You know what’s really fun? The build-up to an MMO’s release, especially when you’re really invested in that particular game. Some of my fondest memories in the MMO space come from before we ever get into the game itself as we gorge on the hype, developer videos, community excitement, reveal posts, and the whole beta testing rollercoaster.
Today I wanted to share with you 10 times when I had a total blast getting excited about an upcoming MMORPG — no matter how the game itself turned out to be. Some of these entries are due to masterful PR campaigns by the studios, but most of them, I think, are from a combination of personal, community, and developer enthusiasm.
World of Warcraft
I jumped on board the hype train for World of Warcraft back in early 2003, memorably spending one evening combing the official website and forum for any scrap of information about this fantasy MMORPG. The pre-launch buzz for this game was insane, and getting into the beta in 2004 was all anyone seemed to want. I dabbled in the beta for a month prior to launch (not wanting to spoil things too much) and knew that when the launch came, it was going to be big. But I don’t think any of us realized how big.
Guild Wars 2
We give ArenaNet a lot of flak these days for going back on its original vision — its “manifesto” — but when the studio announced that its follow-up to the popular Guild Wars was going to break the stale mold of MMOs, it wasn’t hard to believe that it was at least going to try its best to do just that. Plus, getting players worked up for the sequel by having them build up the Hall of Monuments in the first game (which would unlock bonuses in Guild Wars 2) was a genius way to keep the upcoming game dead in our sights.
The other day I was talking with Bree about how Carbine really had a handle on the pre-launch campaign for WildStar. Say what you will about the studio and game itself, those DevSpeak videos and “WildStar Wednesdays” got us so excited, particularly because you could sense the enthusiasm radiating from the devs themselves for what they were making.
This MMO wasn’t even on my radar until I was forced — as part of my job here — to play a demo at PAX one year. That one experience roped me in and had me slavering for all things RIFT, and there was about a good seven-month stretch there where I would start the day listening to podcasts about the game and prowling the forums for any juicy discussions or reveals.
Mark Jacobs and his crew set a new standard for whipping the community into a frenzy over this fantasy MMORPG. Maybe the expectations were set too high (OK, they definitely were), but every single video and post about WAR was a thrill injection right into the veins of gamers looking for a strong WoW contender. This was the MMO that got me into blogging in the first place, and I’ll always have fond memories about the months spent leading up to launch writing about every possible topic concerning WAR.
In 2020, it’s really hard to cast your mind back to an online gaming scene where pretty much every single game required a subscription. That limited choice and diversity for many players, which is why ArenaNet’s announcement that Guild Wars was going to be this buy-to-play-only title was huge in 2005. It was quite a mental shift from “I can play this OR that” to “I can play this AND that!”
Star Wars: The Old Republic
While I’m not huge on conventions these days, I do kind of miss seeing massive booths set up for upcoming MMORPGs, like I did with SWTOR back at PAX East one year. The hype for this game was insane, and I gladly bought into it — literally, with the expensive collector’s edition AND the art book. I don’t regret getting swept up in all of this, because it was a heck of a ride back in the day.
Yes, we can look back and point fingers at how silly we were to anticipate some games, but you know what? We weren’t clairvoyant. And it was kind of a blast to be so pumped about seeing what Cryptic might do with another superhero MMO after City of Heroes that I was so eager to gobble up any scraps of Champions Online in the months leading up to it. It’s a shame that it didn’t go better, but for a brief window there, the sky was the limit.
Lord of the Rings Online
The lead up to LOTRO offered a great tonal shift from the colorful high fantasy of WoW, but what really made it a lot of fun for me was the two-week head start. During that period, we got a sample of the game — I think our characters were capped at level 15 — but there was no reason to rush. We just soaked in the atmosphere and the newness of it all while getting ready for the actual journey to come.
The Burning Crusade
Maybe it’s a total cheat to put both an expansion and another WoW thing on this list, but I feel I can’t ignore how engaging the pre-launch period was for WoW’s first expansion. The game was already a massive phenomenon by 2006, but we’d never had an xpack release yet. We were so excited that we gladly stood outside in the freezing January 2007 weather to get our midnight copy at Gamestop, and it was then that I first got to see an actual crowd of MMO gamers in person. That was a special memory for me.