MMOGs (or Massively Multiplayer Online Games) have been popular for over thirty years. There are hundreds of online games that fall into this category. The inspiration for these types of online games stemmed from early MUDs (or Multi-User Dungeon) games, such as Dungeons and Dragons.
Maze War was the first such game. It was released in 1974, and provided the first virtual world available in a video game. The premise of the game is that of a first-person shooter, where players wandered the virtual world and shot at each other. Not only was Maze War the first virtual world ever seen in a video game; it was also the first online game, which players on different computers could play together. Until 1974, the game could only be played by multiple users via a serial cable. In ’74 one of the game’s authors began attending MIT, and the game’s networking mechanism was improved so that it could be played over the ARPAnet (i.e. the predecessor of today’s Internet).
The term MUD was coined at EssexUniversity in the United Kingdom, where a student created a text-based role playing game (which he called MUD, for Multi-User Dungeon) and ran it on the university’s network. The popularity of these types of games, in the United States in particular, increased when affordable personal computers became a reality (1980s). MUD became a genre term to refer to games that offer a real-time virtual world. People began to jokingly assert that MUD stood for “Multi Undergraduate Destroyer,” due to the amount of time college students would devote to them.
MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, grew out of the MUD tradition. Island of Kesmai was the very first commercial MMORPG (which likely would not be considered ‘massive’ by today’s standards), introduced in 1985. The cost to play was $12 per hour. Up to 100 players could play online at once.
Neverwinter Nights was the first MMORPG released with a graphical interface. The game went online in 1991 and ran until 1997, with a cost of $6 per hour to play.
Meridian 59 was one of the first Internet MMORPGs. It was launched in 1996 by developer 3DO. This was one of the first online games to see major popularity; it was released by a major publisher, covered in game magazines, and was first to introduce a monthly subscription fee. Of great significance was the game’s 3D engine. The game became a cult classic, and is still played today.
At the same time (1996) in South Korea, where online gaming was steadily increasing in popularity, The Kingdom of the Winds was released. The game eventually built a subscriber base of over one million players. Lineage, released in South Korea in 1998, was even more successful; millions of people in Korea and Taiwan subscribed.
In 2002 another South Korean release, MapleStory, became available. The online game was free-to-play, with the option of purchasing in-game extras. The game’s huge success demonstrated the potential of the free-to-play MMORPG model for the first time.
The latest generation of MMORPGs is considered to have begun with Sony Online Entertainment’s Everquest II and Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft (WoW), both of which were released originally in 2004.