The Daily Grind: When was the golden age of MMOs, or has it happened yet?

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A year ago, we all tackled an Overthinking topic on the golden age of MMORPGs — whether there ever was one, and when precisely it might have been. One thing we didn’t much discuss? Whether the golden age hasn’t actually happened yet.

That idea bubbled back up in my brain this past week, when Microsoft exec Phil Harrison told that the golden age of games — “democratisation of platforms, democratisation of technology to make content” — is yet to come.

“When I started out, 80% of your development budget would be writing your 3D engine, and you’d have to throw that way every time you make a new game. It’d almost be like a filmmaker throwing away the Panavision camera and reinventing another one each time they went to make a film. We’ve got to the point where the reach is there, the tools are there, the distribution is there, the ability to stand up an online service is there. And we can now start thinking about what happens when you have very believable worlds, very believable graphics, very sophisticated AI, what happens when those things co-exist? That’s a very interesting future.”

Harrison is talking about the gaming industry on the whole, of course, but we can drill down — MMOs are all about believable worlds and AI. What do you think? When was the golden age of MMOs? Or is our golden age yet to come?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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My personal golden age encompasses four games: City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and Star Trek Online. I was never so blissful as the years I was heavily involved with those games. I’ve played many others, such as Rift and WoW and SWTOR and EQ2 and GW2 and AoC and so many I can’t even remember them all, but everything else has either not interested me as much or for as long, or was a victim of the general burnout I was starting to feel after playing the “golden four” so heavily.

It’s been so long since I’ve found an MMO that I can fully invest in that, for the most part, I’ve stopped trying. Of course, the industry has contributed to that by (a) slowing development of new MMOs to a crawl, and (b) changing the playstyle of new MMOs to something I’m less interested in.

I would love to have another standard theme park like LotRO/WoW where I could get really excited about the world, join a guild and play with others again (for the first time in forever), and so on. But standard theme parks are basically on their way to extinction – nobody is developing new ones, so what is available now is all that’s left.

Malcolm Swoboda

A ‘Golden Age’ is great, but its not the most advanced or comfortable. Arguably, that would be later times that ‘rediscover’ the essentials of the Golden Age and manifest it in a better form.


The golden age of MMO’s is that age when you had time to play them and friends to play them with.


I don’t think we’ve had a golden age yet. For starters, very few MMOs are actually designed around massively-multiplayer features so I think we have so much more to come in terms of what is possible within the online space.

That said, if we have had a golden age, I would put it as 2003-2007. These years still saw a lot of experimentation with the MMO format so we had loads of choice as consumers, the big IPs were all getting their first MMOs made, WoW had it’s shining moment and we had yet to get sick of WoW clones.


Agree with most here- 1999 – 2003/4. Heck, I’m not even subscribed to any mmorpgs for years.

Jeremiah Ratican

You know I read about the thing with Neverdie and Richard Garriott and the idea of a shared currency between games is a fun step toward a Multiverse game grid. Look at Project Entropia they have been trying (and to some success) create this uniform access. I do think as things get easier and easier we could really have a “Golden Age” of MMOs. I think the closest we got to one so far was with NWN1(Neverwinter Nights) The multiplayer game worlds where it was so easy anyone could make a server but groups of developers and hobbyists created different virtual worlds. If we expand on this Imagine one log in where you could pick action FPSs, RPGs, Virtual Worlds, even farm Sims with one easy place. Plus if the tools are easy we could even see more MMOs be really innovative and experimental like art instillations.


I think the words “golden age” imply a time that comes only once and then passes. When it comes to something as complex as MMOs, I don’t know that really applies. It’s more like every so often we have this really good “generation” of games that comes along and reminds us why these games are the king of all our hobbies. Or put another way – yeah, we had a golden age. It lasted a while and then ended some years ago. But there will probably be another in the future.

When I think back to what defined the last period I’d call a “golden age”, there are a few qualities that stand out: First, developers/publishers focusing on quality and longevity of their titles to keep people playing – not just chasing quick returns on their investments. Second, uniqueness, innovation, and variety – sure, titles learned from each other, but they weren’t afraid to try something different and do what it took to make those things work. Third, a focus on building communities of players through gameplay. Understanding that these are shared gaming experiences and capitalizing on that in unique and awesome ways. Fourth and finally, a focus on the integrity of the game and its world – not doing things just because players say they want them, but doing them because they make sense for the game and the world that you’re trying to build.

We had a time when the vast majority of developers were doing all of those things, and I think that to an extent they still do some of them today – just not usually enough. Every newly released game I’ve looked at recently has fallen down in one or more of those qualities I listed. When developers and publishers are able to start doing all four of those things again, in a real and visible way to their players/customers, I think we’ll be able to herald the dawn of the next Golden Age of the MMO.

Bryan Correll

“The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.” – Peter Graham

Most people are going to consider the Golden Age of MMO’s to be whatever time they themselves really got into such games. For me that would be in the early to mid oughts when games like DAoC, SWG, and CoH kept me up late playing.

Nathan Aldana

Id say we kind of have one now. we have people experimenting with new ideas, we have several MMos that have refined themselves and have a solid fanbase, and theres no real threat of the industry collapsing as is.

Byut then, my love of ff14 stormblood may bias me.

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I don’t know. Some people nearly drown in nostalgia with thoughts about UO, EQ and DAOC but i think with more (high quality) competition there can emerge something bigger and better than the 84594th WoW clone.
Oversaturation of the market with cheaply produced F2PbutP4F games made the overall credibility and trustworthyness of MMOs worse.I hope that we are on the verge of a change. People feel dull and weary of the same games over and over again. We need something fresh. I’m neither a dev nor designer so I have no idea what it could be.

Some games in the last 5 years made some aspects more interesting. TSW thought about a game without maidens, castles and high (Tolkien-ish) fantasy but a modern world, GW2’s approach with the (more or less) no grind method and “you can do whatever you want” system was refreshing back in 2012. I like pirates since I played AC: Black Flag so I kinda like the idea of sea of thiefs (I know you can’t compare the two games). I liked AION for the art style and the 3D flying options (yeah .. flying ..) in 2009.
Crowfall and Camelot Unchained try to refresh this genre with their ideas for fun with different game modes than the usual game. I follow Albion Online just to see how they are doing. They don’t change so much but they have some nifty ideas.
Do something else than other people. Be a bit crazy, and think the other way around. But have a solid foundation and pathway. Everything has to fit together.

As I said initially: I don’t know .. there were some good and innovative games in the past and more will come so it’s like if you’d ask when was the golden age of music. Every generation thinks their was the best. Ask a person in their 70s and they gonna choose a different musical era than someone in their 30s. Bach and Mozart would be totally shocked by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and KISS.