History! Let’s be real here, it’s pretty damn boring. No one cares about it, and it all happened beforehand, so why is any of us bothering? It’s just a bunch of stuff that took place, and there’s some quote about what happens to people who don’t know history, but I never bothered learning it. Learning about things is how they get you. It’s part of the modern agenda where you learn things and then want to not be a gigantic tool to people for no reason, but I’ve outsmarted them.
Anyhow, as part of my ongoing community service, I have to pretend like history is a real thing to care about, so it’s fortunate for me that I remember the whole history of the MMO genre over the past 30 years and can recount it without having to actually look any of it up. You could learn from this, too. There’s no need to look any of this up or confirm it or double-check; this is all totally accurate. You know because I said it was.
1. Something about mud
Contractually, every single column about the history of MMOs has to include something about mud. I’m not sure what wet dirt has to do with MMOs, but hey, adhering to contracts is important, so let’s talk about mud. It’s slimy and gross, but it’s better than sand, which is coarse and gets everywhere.
Wait, I misread my notes. Oh, it’s not about mud, it’s about MUDs. Well, that makes a lot more sense. Does someone want to tell me what those are?
2. Ultima Online, the first MMO
In those halcyon days of 1997, a man named Richard Garriott had an idea: release a slogging and generally unengaging MMO that was supposed to be a throwback to the original days of the genre but got there through inconvenient means, using a set of lore beats that referenced the Ultima series without directly using them due to another company holding the copyright. Thus began the long development history of Shroud of the Avatar.
Of course, this ran into its own problems because there was no MMO genre for the game to be a throwback to in the first place. So Garriott had to spearhead the creation of the first fully graphical MMORPG first, and he dubbed it Ultima Online. At this moment, our editor-in-chief sprang into being and built her first house. It was pretty awesome.
Luckily, there would never be any debate about what was truly the first graphical MMO.
3. EverQuest, the first MMO
And lo, the developers did look upon Ultima Online and its housing, and its crafting, and its lack of endgame structure, and its fast travel. And the developers didst say unto themselves, “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be way more fun if you had to coordinate 40 people for hours on end to kill a sleeping dragon so two or three people could get a piece of gear?”
Sensible people the world over said, “What? No. That sounds miserable. No.”
They made it anyway. This was EverQuest.
4. Some nonsense
Probably some neat games got released here, maybe. Remember, when you’re giving an interview, you’re supposed to treat this portion of history like it was basically flyover country and nothing interesting was happening in the MMO space during this period of history like it wasn’t an incredibly fertile time with all sorts of titles trying all sorts of different things.
5. World of Warcraft, the first MMO, we really mean it this time
Ah, finally, we’re halfway through the list and we finally get to the first MMO on it! Sure, World of Warcraft launched with some problems and a lot of incomplete areas including a giant sticky note in the middle of Azshara that read “FINISH THIS ZONE TOMORROW – JEFF K.” but it was all fine because it was the first MMO where players could solo their way to the level cap!
Wait, it wasn’t? Well, it was the first MMO with instanced dungeons!
Wait, it wasn’t? Well, surely it was the first MMO to do something. And people loved it, and it did really well. Really, really well. Like, for a game that knew it should have housing but put that off to a post-launch patch before quietly pretending that had never been the plan, this game did really well for itself.
6. Everybody wants to be Blizzard
So despite being rushed out the door with a piece of toast in its mouth like the protagonist of a mid-’90s anime, WoW was a genuine hit by combining the idiosyncratic ideas of its creators, a cocktail of game systems that were meant to advance you to raiding but got embraced by a completely different group of players, and apparently grotesque sexist policies we’d all find out about way later. Given all of this, what was the right way for other games to succeed in the market?
What do you mean, “forge an equally unique identity with a novel twist to expand the playerbase”? That’s silly. Clearly, the answer was to copy WoW, so you could have WoW But Moar PvP or WoW But Space Wizards or WoW With More Talent Trees And An Ill-Advised Ad Campaign Taking On WoW Directly. There’s no way this plan could backfire and we definitely, definitely don’t see this backfiring in any way.
7. Guild Wars 2, the first MMO with plants who get their freak on
After years without it, Guild Wars 2 finally launched and showed that you could, in fact, release a game that was a direct sequel to another title, which definitely didn’t happen before then. More importantly, it launched with a race of plant people who reproduced by a tree producing them whenever it needed more plant people, but the writers were quick to point out that the plants could still get busy with the more organic people in the game.
Maybe there were other important things going on in GW2, but how would we know about them?
8. Other games
Remember how that earlier period was nothing but flyover country? Well, we’re back into flyover country again! Now we’re into the stage where every game being released is bad and we need to go back to the time when it was all open PvP and tedious slogs because there just aren’t new successful games releasing.
All right, you got me, I tagged WildStar in there and you can’t call that one successful at all. It had really neat ideas, but its obsession with WoW throwback raiding really doomed its long-term prospects, and – oh, no, I let the mask of irony slip for a moment! Forget this paragraph.
9. Nobody wants to be Blizzard
And now we’re up to the present, where despite no good games coming out for years somehow there are four other titles that are in the same weight class as WoW and they’re all dealing with a huge influx of players because oops, turns out people found out that Blizzard was hideously gross. Now nobody wants to be Blizzard and Blizzard is trying to figure out what the heck it’s going to do now, and we’re all unsure of the future.
Well, unsure of all of the future. In the short term FFXIV is bringing us to the moon and GW2 is finally bringing us to Cantha with siege turtles. But WoW’s star is fading quick, that’s the point here.
10. VR probably according to techbro pundits
I’ve been hearing that VR is the wave of the future for ages now and eventually the future has to be now, right? That’s how time works. Any day now you’re going to decide you totally want to game by strapping a screen to your face and flailing around in your office despite the fact that your play space is less a wide-open room and more like a closet where you can fit a chair and a desk technically. Maybe that happens now. Or now. Are you using VR yet? Come on, CCP Games is over here asking when the wave of the future is going to be the wave of right now and I think someone has a gun here.