My MMO History
Note: Many of the game links on this page go to more detailed commentaries regarding my experiences with them.
I started out playing MUD's, free ones at first while in college, then later I subscribed to one called Legends of Future Past. In the beginning LoFP had an hourly rate and offered many features in addition to the game such as email, forums, and a downloads area. The rate was something like $2.00 per hour if you used the internet to connect or $4.00 if you had your modem dial directly into the server. I distinctly remember getting a bill for $400.00 one month because I had played so much. Luckily for me they later changed to a monthly flat rate but they also dropped all of the other features except for the forum which became web based.
Like all MUD's LoFP was entirely text based and you could play using any Telnet client. For me the client of choice was zMud. Using zMud I could write scripts to automate xp grinding. Writing code that was able to fight any enemy in any area was one of the most enjoyable parts of the game for me. By the time the game was shut down in 2000 I had a very robust library of scripts that could handle anything that might get thrown at them as well as the single highest level character in the game.
Despite the time invested into leveling the game's big attraction for me was the socializing and role playing. Yes, I admit it, I once was a role player. In my defense the environment of LoFP was truly unique. Role play was not only encouraged but required and the level of GM involvement in the game outstrips anything you can find today by many orders of magnitude. It was not uncommon for GM's to run fully moderated events even to the point where more than one event may be going on at the same time or multiple GM's teaming up to run just one. No commercially successful game has ever approached duplicating that kind of environment and I doubt any ever will.
While playing LoFP I also tried a few other games. The first graphical game I remember playing was something called Shadow of Yserbius followed later by Legends of Kesmai, Neverwinter Nights and The Realm. Although I dabbled a little in each of these it wasn't until Ultima Online neared release that I started to get really interested in the graphical MMO.
Although I played Ultima Online when it released the game didn't catch on with me and I quit after only a couple months. When I started playing I was really looking forward to an online, multi-player, version of the original series but UO was implemented much differently and rapidly devolved into a hostile, Hobbesian, dystopia. Although the game later changed to restrict the more anti-social elements that had run rampant I had already quit and was too busy with other things to ever look back.
Everquest was the first MMO I played seriously. I started playing at release and went through several stages of quitting and coming back before I finished with the game entirely. None of my characters ever reached max level for the game and I missed out on the birth of raiding (though I heard about it quite a bit from other people I knew). I bought several of the expansions over the years but nothing ever changed significantly enough to make me play the game for more than a couple of months before quitting once more. I think I canceled and resubscribed a total of three times as I was always quickly reminded of the reasons I had quit.
Asheron's Call was the next big thing for me. I was able to get into the beta test and was quickly sold on purchasing it. I started playing on the Morningthaw server when it released and played for 6 months or so before I started to loose interest.
Anarchy Online was the next game to cross my radar. I missed out on beta but I was enthusiastic enough about the game's potential that I reserved a copy anyway. This was my first real 'launch day' experience. I took the day off from work so that I could get the game installed and play right from zero hour. Problems with patches downloading and an overloaded server wasted my day off. The launch and subsequent mismanagement of the game were complete disasters but in the midst of all that I had some genuinely fun times. I still remember being among the first players to get out of the start areas and into the world outside the city to begin exploring and discovering what it had to offer. There is some odd sort of thrill in being the first person to enter an area and a certain satisfaction in seeing other people come along just as you are ready to go find the next place knowing you are one step ahead of the pack.
I played Dark Age of Camelot for a while when it released but it never really caught on with me. I enjoyed the game for the most part but I was never really into PvP or RvR. Most of my time in the game was spent creating and leveling alts to try all the different classes and explore the three different realms. The highest level character I had was a dwarf healer who reached the mid 30's or so.
A friend of mine talked me into playing Shadowbane shortly after it launched. Shadowbane is a game built around unrestricted PvP. Anyone can attack anyone else at any time. I had some fun in the start area where PvP is turned off and while I was part of a large active group of players the game was tolerable. It was plagued with performance problems though and anytime a large group of people gathered together frame rates would drop through the floor, lag would shoot through the roof and things would grind to a chaotic halt. If your game is built around large scale PvP it would be a very good idea to ensure before launch that the game wont crash if there are more than 20 players in an area.
I beta tested Asheron's Call 2 and played for a while when the game was first released. Except for the pretty graphics the game really didn't have much to offer. There were no NPC's in the game which made questing awkward but it wasn't that difficult to solo although grouping was more beneficial. Apparently I wasn't the only one dis-satisfied with the game which quickly went downhill. Of all the MMO's I have played AC2 bears the unique distinction of being the only one that was shut down due to a lack of players.
Star Wars Galaxies was next on the menu. I was convinced by the hype machine that this was going to be a great game so I signed up for the beta. I enjoyed playing the game the way it was several months before release and for the most part all the changes I saw made to the game mechanics made it less and less fun as time went on. By the time launch day neared it was obvious the game would not be ready and would fall far short of living up to its potential. I had seen how much fun the game could have been. I foresaw a troubled launch and a lackluster game so I opted not to purchase the it. Except for catching confirming bits of news about SWG's problems I have never looked back.
Not long after the Star Wars Galaxies launch I was accepted into the City of Heroes beta test. The game was very exciting at first and I met a lot of great people while I was playing. Eventually the game started to get a little old and repetitive and many of us expressed interest in World of Warcraft.
Before World of Warcraft was released I tried Everquest 2 for a while. The game had many features I liked but the design was such that I still felt I could not play solo and that made it too difficult to sit down and play for a couple of hours on my own terms. I think the game could easily have been far more popular if they had approached the design, particularly in regard to monster placement and populations, in a more solo friendly manner and let players adjust to grouping slowly as they leveled up.
I was able to get into the World of Warcraft beta several months before it was scheduled for release. I had been following news of the game for what seemed like ages and was excited to get a chance to play. WoW did not disappoint. WoW fixed nearly every issue I had complained about with earlier games and put it all together in a streamlined package that was just what I was looking for. WoW was also the first game where I ever became involved with raiding or pvp. I played relentlessly for two and a half years. I advanced multiple characters to the level cap and was among the first on our server to defeat many of the raid encounters. It was a glorious two years but it all ended badly after the Burning Crusade expansion horribly altered the way the game was played.
During a lull in World of Warcraft I toyed a bit with Dungeons and Dragons Online. I had gotten into the beta and thought it played well enough to buy the game when it launched. I quickly ran into the problem though that I could not play at all if I could not find a group. There was no 'outside world' to adventure in. The entirety of the world was the city from which the quests began and the private instances were entered. One day I found myself waiting around in a tavern trying to find people to quest with and after perhaps an hour of this I was struck by the absurdity of sitting there waiting to play a game. I canceled the account and never looked back. I understand that later they patched in an update that may have made solo'ing a viable option but I have never had enough renewed interest to go back and see. It is worth noting that DDO is undergoing server consolidation due to a lack of players and it being difficult for people to find groups in underpopulated areas. They have also begun offering various incentives from time to time in an apparently fruitless attempt to either draw new players to the game or lure old ones back. I think it is very likely the game will be shut down within the next year or so.
While things were winding down with WoW I had the chance to beta test Lord of the Rings Online. At first the game didn't seem to hit the mark. It felt like a poor imitation of prior games that brought nothing new to the genre. Later I became infatuated with the scenery and storylines and much more enthusiastic about it's potential. As things got worse with WoW I found myself spending more time in LoTRo and developed an appreciation for some of it's subtler aspects. Unfortunately this infatuation was short lived. The end game portion of LoTRo was lacking. There was no motivation to continue playing after hitting max level and many people quit either before reaching it or soon after. Earlier game instances had been masterfully done and suitably rewarding but LoTRo's raiding was a sham and PvP (or PvM as they called it), although occasionally fun, was pointless. Of all the many games I have played, save for Ultima Online, LoTRo was the shortest lived and most disappointing. Although I am sure they will continue to make fairly regular updates to the game as is Turbine's style, it is my belief that LoTRo is essentially a dead game that will be trapped forever in 'niche' status.
Looking ahead I have hope that there will be a 'WoW Killer' coming out in the near future. I see few games that have that potential but among them are Age of Conan (medium/high probability), and Warhammer Online (medium/high probability). Also of interest is a little heard of game being developed called The Chronicles of Spellborn, an unnamed MMO from Bioware, and a Warhammer 40k MMO being developed by THQ. I'm also keeping an eye out for Aion. it looks gorgeous and could be interesting.
October 1, 2007 - I was in the Tabula Rasa beta since mid July and watched with interest as it developed. I was very excited about the potential the game had as described by Richard Garriott and other devlopers in E3 and GDC demos. Unfortunately the game, as it will be released, falls far short of measuring up to those expectations. The game will be released in two weeks and I'm not even certain that I'll buy it at this point. In late August I was invited to the Warhammer Online beta but the NDA prevents me from saying anything more than that for the moment.
I've also played Guild Wars, Lineage 2, and Neocron. I played The Matrix Online for a while before Sony purchased it and I was also a beta tester for Horizons, A Tale in the Desert, Planetside and Auto Assault. There are probably still more I haven't remembered yet.