Tuesday, October 19, 2010
A personal history of MMORPGs
A reader was asking me about my personal history of playing MMORPGs. I’m afraid this is going to be a long story, but here it is:
Let’s start with the pre-MMORPG era: I started roleplaying games back in 1984, but that were pen & paper games. Computer roleplaying games came later, for example Pools of Radiance on the Amiga in 1988. My first contact with online roleplaying was LPMUD in 1990, played on a mainframe using a terminal displaying green letters on black background, no graphics.
My first “real” MMORPG was Ultima Online, but I only dabbled shortly in that in 1999. At the time I still connected to the internet via modem and telephone, and unlike in the USA in Europe local calls weren’t free at the time. The first month of UO resulted in me getting a phone bill of 500 bucks, which quickly ended my first foray into the world of MMORPGs. In early 2000 I got my first ADSL broadband (1 MBit/s) with flatrate, and played UO a bit more, seeing the world split into overcrowded PvE-Trammel and underpopulated PvP-Felucca.
From 2000 to 2001 I played Everquest. I started when the first expansion Ruins of Kunark came out, and stopped shortly after the release of the third expansion, Shadows of Luclin, which I hated. I played EQ for 19 months (free month plus three 6-month subscriptions), making EQ the only other MMORPG I played for over a year besides World of Warcraft. In spite of playing my main over 1,000 hours, I only reached level 42 out of 60 at the time. It was estimated then that it took on average 2,000 hours to reach the level cap in EQ.
For the next years I flitted from MMORPG to MMORPG. I played Dark Age of Camelot, but already then disliked PvP, getting one-shotted by archers in the lowest level PvP zone. I was playing Anarchy Online on launch day, still remembered as the most catastrophic launch of a MMORPG ever. I played Earth & Beyond, but not long enough to witness it getting closed down. I played in the beta of EVE Online, bought the game on release, and gave up on it before the free month was over. I played A Tale in the Desert twice during the first two telling, and again this year. I got bored with Star Wars Galaxies in 2003, long before the NGE, although I much liked the harvesting system of the game. I tried out Final Fantasy XI when it launched end of 2003, and played for 5 months. I played City of Heroes on US servers, but got quickly bored of the endless repetition of the tile sets used for the random dungeons. I tried Horizons, Lineage II, Ryzom, Puzzle Pirates, Ragnarok Online and Guild Wars, but didn’t stick with them long.
In 2003 I also started this blog, at first posting very infrequently, but speeding up in 2004. In May 2004 I predicted The Future of MMORPG being games that would be less buggy, more innovative, and faster paced. Well, at least I got two out of three totally right, but the “more innovative” prediction isn’t quite there yet: The MMORPGs of today *still* use the same hotkey combat, and level / class system that EQ did, my Universal Strategy Guide from 2004 stills applies to most games, and nobody ever implemented my idea of a MMORPG based on trading card games. I wrote a while for Grimwell.com, but then returned to my own blog when Grimwell moved on.
In September 2004 I played World of Warcraft for the first time, in the US stress test beta. I posted my opinion about the game then, and it is surprising how much of that opinion is still valid 6 years later, in spite of the many changes since. I wrote about the strength of the game being polished, and the excellent guidance through the quest system, balanced by the weakness of too much soloing making this a not very social game. But being European I wasn’t supposed to be able to play WoW before 2005, so I tried out Everquest 2 and started playing at release. But that launch was quite horrible, with servers being down very often, and gameplay frequently being changed in a major way through patches. So I managed to get a US account for World of Warcraft and played there until the European release. I switched to the European servers on day 1 of WoW Europe and played there ever since, with a few breaks in between. I ran a journal of my adventures in WoW for some time, wrote about some major guild drama I had with my original guild, temporarily joined a hardcore raiding guild during vanilla WoW and finished BWL with them, got gkicked for taking a holiday, and made peace with my initial guild to which I still belong.
As I didn’t want to turn my blog into a World of Warcraft blog, and my interest in WoW naturally has its ups and downs, I played a lot of other MMORPGs since, usually for short periods. I tried Dungeons & Dragons Online, and bought a lifetime subscription to Lord of the Rings Online. I played and watched fail to different degrees Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, Hellgate: London, Warhammer Online, and Age of Conan. I tried Vanguard, Champions Online, Aion, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Star Trek Online, and Final Fantasy XIV in their betas. And I played a bunch of smaller online games, like Luminary and Atlantica Online, tried some browser games, and even tested Facebook games. Not to mention countless single-player games.
As you can see, it is quite a long and varied history. And in spite of the prevalent pessimism, I must say that MMORPGs got better over the last decade, and I am confident that they will further improve.