPGs have spanned from the good, the bad, and even the revolutionary ever since the start of their existence. From this, it makes for a very vast history. Like any good history lesson, we will start from the beginning.
MMORPGs all began in 1997, or that's at least what mainstream media might tell you. Ultima Online began the genre as a top down fantasy MMORPG. It started off the basic aspects that people come to expect from an MMORPG. Some of those being the player mechanic of MMORPGS, random player interaction in the world, guilds, group questing, and more. The issues Ultima Online faced, however, was that it was the first game to ever have social interaction, economy, and the psychology of players in their game. From this, the game suffered in correctly supporting what would become very vital issues for all MMORPGs. The game did, however, make an impression for future games such as DAoC & Shadowbane with what would become the "hardcore PvP" community through it's unforgiving player-versus-player system.
As the years progressed - more attention was brought toward the MMORPG world of gaming. This brought in games with more mainstream attention such as EverQuest & Asheron's Call in 1999. These marked the first third-person view MMORPGs which became a trend for all MMORPGs to follow up to today. EverQuest was more towards an evolutionary advancement to MUDs (Multi-User-Dungeons) which date back to the late 70s & early 80s. Where its focus was the traditional D&D dungeon of sorts, Asheron's Call focused on creating an open world in which players could traverse the massive 500sq. miles without a single loading screen. Both of these systems made their way into future MMORPGs and some consider that they being implemented incorrectly can ruin a game entirely.
In those days, The number of subscribers both of these games received were considered monstrous. However, EverQuest was ahead of Asheron's Call with 225,000 subscribers compared to their 100,000. This is likely because EverQuest developed a genre which was familiar to players but improved any quirks that MUDs had. While both games moved on to make both EverQuest 2 & Asheron's Call 2, other games were moving in on this rich market of gaming.
One game that made a huge impact on PvP in MMORPGs to this day is Dark Age of Camelot. Released in 2001, DAoC raised over 50,000 subscribers within the first week which was 20,000 more than their estimate, and it capped off at around 250,000 subscribers by the summer of 2002. DAoC received this influx of players from being one of the first to introduce a good global economy and mass scale PvP. Both of which helped evolve the community of the game to make for a strong player-base which was second only to EverQuest which rose from it's release until it capped off at around 450,000 Subscribers by 2003.
During this time, Asheron's Call 2 - the awaited sequel to fix the problems of Asheron's Call - had finally been released by the end of 2002. While the game had a great community, it brought up the first aspects of grinding that became detrimental to its success. While other MMORPGs during this time period had this aspect as well, none were the match of Asheron's Call 2. On top of this, given the rising success of DAoC and EverQuest, Asheron's Call 2 never achieved the player-base needed to support it. Following the massive influx of players towards WoW, Asheron's Call 2 would be the first MMORPG to shut down its servers entirely by 2005.
With EverQuest and DAoC in the lead for the top MMOs of the time, the upcoming EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft were both greatly anticipated. While World of Warcraft had 3 previous RTS games which spanned back to the early 90s, EverQuest was the biggest MMORPG of the time. This left most MMORPG players skeptical that a new MMORPG could push out the "reigning champ" of EverQuest & its sequel, EverQuest 2. The release dates for both were in November of 2004, creating an obvious competition between both games.
EverQuest 2 focused on what it did best. The sequel merely upgraded graphics & gameplay. It also focused heavily on questing and continued with the PvE aspect of MMORPGs. While it was given a warm reception, nothing could prepare them for the monster Blizzard was releasing a mere 3 weeks later.
World of Warcraft released November 23rd 2004, and has dominated the world of MMORPGs ever since. During the initial launch of many titles at the time, the expected influx of subscribers as you now know were around 50-100k. The expected player base would have been perhaps half a million or more if they had a good game. Before 2004 ended, WoW had already released a million copies of the game, which is 10x more than the expected number, and double the number of the top MMORPG of the time. To put this into perspective for today's numbers, that would be like if a modern day MMORPG were to get 15 million subscribers within a month.
Such a boom in server population crippled WoW's servers for weeks, but by the time the new year rolled around - people were as happy as ever in what will possibly maintain itself as the biggest MMORPG of the century. WoW, unlike many other MMORPGS at the time, did not focus on one core aspect of gameplay. Instead, it pulled in PvP players by allowing players to play on PvP servers which they could kill the enemy alliance wherever they saw fit. It also offered the player a huge world of varied areas, each traveled to by flight path or by foot without a single loading screen. The ability to recover health quickly, die without major penalization, and get to areas without any delay made the game have 0 downtime to it.
From this MMORPG boom, players from other MMORPGs such as DAoC, EverQuest, Asheron's Call 2, and even the less popular ones at the time flocked toward WoW. To get an even greater idea of how popularized WoW is - after a patch which added a 20 man raid called Zul'Gurub, an outbreak started. This outbreak was caused by the final boss of the instance which casted onto players "Corrupted Blood." The ability spread from players near to one another dealing damage to them, but due to poor development - the plague was not contained within the instance. Pets from Warlocks and Hunters would retain the plague and it spread into cities of massive population. The amazing thing about this is, real scientists used the data of how what would be known as "The Corrupted Blood Plague" spread to aid in a real life scenario of that happening.
Let's take a look at a graph spanning the rise and current fall of WoW's subscriber base from its release to get an idea of the numbers it reached in such a short period of time compared to other MMORPGs of the time.
From WoW's extreme rising subscription base, all games after WoW became flops no matter how good or bad the game was. It was merely that they never "beat WoW" which by all the numbers, would be near impossible. The more well-known of these games include LOTRO, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, SWTOR, and Rift - all but 1 are free to play now because the subscription base for each game could not sustain itself. This includes less popularized games such as Tabula Rasa, Shadowbane, Ryzom, DDO, Vanguard, etc.
While many hold grudges to WoW for almost breaking MMORPGs into the theme-park knockoffs that we see now, I see it as a revolutionary step towards something greater in which TESO can achieve. Through a DAoC AvA system, a rich fan base of players from previous ES games (similar to the fan base that WoW had with their Warcraft trilogy), and through its Elder Scrolls style gameplay which will give all other PvE style MMORPGs a run for their money.
Join me next week where I will talk about gaming community within MMORPGs as well as the social implications of MMORPGs as a whole.
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