Retrocon 2024

A Short History Of the MMORPG Video Game Genre: From Mud To Wow

The history of computer games began a long time ago, some of you, probably, have not even heard that there were once projects on magnetic tape cassettes. Yes, there were such times, but progress doesn’t stand still. It gave us the world wide web or simply the Internet, which had to be somehow used along with computer games.

Thus Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) appeared. The possibilities of this genre allow the gamer to plunge into a completely living online world in which he is surrounded by the same real people as he is.

We know about such giants as World of Warcraft, which quickly overtook absolutely all competitors without making any special efforts. Today, there is a huge ecosystem around it, communities of loyal gamers and boosting services like, which help to go through difficult moments faster, upgrade heroes, and overcome dungeons. But how did it all start?


MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) – a brainchild of Richard Bartley and Roy Trubshaw that appeared in 1978 – stands for the very first MMORPG. The client was textual, that is all actions were based on writing certain commands. Moving around, fighting monsters, interacting with gamers and items, collecting loot – all was done without a mouse. A little later, a prototype of the game interface began to appear, for example, letters on a kind of compass indicating the geographical direction. These little things improved the project quite a lot.

Then there were permanent servers, which still exist today. Later came MUD clients changed by the players themselves. The first is usually the best, but as you know, this is always followed by something new, and this was the case here. After a while, MUDs began to appear one after the other, and the market began to grow.
  • Islands of Kesmai appeared to be the first commercial-based MMORPG with a constant payment. In 1984, this entertainment cost a pretty penny, after all, gamers paid $6 per hour. However, the project was also textual.
  • A revolution in the MMORPG world was the character-based game Club Caribe (1988), in which gamers could communicate in chat and interact with objects. But the project had a small minus: LucasArts allowed playing it only on Commodore 64 computers.
  • The first full-fledged graphic game was Neverwinter Nights (1991). PC owners were happy, and project’s heart beat for six years, however, it was extremely expensive too. Alas, all the famous MMORPGs of that time were controlled by CompuServe or America Online, each of which wanted to grab this big jackpot and keep everything under their supervision.
  • Another well-known MMORPG project followed is The Shadow of Yserbius. This development of The Sierra Network, released in 1992, lasted several years. Gamers still paid money for every hour they played, but they could have a whole month of entertainment without limits, paying $119.99. However, the possibility of monthly payment was quickly eliminated, for obvious reasons.

More serious projects

Time passed, and the tough financial policy on the Internet was softened, which triggered the development of ever new, more daring, and serious MMORPGs.

The first significant project after the blockade was Legends of Future Past (1992). The game was good because it had the first mass events – the most important element of the genre. It is now that the abbreviation MMORPG has gained full strength and will forever remain in the hearts of gamers.

Meridian 59 (1996) was launched by the 3DO firm, best known for the Might and Magic series. Its primary selling point was a three-dimensional client that allowed players to view the digital environment through the hero’s eyes. Surprisingly, the project is still alive and has supporters.

Another game released right after was The Realm Online (1996) designed by Sierra Online. The project was entirely done in 2D visuals, which gave it a significant edge over text-based computer games.

Everything changed with Ultima Online (1997). It turned all standards of the genre. Three-dimensional, isometric client with a third-person view, a huge world, and amazing gameplay left behind all possible competitors. Today, Ultima Online has about nine expansions, and as you read this, the official servers are running a graphical 3D client.

In 1999, following in the footsteps of Ultima Online, Asheron's Call was released. The developer was Turbine Entertainment Software and the publisher was Microsoft. This game tried to absorb the experience of all previous projects but wished to remain as different as possible. One, big storyline was created, which addicted gamers, and constant events in the virtual world gave it life.

Today's generation

In the new century, things were much more interesting. The genre succumbed to a massive change in graphics and value that could be extracted from the gamers. It became clear to the developers that they can make a good fortune.

The potential for new generation games is endless. Because of this feature, the Dark Age of Camelot was one of the top projects. Because massive armies flocked to the battlefields, the Realm vs. Realm ("kingdom versus kingdom") scheme won hearts of many people. There was a wonderful warfare system, featuring arena fights, contested areas, and castle conquests, but none of this could provide complete enjoyment without PvE development.

Gamers also have access to the following games:
  • Final Fantasy XI
  • Ragnarok Online
  • MapleStory
  • Star Wars Galaxies
  • Eve Online
  • Lineage 2
  • City of Heroes
The market situation was simply blown up by World of Warcraft (2004), which quickly overtook and overtook absolutely all competitors. The history of the Warcraft world did its job, and the project didn’t need advertising. To date, the number of its active subscribers around the world exceeds 5 million, which indicates an unconditional success.


History is being written, and many more interesting projects will come out in the future, many of which we don’t even know about yet. But one thing is clear – MMORPGs have taken place as a genre and have taken a firm place in the hearts of millions of gamers around the world.

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