When studios go about making MMORPGs, risk comes along with the effect as a matter of course. The only question is how to reduce that risk as much as possible. An easy way to take the risk factor down a bit is by latching the MMO to an earlier proven and successful video game.
In fact, when you look at the overall field of MMORPGs, you start to see a whole bunch of titles that are actually the latest entry in a franchise. Today we’re going to look at the very early inspirations for these franchises and see how they eventually became an online role-playing game.
By the time that Ultima Online arrived on the scene in 1997, Richard Garriott’s franchise had been stealing hearts and transporting them to his fantasy realms for the better part of two decades. UO represented the 10th entry in the saga, with the maiden Ultima debuting in 1981 as the first open-world computer RPG. The most popular entry up to Ultima Online had been 1992’s Ultima VII: The Black Gate, which won multiple awards and was ported to several systems including the SNES.
About the same time that Ultima arrived on the scene, Wizardry was created thanks to a couple of Cornell graduates who wanted to fashion their own fantasy setting. While the series got its start in the United States, it was Japan where the franchise found its fandom. Wizardry titles ran from have seen nine official entries and nearly 40 spin-off titles — including 2011’s Wizardry Online, which was developed by Gamepot.
Allods Online is probably one title on this list that few people know is a sequel in any way, shape, or form. In fact, it was the latest in a series that goes back to a 1998 Russian real-time strategy-slash-roleplaying game called Rage of Mages. Rage of Mages II (1999), Evil Islands (2000), and Evil Islands: Lost in Astral (2006) all proceeded, eventually followed by the 2011 free-to-play fantasy MMORPG set in the same universe.
On the other hand, 1987’s Final Fantasy is one of the most well-known stories of all of video game development’s history. Square’s “final” shot at making a game before going bankrupt ended up saving the company — and launching a long-running series that spawned dozens of sequels, spin-offs, and (yes) two MMORPGs including 2002’s Final Fantasy XI.
The Sims became a breakout smash hit when it debuted in 2000. Little did players know that they would be mortgaging their homes for the countless expansion packs to follow. Maxis moved fast to get The Sims Online out the door in 2002 to capitalize on the MMO craze, but perhaps it moved too quickly, as 2004’s The Sims 2 instantly made this title look antiquated and creaky.
2005’s Uncharted Waters Online was originally released in Japan and only made it across the ocean in 2010. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as the Uncharted Waters series was largely a Japanese favorite, giving players all the way back in 1991 the opportunity to sail, explore, trade, and fight with 16th century vessels. There have been roughly a dozen games in the series so far, although the MMO doesn’t seem to have made great waves in the west since its launch.
Every SEGA fan worth his or her salt knows full well the acclaimed sci-fi RPG Phantasy Star series, which ran from 1987 through 1993 on the SEGA Master System and Genesis (in fact, the recent release of the SEGA Genesis Mini has a couple of them for people to enjoy today). There were a few spin-offs, including some text adventure games, and the PSO series itself, which will return to North American shores next year with the release of Phantasy Star Online 2.
A decade before World of Warcraft’s release in 2004, Blizzard Entertainment took the RTS world by storm with its 1994 launch of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. The polished series was a smash hit that went on to ring up huge sales with Warcraft II (1995) and Warcraft III (2002). Fans most familiar with the MMORPG might find the RTS games delightfully quaint yet containing some hints and characters of the franchise to come. GOG.com currently sells the first two RTS games in a bundle if you want to go back to an earlier era on Azeroth.
The open-world action RPG series known as Elder Scrolls also made its debut in 1994 with Arena, sparking the start of a vastly popular series by Bethesda. There have been several other entries in the main series (Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim) prior to the launch of Elder Scrolls Online in 2014 as well as quirky spinoffs such as 1997’s Battlespire and 1998’s Redguard. Fans quickly grew to love the freedom the games gave for players to explore the world in any direction they chose and to craft the kind of character they liked.
If you were a gamer even passably interested in sci-fi in the 1980s, then chances were very good that you had a copy of Elite on whatever home computer was in your house. Released in 1984, Elite’s space trading, pirate blasting sim gave gamers a wide open playground in which to fulfill whatever destiny they chose. There were a couple of sequels in the 1990s under the Frontier label before the franchise was resurrected via crowdfunding for the 2014 MMO.