Tobold's Blog
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, 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.
How's your Tale in the Desert adventure going? You haven't mentioned anything about it in a while.

Could you perhaps write about your top 5 mmo games? I'm currently playing Aion and it doesn't seem that bad, and Atlantica Online seemed interesting with some new mechanics that I haven't seen before.
Pretty similar history to mine, other than I never played MUDs and didn't play any computer games or tabletop rpgs at all between about 1988 - 1995.

And I didn't play WoW until 2009 and probably won't play it again after my few months there. Never say never, though.
Interesting, i played a few MUDs back in the day, and still wonder how i got so engrossed in them. One thing i definitely remember was how fast a MUD could evolve [at least the one i was playing]. There wasn't this thing with "expansions" and "updates" that you constantly wait for. You log on, one day something is there, next day it's not. Players themselves could design zones,stories,mobs,items "on the fly". There was no such thing like "need to rewrite the entire engine to do this or that" nonsense. Need a new mechanic? Someone just code it.

This is actually kinda why a silly "game" like MINECRAFT is grabbing me so much, despite it's looks, it's that "endless possibility" effect.

Nowadays, MMOs seem very advanced in terms of their physics engines and graphic engines, but at the same time they're entirely constraint by it too. They are so reliant on "static content" that the game falls flat in 40-100 hours [typical single player RPG] before it becomes an exercise in repetition....

Variety in MMOs has been severely lacking , you can probably make a list of Stock-MMO-components [crafting,classes,races etc] and current MMOs will only differ on whether they have the component or not, not in how they implemented the component.

So it's ironic when you follow the marketing of MMOs lately, they talk about these components that we all know to the nth degree already *yawn* . They are literally trying to sell you an empty house by talking about how fancy the doorknobs's still just a house.
Nice read there, been waiting to hear your own personal history really :) Also LOL i'm always thought you were American, so you're actually European haha, well what country then? England? i guess
I also wrote a paper back in May 2004 about the past, present and future of MMOs for business school in case anyone wants to compare and contrast my and Tobold's respective prediction abilities (PDF):
Isn't Wizard 101 a game that uses cards for combat? Have you tried it yet?
The lack of forced grouping is in retrospect actually a huge benefit for WoW. You can just hop in and play it like a single player game with tons of content. It's easy to get to the level cap without ever grouping.

But at the top level? You're forced to group up to raid, do dungeons or pvp. It's a great way to get people slowly involved in the social parts of the game.

As for other mmorpgs? I haven't really played any longer than a month. I do still enjoy singleplayer games or smaller scale multiplayer games like starcraft 2. And recently discovered the great little indie game Minecraft. Tons of fun for only $10.
you forgot dungeon master! how could you pass this marvel?

Dragon steaks!
@Emil , he's from Belgium last i checked
Wow, that is quite a history. I am fairly new to mmorpg games, mainly Runes, Second Life, and WOW of course. The free online mmorpg games available out there (I go to Game Ogre) are pretty good now.
@Emil: wrong.

Tobold is from my country, that little one that is falling apart right now...

And wow... Tobold is obviously a bit older than me from that history, I got into tabletop RPG about 3 years later, but how many online MMO you have tried is staggering! Mine are a subset of those...

WoW was the first. Followed by SWG, Lotro definitely (I'd be playing that if it was available here), Lineage II, Guild Wars, EvE, Warhammer Online and AoC.

I still play WoW on occasion now, and EvE up until July or so.
I wonder whats the next big MMORPG from Blizzard. I still didnt read anything about it and everything seems to be top secret. If a MMORPG can get more popular as World of Warcraft I'm sure its also developed by Blizzard.
Was looking for some common sense opinions of MMORPGs and most certainly found some here on your blog, keep up the great work :)

You have a different gaming history to myself though we both begun playing MMORPGs around the same time. I have mainly only played browser games like Earth2025 now run by the community as Earth Empires and in the more mainstream the Civ games to which your review on Civ 5 has me wishing I had a machine that could handle it. Even so, it's quite reassuring to see how so much from your reviews of games I'd only heard of on the grapevine reflect the same experiences, issues and positives as my own experiences. Can't beat a good game and an even better community.

Sorry to waffle, just wanted to say hi as a new reader and kudos on the blog :)
"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."

And from your "World of Warcraft Opinion" blog...

"Quest descriptions are accurate enough for you to solve them without outside help most of the time, but not as mindless as marking the monster to kill on your map."

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