Massively Popular - MMORPGs

By Marri Lynn

World of Warcraft Role-playing games were not always massive, multiplayer, or internet compatible. In fact, the MMORPG genre is a relatively new entrant into the spotlight of the gaming industry. There can be no doubt, however, that the modest origins of MMORPGs have given birth to a phenomenon.

Before the evolution and popularization of MMORPGs, gamers contented themselves with tabletop gaming, or pursuing solitary adventure in their video games of choice. Multi-User Dungeons blended these two concepts into something new, and exploited the realization that gaming in a group was more fun than gaming alone. MUDs offered an interface where players could connect and engage in their own goals and quests, as well as work in cooperative groups or as competitive units.

The initial MUDs of the late seventies were jokingly dubbed 'Multi-Undergrad Destroyers', due to the amount of time that players would frequently divert from schoolwork to the pursuit of text-based adventure. Early MUDs were strictly textual, requiring the player to use his imagination and descriptive skills whilst engaging in play. Typewritten commands and the use of arrow keys allowed the player to interact with the world and the others connected to it.

This style of text-only adventure game persists to this day in MUDs, MUSHes, and MOOs. The graphic, commercial MMORPGs were to be the prodigious offspring of that initial passion for an interactive gaming environment.

Ultima Online In the 1980s, the first pay-per-play graphic MMORPG hit the markets. Although the list of subscribers was hardly massive by contemporary standards, it was a step in the commercial direction which took the somewhat obscure hobby towards a a more widespread audience. 1997 saw Ultima Online's creation, and furthered the advancement of the MMORPG genre; it standardized a monthly rate of pay, rather than the hourly subscriptions that had previously been widespread. The lower monthly fee appealed to an audience outside of hardcore gamers, and brought new blood to the hobby.

The east had already managed to succeed in proliferating its number of MMORPG devotees, since Jake Song's Nexus: The Kingdom of the Four Winds in 1996 gained over one million subscribers. Song's sequel to Kingdom garnered even more success, and the west began paying attention.

The launch of EverQuest in 1999 is arguably the keystone moment in the progression of North American MMORPGs. Its popularity quickly earned it the tongue-in-cheek moniker 'EverCrack' amongst aficionados and critics alike; an indication of its enjoyable and addictive qualities.

It might also be interpreted as a reference to the cost prohibitive nature many associate with network gaming. Players attest that paying a monthly rate when they can't be certain of their availability for the following month can generate anxiety. Many feel inclined to play as much as possible in order to get the most for their subscription money, which poses a question of obsession. Many games do offer deals for longer-term subscriptions, but the chance of losing interest in a current game in favor of other activities or a new release from the competitive market often negates any potential savings advantage that a long-term subscription might have offered.

Some games, preeminently Guild Wars, can offer online play for free by utilizing the player's own computer for hosting purposes. The debate of acceptable cost for the gaming software itself as well as the issues of subscription still continue to be discussed. Competition over price, graphics, and features keeps sequels to popular games arriving on shelves, and encourages designers to continually up the ante.

MMORPGs have become a vehicle for penetrating questions on the nature of human habit, interaction, and addiction. It has been lauded as a unique environs in which to analyze both social and individual behavior. The demographics of MMORPGs have been examined, and the results thoughtfully explored. Aside from being a simple pastime, many believe that this new mode of human interaction might offer novel sociological insight.

As is the case when any group of people are gathered together under the umbrella of a common interest, an online subculture for MMORPGs has formed. MMORPG players exist as one division under the general group of gamers, alongside LARPers, D&D players, and console devotees. Many players develop loyalty to one specific form of gaming, even though they may pursue any number of them. MMORPG gamers have developed their own language and etiquette, as well as subcultures among the ranks of its own followers.

People play MMORPGs differently. The general populace seems to favor the dungeoneering school of play, wherein one forms a party for the best possible strategic advantage in pursuing a mission. Experience points, items, and gold pieces are the usual treasure and reward for these feats, as well as the enjoyment and accomplishment itself. But, very little actual role-play is on the agenda of these gamers, making the RPG portion of the MMORPG tag-line somewhat misleading.