The first MMORPG is believed to have shown up in 1996, Meridian 59. It wasn’t until 1997, with Ultima Online, that the genre started to become popular.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games evolved out of MUDs. These games host a large number of players logging into the same world to play out there game. These visual games are currently very big business. There have been a few attempts over time to create a successful MMORPG, but nothing was an extraordinary success until Everquest.

Click here for screen shots from Ever Quest. (warning large images)

Typically these involve the players having a client that allows them to log into the world, which continues to exist and change even when no one is on. Usually MMORPG’s charge a subscription service but occasionally they do not, typically the better games do though.

An interesting aspect of MMORPG’s is that they are constantly in flux. To keep the players happy the companies are typically continually working to improve and enhance the game. Players often log in to find that new zones and quests have been added, if the game does well enough players can usually expect expansion sets to come in the future. These expansions are giant additions to the game that players are required to buy.

In 1999 Everquest was released by Sony Online Entertainment and was the most popular and commercially successful MMORPG until 2004. The game was so popular and captivating that it received the nick name Evercrack. It marked the beginning of the modern MMORPG push.

Recently, it seems that every game company has been trying to get it’s own MMORPG on the market. Already gaming companies like blizzard, maker of World of Warcraft, Lucas Arts, Star Wars, and Sqaure Enix, maker of Final Fantasy XI have released their own world’s MMORPG based on the game series they put out. In planning are a number of MMORPG’s that are based on existing worlds from movies, books and games. Future MMORPGs include games from The Matrix, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars.

Click here for screen shots from Final Fantasy XI. (warning large images)

At the moment it is impossible to talk about MMORPG’s without discussing World of Warcraft (WoW), not just because it’s my current game of choice but because it made history.

Everquest dominated the MMORPG world for five years. In late 2004 WoW hit the shelves. In Wow’s first 24 hours it sold over 240,000 copies, more than any game in history. As of March, the game has sold over 1,500,000 copies worldwide and has at any given time an average of 500,000 users are online.

WoW’s popularity has also been in some ways its bane. According to a Penny Arcade interview with Blizzard, the company saw that other popular MMORPG’s typically sold about 300,000 copies in it’s first year. Blizzard planned sell 600,000 copies during its first year. They hit that number in six weeks. This amount of players caused incredible problems because the system couldn’t handle it, Blizzard has fixed many of the issues but occasionally finds this over-population to cause trouble, they expect the problem will be solved in the near future.

Click here for screen shots from World of Warcraft. (warning large images)

WoW takes place in the world of Azeroth, only a few years after all the worlds races were forced to join forces to fight off a truly evil threat to the land. Now without a common rival, petty and not so petty issues have started forcing the races apart.

The Hoarde and the Alliance have formed, each made up of separate groups of the remaining races. Players choose to make either an Alliance or Hoarde character. This creates an interesting aspect to the game play because the two groups are always at war with each other. One of the biggest focuses of game play is attacking enemy players. Wars can break out in the game with hundreds of players on each side fighting each other.

Sources used

Penny Arcade interview
Wikipedia article on MMORPG
Gamespy article on MMORPG

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